Music For Torching Paperback – 1 Apr 2013
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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's 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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"* '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" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.See all Product description
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I shall read other books by Homes, though the reviews lead me to think that this one is her most accessible to date.
Paul and Elaine's marriage is burning out of control, they are isolated and atomised and horrified by what they have become. We first met them in a short story in The Safety of Objects when they enjoyed a hallucinogenic refrain from family pressures smoking crack while their children were away. Looking back on it in this book, they remember that as a moment of almost unimaginable happiness, as though it was the last time they felt united and whole. Now their nihilistic tendencies are tearing their household apart. In between passionless sex they bicker and nag, have affairs and wish they could make their lives good again. Their only pleasures involves dinner parties with their friends when they can bask in the impression of their neighbourhood contentment. The pressure is building, something is about to explode.
One night Elaine cannot face cooking. Paul offers to Barbecue. Egged on by their inanimate lives Elaine kicks over the barbecue setting the house on fire. Feeling deliciously liberated they get in the car and go for a meal with the children. But the house is not burnt to the ground, only gutted. Denied the cataclysmic freedom of total destruction Elaine and Paul can only try to rebuild, both the house and their fractured selves.
What ensues is a dark and claustrophobic journey through the frenzied minds of a couple desperately trying to recreate the image of family happiness. With a cast of seemingly normal neighbours to help them out, Elaine and Paul strive to renovate their burning lives. Cue all manor of sexual affairs, and a crack team of house cleaners in space suits and the ubiquitous shcool hostage situation. But no matter how good and honest their intentions Paul and Elaine are never quite able to get hold of themselves, and bring everything back to how it should be. And normality is sucking them into a false sense of security.
Holmes has a vibrant and to-the-point style of prose which makes her writing incredibly warm and inviting. Her characters are well conceived and brilliantly realised, flawed and infuriatingly lovable at the same time. She is concise and her vocabulary is exact; reminiscent of Fitzgerald in her ability to say a lot with so few words. In short, she is a very good writer and this is a very good book.
Music for Torching is a delirious technicolor vision of suburban life gone wrong. The Times review probably describes it best: "Holmes doesn't so much critique suburban American life as shoot it, stab it, chuck it in the boot of her car and drive it into a lake." Newsweek described it as "a hell-bound joyride of a book." The exhilaration contained within these pages is difficult to diffuse, it is a glorious fire-cracker of a book and you are going to love it.
The engine of the novel is a grotesque comedy - Paul and Elaine are bad in a mediocre sort of way. They are full of bitterness and resentment towards themselves, each other, their neighbours and their children and this is played out in an amusing variety of unpleasant incidents. They are also very much conscious of their failings and want to be better, but not enough to do anything about it.
I found it a compelling read. No so much for the subject matter, but for the skill with which it was handled and developed. Perhaps I have a mean sense of humour, but I found it very funny at many points.
Towards the end the novel takes a surprising, much darker turn. I didn't see it coming, but thought it did make sense in terms of the themes being developed.
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interesting view of modern life with a shocker as a finale !