Shortlisted for this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, ‘May We Be Forgiven’ by A. M. Homes tells the story of a Richard Nixon scholar, Harold Silver, and his dysfunctional family life. His brother, George, kills two people in a car accident and then murders his wife after he discovers she is having an affair with Harry and ends up back in a mental hospital. Harry suddenly finds himself in charge of his niece and nephew as well as dealing with various other problems in his life including his divorce and losing his job.
‘May We Be Forgiven’ is a bleak and seriously bizarre satire about modern American life. Homes presents a diverse and intriguing cast of complex characters. She also tells her story with great imagination and real black humour. However, I thought ‘May We Be Forgiven’ was a pretty flawed piece of work mostly because it is far too long. This 480 page novel could easily have been cut down to about 300 pages or so. The story started off very well for about 100 pages or so and the pace is pretty fast but I thought it all got too messy in the middle section and never really recovered after that. Some of the bizarre sub-plots should have been scrapped completely which would have made the story a bit more focused and a bit less meandering. In particular, the Nixon digressions didn’t strike me as being really necessary to the story. I also didn’t warm to any of the characters and I think this was because the dysfunctional nature of Harry’s family life was stretched beyond real believability. To me, the plot(s) just became farcical and absurd rather than funny and insightful as all good satire should be.
Overall, the initial story and characters were intriguing but failed to be rescued by some much-needed editing and plausibility. ‘May We Be Forgiven’ is an ambitious piece of work but ultimately, this book wasn’t for me.