May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes
I don't even know how to begin describing this book. If you follow The Morning News' Tournament of Books, you will have heard the phrase they coined "White Male Fuck Up Novel" and May We Be Forgiven falls squarely in this camp. Harry and George Silver are brothers, vastly different from one another.
Harry, the eldest, but always thought of as younger, has been working forever on a book about Richard Nixon and teaches classes on the ex-president. However, he's teaching college students who are way too young to have a clue as to who Nixon was. He and his wife Claire have an odd dynamic (I don't know how else to explain it) and no children. They live in New York City, where they both focus on their individual occupational obsessions.
George, the younger, is thought of as the older, probably because he is a big bully. He's got a high profile job at a television network, two kids in private boarding schools and a wife who keeps a lovely home and cares for her family and really has her act together. But, Jane isn't happy. We open the book at Thanksgiving where Harry and Claire are surrounded by George's family and in-laws. The kids don't raise their faces above their phones and video games, seemingly just filling time until they return to their schools. When Harry goes into the kitchen, Jane, who he's always been fond of, comes on to him. And, that's nothing.
Soon after, George just sort of loses it and gets into a car accident, where he kills two people, leaving their young son, the only survivor, other than George. George is taken to the hospital and admitted due to his very strange behavior at the hospital. Harry goes to Jane to tell her what's happened and the two of them wind up sleeping together. However, George in the midst of whatever mania he is in, sneaks out of the hospital, finds his way home and brains his wife when he sees her in bed with another man, before realizing it is Harry. George is arrested and his wife, in a comatose state is taken to the hospital. Harry is left to explain to his wife, his mother, George and Jane's kids and Jane's family what has happened.
This is just the start of the whirlwind. In the midst of all of this, lawyers swoop down and give Harry responsibility for everything. He's in charge of the money, the family, and all decisions. And, his wife is suing him for divorce. He moves into the George Silver residence to care for the house and the pets, and figure out what to do for the rest of his life. However, the decisions just keep getting crazier because he is not in a position mentally or emotionally to handle this.
I can't say that I liked Harry much. I usually wanted to shake him and tell him to pull it together. Holmes never gives the guy a break. No one person, real or fictional, until now has ever had to deal with this big of a pile on. Friends, family, lovers, mental health professionals, his students, his colleagues, federal officials, the family of the surviving child, the boarding schools all are catalysts for unbelievable and increasingly crazy problems.
Luckily, Harry makes some friends and keeps plugging on. Luckily for the reader, because a few of Harry's new friends and the changes they help him make throughout the story keep you going. You know the whole train wreck thing, you are horrified, but you just can't look away? That's what this is like. The writing isn't a train wreck. Oh, no. Homes has written one of the most cringe worthy books I've ever read and done it so wonderfully. It is so absolutely frustratingly believable. She unleashes all the horrors the fates can gather and throws them at this man who is so incredibly inept. The cast of characters is large and Harry's interactions with them defy imagination. You will be swept up in the morass that is Harry's life, never knowing whether or not he's actually going to survive it, let alone be a success.
Prepare for an uncomfortable journey, but one that is totally worthwhile. I laughed, I groaned, I had to keep reading and, most of all, I was so grateful not to be Harold Silver.