As Quentin Crisp used to say, "Don't keep up with the Joneses! Drag them down to your level!" This could be the motto of the suburbanites in A M Homes' fourth novel, Music for Torching
. Homes has a subtle eye and ear for suburban reality, but beware: she is no mere satirist of what James Joyce called the "muddle crass." Behind each neat, bright lawn, vile lives writhe in darkness. On the surface, Paul and Elaine are conventionally competitive middle-aged, middle-class people with banal yearnings for French doors and a new deck. They have two strapping boys. Their neighbours Pat and George are prodigies of efficient family life. But alone with Elaine, Pat drops the Stepford Wife mask and stages loveless orgies atop the throbbing washer, amid the Downy and Fantastik and Bon Ami. Meanwhile, Paul beds a local wife and a sinister mistress. The nice old man down the street downloads Internet child porn. Local kids join the Boy Scouts and bite off teachers' fingers.
It's all about lurid misery and false fronts: a minor character is named Claire Roth, surely alluding to the bitter relationship in Claire Bloom's Leaving a Doll's House and Philip Roth's I Married a Communist. Paul and Elaine first popped up in Homes' collection The Safety of Objects, as a couple having the happiest night of their lives smoking crack while the kids are away. Their happiest night here is when they tip the barbecue and burn their house halfway down. The story proceeds with a nightmare zombie logic from there, with a funny-scary ironic tone. "Paul notices that the colour of her eye shadow is Fiction, and her lipstick is called Sheer Fraud.... 'What happened to the dining-room table, Elaine? Why'd you chop it to pieces?' he wonders. 'The damage was irreparable,' his wife replies." Homes describes nice people doing not-so-nice deeds in luminous, precise prose far more adeptly than Bret Easton Ellis, as well as Joyce Carol Oates, and occasionally within range of John Updike. But Homes is really the evil spawn of Grace Metalious and Quentin Tarantino. --Tim Appelo
"* 'Homes doesn't so much critique suburban American life as shoot it, stab it, chuck it in the book of her car and drive it into a lake' The Times * 'Homes opens a window on a world where our neuroses rot in full view' Sunday Herald (Glasgow) * 'The more bizarre things get, the more impressed one is by A.M. Homes's skills as a realist, a portraitist of contemporary life at its most perverse' David Leavitt * 'Exhilarating... a hell-bound joyride of a book' Newsweek * 'There have been very few women writers like Homes' Zadie Smith"