What has our world come to? The news over the weekend reported that shoppers have already set up camp outside stores across the country in preparation for Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year. Apparently, this began happening last Monday—13 days before the big shopping event. USA Today ran a story on three triplet brothers in Akron, Ohio, who took up residence outside their neighborhood Best Buy a week ago. One brother told the reporter that he wasn’t sure whether or not their mom would be willing to join them in the tent to spend Thanksgiving together. And yet the potential to save $25 on a computer monitor will be well worth the sacrifice, right?
If you’re one of the dedicated deal-seekers who is choosing a Black Friday queue over Thanksgiving dinner with your loved ones, then I’ve got the perfect read while you’re waiting: A. M. Homes’s 2012 novel May We Be Forgiven. That lovely picture of canned cranberry sauce on the cover may tempt your Thanksgiving tastebuds, but don’t worry—the Silver family’s Thanksgiving table is one you’d rather not pull up to.
I was bringing in heavy plates and platters, casseroles caked with the debris of dinner, and no one noticed that help was needed—not George, not his two children, not his ridiculous friends, who were in fact in his employ, among them a weather girl and assorted spare anchormen and -women who sat stiff-backed and hair-sprayed like Ken and Barbie, not my Chinese-American wife, Claire, who hated turkey and never failed to remind us that her family used to celebrate with roast duck and sticky rice. George’s wife, Jane, had been at it all day, cooking and cleaning, serving, and now scraping bones and slop into a giant trash bin. . . . The turkey, an “heirloom bird,” whatever that means, had been rubbed, relaxed, herbed into submission, into thinking it wasn’t so bad to be decapitated, to be stuffed up the ass with breadcrumbs and cranberries in some annual rite.
Any reader looking for a bountiful table surrounded by people with thankful hearts has come to the wrong house. There’s more dysfunction in this novel than in Franzen’s Freedom, Walls’s Glass Castle, and Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath combined. It begins with a little inappropriate touching between Harry Silver and his brother’s wife in the kitchen, but then quickly escalates into murder and mayhem.
Harry spends the novel losing everything in his life, from his wife to his job, and then trying to figure out how to put things back together again. He reassembles his world into weird, unpredictable groupings, taking in his brother’s kids, his dog, and a few other stray characters along the way. And yet this Nixon-obsessed anti-hero has no more ability to care for others than he does for himself. Does he learn or grow? The answer to that, apparently, is in the eyes of the reader.
This novel will take you on a wild, unpredictable roller-coaster ride, and it will elicit some emotional responses—laughing, eye-rolling, anger, among others. Some critics have praised the book, including reviewers in The Guardian and NPR. But I lost patience with the ridiculous antics of Harry Silver. I like a little black comedy as much as the next reader. And I appreciate dysfunction when it leads to enlightenment—if not on the part of the character, then at least in the perspective of the reader. But, here, I’m just not sure that sort of transformation happens, or that the comedy outweighs the craziness.
If you’re preparing for a (mostly) pleasant Thanksgiving reunion with your family, this might not be the novel to put you in the right frame of mind. If, however, you’re currently in a folding chair in a strip-mall parking lot waiting for the Thanksgiving feast to give way to Black Friday shopping, then here’s a fitting book to help you pass the time.