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on 15 February 2014
This is another of those 'hmmm' books for me. I am still not sure what I thought of it. I didn't 'like' it. It was funny, and twisted and dark, and I loved the Nixon metaphors that ran through it which made it even more twisted and dark, but did make me wonder how many people unfamiliar with Nixon would get them - and you did need to know a bit about Nixon, not just the bare bones of Watergate. It's a novel that seemed to run away with itself in the first quarter, so wildly to the extent that I almost gave up on it, partly because I couldn't keep up and partly because my credibility was stretched, until I realised (as per quite a few other reviewers) that it was a false narrative - duh!

Basically, May We Be Forgiven is a satire of the American Dream. Harry (narrator) is a passive vehicle - apparently - and average American guy - apparently - who minds his own business and spends most of his time obsessing about RMN and the book he's writing on it. Then, following a series of bizarre events, Harry 'inherits' his nasty brother's life, loses his own indifferent wife and his job, and set about reinventing his brother's and various other families in true American Dream style. A straight reading of this is saccharine and sickening, but you can't take anything Harry says as the truth. Harry not only distorts everything, but he sees the past through a totally distorted lens and we suspect, though that's never actually clarified, that he had what borders on the abused kind of childhood. Maybe.

This is one of those books that does stay with you. You turn over scenes and replay them in your head and if you could be bothered, I reckon if you took the two parallel lines of Harry's life as he says he lived it and RMN's life as Harry would have liked him to live it, then they'd not be parallels but they'd converge - not that either of them would bear any resemblance to the truth. But the think about RMN, and the thing about Harry, is that both were/are arch deceivers, and arch deceivers are so good at it because they believe their own deceptions. Which is maybe what this book is about? Life isn't how we live it but how we perceive it and tell it to others? Maybe.

I'm glad I read this. I will definitely read more of AM Holmes (I've only read one other so far) but I'll wait until I'm in a pondering, wanting to be shaken up frame of mind, I think.
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on 17 August 2017
I must say I didn't finish the book. I just couldn't and gave up about half way through. I got bored of the style and not much was happening really or when it did, it just didn't make any sense. I like really getting into a book and looking forward to reading it but here, I almost forgot my Kindle existed! I downloaded a sample of the Kindle before purchasing it and thought the start was gripping and would get even better but I was wrong.
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VINE VOICEHALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERon 5 September 2013
Harry and George Silver are brothers. George is brash, arrogant, successful; Harry the quieter and more conventional. This novel takes us throughout a tumultuous year, which begins and ends with a Thanksgiving dinner. At the first, Harry is glad for his quiet life with success businesswoman Claire; as he eyes his brother's children Nathaniel (Nate) and Ashley, glued to their electonic devices, with a cynical eye, while George loudly holds court. Then, George's wife, Jane, brushes against him in the kitchen and his attraction for her ultimately leads to tragedy. This book has an amazingly hard hitting beginning and, apparently, it started life as a short story, which grew into a novel. We have barely begun when there is an accident, an affair, a murder and a whole series of tragic events, which end with Harry responsible for his brother's children. Childless himself, how does an academic - a Nixon scholar, who has spent years writing 'the' book on his hero - relate to two children he barely knows?

Bizarrely, Harry finds himself living in his brother's house; wearing his clothes, walking his (unwilling) dog and taking care of his roses. Along the way, we read of some of the more absurd sides of modern life - of internet relationships, unsettling visits to George at a mental facility, how his mother is creating a new life for herself in a cheeringly progressive facility for the elderly. Of course, the main story revolves around his attempts to make this new life work, how he collapses in stress and illness and regroups, learns how to parent without being a parent and the magic children bring to your life. It is mainly a novel about family. Of how the nuclear family has changed and expanded to mean so much more - as Harry somehow manages to make his next Thanksgiving filled with the people he has grown to care about during an overwhelming year. Clever, sharp, emotional and very funny - a great novel and a worthy winner of the Orange prize.
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on 5 January 2014
This family drama of sorts takes place within the space of two Thanksgivings, involving a 30-something Nixon scholar/professor, Harold, and his TV executive younger brother, George's family in the upper class New York suburban county of Westchester. One might be fooled into thinking that this would be the perfect setting for a typical American family drama, but if the author's claim to fame in an earlier novel, The End of Alice (with a pedophile as a main character), is anything to go by, one's expectations is swiftly thwarted by Harold's affair with George's wife, Jane, which ends more than badly when George, already committed for a breakdown after he is involved in a fatal accident, finds the pair in bed.

This sets in motion a chain of events, though wildly ludicrous, becomes strangely plausible in the farcical story world that Homes has created. When Harold finds his own marriage end almost immediately, and he is entrusted with the care of his precocious nephew Nate and niece Ashley. Harold is predictably unprepared for this role, but rather than stumble along goofily in the all-American comedic manner, Harold stumbles along goofily in a darker shade of comedy. He hooks up with a nymphomaniac soccer mom Cheryl while dallying with salacious online dating sites on his brother's computer, who just so happens to be a distant relative of Julie Eisenhower, Nixon's daughter, and who also happens to have some boxes of his father's unpublished stories, thus feeding the Nixon-scholar part of his personality. Somehow he also gets involved sexually with an emotionally-unavailable woman, who may nor may not be the missing girl in the community. Along the way, at Nate's prompting, Harold makes contact with the only other survivor of the accident that George was involved in, Ricardo, an ADHD child with learning disabilities... Somewhere in Westchester, there are random sightings of Don DeLillo.

