At this time in my life I read various kinds of books for very different reasons. By far, much of what I read is some form of escape from my present reality. Such reading is one means of surviving the challenges of my reality and often works rather well.
At other times, and all too seldom, I read something because it is both an escape from as well as an entrance into that reality which offers some hope for that reality. May We Be Forgiven by A, M. Homes (2012, Penguin) is one of those books.
Before trying to convey something about hope, it is necessary to acknowledge that I am not the only reader of Homes who finds some parts of what she writes to be disgusting. This partial disgust may be the point of such a powerful book. (Perhaps there is much to learn from a reflection on disgusting things? To some extent that is precisely what unfolds over the length of the book. ) I do not pretend to understand or appreciate all that is going on in a novel that is both compelling, yet semi-chaotic. Some portions of the narrative — more than a few sex scenes — simply do not make any sense to me. There is nothing particularly sexy, romantic, beautiful, or even interesting about these scenes. The mystery of actual relationships is omitted and what remains is just plain dumb.
Now the challenge is how to comment on a truly amazing book without spoiling it for you who may read it?
This is a long book, nearly 500 pages. At times various aspects of the story seem to hang in the air as though looking or waiting for home. That looking and waiting are surely intentional on the part of Homes. But, it does demand a generous reader who is willing to enter into this semi-chaotic world without asking too many questions and come along where she seeks to lead. She does lead.
Much of this story serves to expose and denounce with clear vision and acidic-comic commentary a great deal of (what looks from the West Coast to be numerous examples of) East Coast arrogant, materialistic life-style and child rearing practices taken to be normal and completely acceptable, etc. Without any examples, the novel follows a path from death of various kinds into a stunning example of resurrection.
My own particular interest in the book stems from what Homes does with rituals — a Jewish bar mitzvah, and a semi-Christian Thanksgiving feast. May We Be Forgiven has deep strands of theological and liturgical wisdom uncommon in “secular” literature. The powerful “liturgical” practices demonstrated in this story have much to teach both those who already have an appreciation for ritual, as well as those who are more skeptical. Homes’ use of ritual and descriptions of ritual are stunning because these are not the rituals administered by experts, but rather ritual that pours from its own depth and power out of the lives of very messed up, some what ordinary people. To say more will spoil.
The rituals make no sense without all that comes before them. They demand a lot of reading and following what IS bizarre, etc. Part of the function of the length of the story is to give the reader time to figure out just how bizarre, and why. It is more than worth the read. And if you do, please let me know what you think. This is a book to reflect on together, once you have read it.