Pity poor Harold Silver, the loveable protagonist in A.M. Homes’ latest and perhaps finest novel, May We Be Forgiven. Set over the course of one nightmarish year, from one disastrous family Thanksgiving to the next year’s “remains of the day,” Homes has cooked up the blackest of comedies. It is a nakedly honest look at the modern family charade with the never-ending vanity and nihilism that thrives behind closed doors. Like a house of cards, we see the fragility of this kind of pretense and where it invariably leads. One calamity brings on the next until you’ll find yourself in stitches, laughing hysterically at the vapid veneer of domesticity in our brave new world.
Homes wastes little time shattering all of the Silver family’s little lies and deceptions while blowing away any and all pretense about who we might think we’re fooling in this age of blatant, rampant narcissism and constant, unquenchable consumerism.
Harold Silver is a hapless, hopeless historian with an obsession on a similarly tortured soul, disgraced and impeached former president Richard Nixon. When Harold’s older and enormously more successful brother George snaps like a wishbone after the family holiday meal and, in a fit of jealous rage, murders his wife, Harold is left to pick up the pieces. Suddenly responsible for the care of his brother’s home and fortune, two teenage kids and the family pets, Harold implodes.
Cast into this new role of responsibility, Harold is totally alone, looking for love and help in all the wrong places. His descent into hell rivals Dante’s and May We Be Forgiven becomes a modern “Divine Comedy.” A.M. Homes is at her best, allowing us to peer into the great void of our own full-length mirrors. She masterfully trashes the way we have become comfortable in our habitual road to nowhere, lampooning everything from a woeful health care system to Internet dating. Along the way, the author shows how our only redemption may be life’s only true constants: love and compassion for each other. It’s the darkest wake-up call imaginable. Grade: A+