Needless to say, the myriad of characters and happenings do get a little too much, and there are too many threads in the stories for this reader to track. To be fair, Homes does give each random stranger Harold encounters some quirky characteristic to make them stand out. Sometimes, she succeeds, other times, these attempts border on being absurd. For example, an old woman defends Harold when the pet shop owner tells him he has to move his kitten stand away from the from of his store, but when asked later, she reveals that she hates pets and irrelevant facts about her marriage. The oft-flippant witticisms and perspectives of family and familial relationships, (e.g. Cheryl the swinging mom, has a husband who eventually understands her need for relationships outside the marriage and at her encouragement, so does he), began to grate after a while.

Harold, as a character, was difficult for me to identify with, much less like, and the little epiphanies that he has appear contrived, especially when they come with the influence of drugs. For example, after giving out the kittens that the house cat has given birth to outside the A & P, he muses when he sees posters and overhears discussions about the missing girl: "There is a world out there, so new, so random and dissociated that puts us all in danger.... We mistake almost anything for a relationship, a community of sorts, and yet, when we are with our families, in our communities, we are clueless, we short-circult and immediately dive back into the digitized version - it is easier, because we can be both our truer selves and our fantasy selves all at once, with each carrying equal weight." Well, sure, but a bit lame coming from a promiscuous adulterer who doesn't seem to feel too guilty about the state his brother's family is in largely because of his irresponsible actions.

What sets this story back is that Harold the character acts without motivation. The randomness of his actions and speech leaves the reader feeling unconvinced that the author has fully gotten under his skin. Rather it seems that Homes has set out to write dark humour, and then chosen a character to live out the plot she had in mind.
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VINE VOICEon 24 September 2013
Harry Silver (I'm guessing about 38 years old) , George's 11 month elder brother, is a lecturer/professor and (President Richard) Nixon scholar. He is writing a book on Nixon, is married and totally faithful to his wife and they are childless. For no very good reason he makes one mistake and finds himself caught in the act, in flagrante delicto, with his sister-in-law, which leads (for reasons which we won't go into here so as not to spoil the story) to his situation suddenly and drastically changing. His wife throws him out and proceeds to divorce him, he has a stroke, he is fired, he becomes guardian of two kids (his nephew and niece - 11 and 12) , plus a dog and a cat. How quickly life can change!

All this happens in the very early part of the novel, so I'm not ruining any surprises - or very few. The novel is about how he deals with all of this (and more) and how it changes him as a person. Along the way many twists and turns unfold, sometimes beautifully, but eventually reaching extremes which this reader was unable to comfortably accept. The writing is never bad, but the story becomes too far-fetched and convoluted to seem plausible and seeks to include too many branches while leaving others half explored and massive questions unanswered. It's not bad, but it could have been a lot better with some heavier editing.
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on 8 May 2014
I really liked this, it is an odd book with an absence of chapters and an opening sequence that is peculiarly hooking and disturbing at the same time. After that it settles to a sometimes funny (black comedy largely), sometimes thought provoking look at dysfunctional families, internet dating and the horrors of (american) middle-class life, in amongst that though are some nuggets on whats is all about, what a family is and how to roll with upheaval & changes. There are bits that bothered me....too much detail about Richard Nixon (which might have more resonance if you American and know his back story not just Watergate) , the wealth of the characters (which makes anything possible and takes away any sense of jeopardy, the dodgy SA bit and a very cheesy ending. It feels like a film waiting to happen....
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on 14 October 2016
Really weird. I like weird books, but I’m not sure I get it yet. Also, a lot of the review comments printed on the back cover note how funny it is. I’m not convinced. There’s the odd one liner but given the subject matter I think that the humour is designed to jar, to feel awkward and to fall a little flat. Maybe that’s just what I took from it though. Anyway, it made me feel quite uncomfortable at points, but I really enjoyed it anyway. I’d read more by A M Holmes based on this, though and there are certain friends (although not just anyone) who I’d recommend this to.
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on 26 March 2014
A minor act begets a major disaster: Harry's sister-in-law kisses him at Thanksgiving, and pretty soon, or rather after an affair, a murder, and an incarceration, Harry finds himself running his brother's family, including being responsible for his two teenage kids. Relentlessly mad and told in a tone always at the border between sarcasm and sincerity, May We Be Forgiven is a highly original and readable book. Harry finds more fulfilment after abandoning his conventional lifestyle, regardless of the original sin that caused the change. Get out of the groove, such seems to be the book's lesson. Homes's novel is both convincing and entertaining, even if the ending falls somewhat short of its breakneck first 400 pages.
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on 12 March 2017
I read this book for book club, pushing me out of my comfort zone. I did not enjoy it, or understand where it was going for 80% of the book, but I was determined to finish it and I am glad I did. It was a random collection of weird events that somehow ends up making a story that was compelling and pulled together at the very end. Not sue I would read anything else by Homes, but never say never.
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on 23 September 2013
This writer initially reminded me of a female Jonathan Franzen. Her superb attention to detail, carefully drawn characters and a terrific eye for humour absolutely captures the absurdities of everyday life. This is the story of two brothers; one passive and one catastrophically aggressive, told from the passive brother's point of view. When one horrific act causes a huge shift in the status quo, his subsequent journey leads him, and indeed those around him, to redemption. My only criticism is that things pan out a little too neatly. But overall, a hugely entertaining, engaging and extremely funny book that moves along at a cracking pace. Top story-telling masterfully told!
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