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November 19, 2012

“May We Be Forgiven”

by Anne Paddock

There are paths, forks in the road, journeys we must take. Sometimes it’s not a choice, but about what we do with what we are given.

May We Be Forgiven was written by Amy M. Homes, an American writer who teaches creative writing at Princeton University and who goes by the pen name: A.M. Homes. Published in September, 2012, May We Be Forgiven is a fast paced novel that starts with a bang (literally) and gives new meaning to “The Big Bang Theory” of how a family is formed. Although many people think a family is created by a marriage or the birth of a child, a family is formed by people uniting or expanding in many different ways, both conventional and non-conventional.  And, when a family implodes, what are the survivors to do? Run and escape or come together? This is the dilemma faced by the major characters in May We Be Forgiven.

George Silver is a successful television executive who appears to have it all:  a beautiful wife, 2 children, a devoted dog, an indifferent but loyal cat, and a big house in the suburbs. But life with George is not all it appears to be. Despite his charms and professional achievement, George’s personal life is a mess even though he is seemingly unaware of how his immediate and extended family deal with his mood swings and cruel behavior. His wife, Jane seeks affection from another man, his children are sent to boarding school (at an age when most children are still at home) to spare them the wrath of George, and his brother, Harold covets everything his brother has.

It’s Thanksgiving Day and the celebration is at George and Jane’s house with their two children, Nate (12) and Ashley (11) home from boarding school. Also at the table are George’s assorted “friends” (who are in fact in his employ), George’s brother, Harold (a history professor, Nixon scholar, and the narrator of the story) and Harold’s Chinese-American wife, Claire.  Jane has slaved over a meal – cooking, serving, and dutifully cleaning up with no help from her husband or children (who are disconnected from life and focused on their electronics at the dinner table), the guests, or even Harold’s wife, who would rather be eating duck and sticky rice. Harold takes it all in and realizes that everyone is at the Thanksgiving table out of a sense of duty, not because they want to  celebrate an all-American family holiday together.

Harold begins an affair with Jane and four months later, George is arrested after he drives through a red light, plowing into a minivan, killing a couple, and leaving their 9-year old son, Ricardo an orphan. A few days later, George returns home to find his wife, Jane in bed with his brother, Harold and proceeds to attack his wife which results in her death, leaving their two children without parents.  Two families destroyed and the only ones left standing are Harold, his brother’s two children, and a little boy named Ricardo. All this happens in the first twenty pages of the novel leaving the real story to begin.

May We Be Forgiven is the hilarious account of Harold Silver’s journey of self discovery: coming to terms with who he is and the man he will become. The novel is a fast paced action packed story that takes the reader on a wild ride – from a college classroom where Harold tries to discuss the Bay of Pigs only to be interrupted by several students announcing they feel uncomfortable with the subject matter because they are vegetarians – to his nephew’s side where he is asked “Didn’t they leave you a manual or any kind of instruction?” Along the way, Harold learns that “Jews don’t kill their children, they just drive them crazy” and “that we are human, flawed, and that with our humanity, our consciousness, come expectations of compassion, of kindness and acceptance.”

It’s a tough journey for Harold as he questions the meaning of his former life and how best to move forward having never been a parent. By his own account, Harold is “like Oskar in The Tin Drum, refusing to grow up” and fully accept responsibility for his own behavior.  He identifies with flawed characters and Richard Nixon in particular who had “enormous fissures in personality, in belief, in morality” but realizes his life doesn’t have to follow the same path. A light novel that will make readers laugh out loud, May We Be Forgiven also delivers a meaningful message:  “…the job of a parent is to help the child become the person he or she already is.

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