ETA: At 480 pages, this book qualifies as the second of six completed for the 2013 Chunkster Challenge!
Aw, man, I *so* was looking forward to this book. I've been a big fan of Homes for a long time, loving Music for Torching and This Book Will Save Your Life. I've hugely appreciated her dark humor and willingness to go dark places. I can't say I liked The End of Alice, but I deeply respected her bravery as a writer for going there. So when Viking sent me a review copy of May We Be Forgiven, I was delighted.
Until I read it. There are moments of Homes' dry wit and dark humor that made me smile, but unfortunately there were many more moments when I was rolling my eyes and groaning.
It's the story of Harold Silver, who has always been in his brother George's shadow, until George commits a horrific act of violence that change Harold's life forever and brings him into constant contact with his niece and nephew. So, yeah, between the plot description and the title, you can probably figure out we've got a bit of a redemption tale going on. But what we also have is a book that tries to be so many other things. At nearly 500 pages, it's packed full: boarding school shenanigans, elder care issues, the plight of a remote South African village, bar mitzvah planning, suburban sexual escapades, political intrigue, and a subplot in which Harold, a historian and history professor, is writing a book about Richard Nixon, a man he loves.
It's just too much. I haven't given spoilers in terms of what the act of violence entails, but let's just say that it's plenty to build a book around. Adding all the rest is just filler. And worse, it's "clever" filler. At times the humor is so strained, as if the author feels like she needs to be funny but can't think of a good way to do so.
Even worse are the racial stereotypes. Maybe Homes is playing with them to make the reader uncomfortable and to address how we perceive different ethnicities. Well, she made me uncomfortable all right, but more because the Asian people are wincingly stereotyped, and good heavens, the trip to South Africa is just cringe-worthy. As someone on Goodreads noted, there's an appearance by a Magical Negro, and let's not overlook the benevolent role the white people play for the South Africans. Someone else on Goodreads pondered whether or not Homes used this novel as a way to write off a vacation to South Africa. I can't say I find that idea far-fetched.