Jonathan Franzen, author of Freedom and The Corrections, may be the MASTER of such 'American Ugly' literature but I have discovered the MISTRESS.
Don't you just love it when you discover a new author and you realise it's not her first novel and she has a whole back catalogue (no? Well, feel free to read no further. Yes? Then you are probably like me and understand the need to SHAKE YOUR PANTS AND DO A LITTLE DANCE. A whole new author! Yay!)
And I have gorged on her writing these holidays. GORGED, I tell you.
It started with May We Be Forgiven, the charming tale of two middle-aged brothers, Harry and George. The outwardly successful George commits a crime, and the run-of-the-mill Harry, more ordinary, less flashy, suddenly finds himself looking after George's house, wife, children ... his life.
Then there was This Book Will Save Your Life (perhaps tritely named, but a somewhat modern fable for the times).
Before I consider the psychological implications of why I find reading about (blackly) comic dysfunction so fascinating, on the superficial surface these novels are generally hilarious. Just as the film American Beauty looked at a middle-class family, who, finding they have worked their entire lives to fulfil society’s expectations of what a beautiful life is, realise it is utterly meaningless so does May We Be Forgiven and This Book Will Save Your Life. However, these novels are more about the individual who realises they have followed the rules about health and work and what makes a well-rounded, polite, socially acceptable person most of their lives, and then through a significant event also realise they have no connection to their community and have never really thought about that. Or, they have thought about it but avoid it because they know they don't actually like some of the people in their family that much and should direct their efforts elsewhere.
However, A.M. Homes does allow her characters slightly more chances at redemption (or perhaps believes it is there for the taking) than Jonathan Franzen.
In the back catalogue, Music For Torching (year) and In A Country of Mothers (year) look good (although I haven't read them, so they could be rubbish).
Homes's first novel The End of Alice (published to critical acclaim) was about paedophilia and is apparently quite harrowing so I may avoid that one but The Mistress's Daughter, her autobiographical exploration of the emotional confusion of meeting her birth parents (Homes was adopted) and the resulting disappointment, disbelief and need for closure is painful but informative reading. (Her biological father was a married man in his 30s and her mother was a teenage employee. Later, it appears that though her mother and father had lost contact they are still somewhat inexplicably drawn to each other even though her father is a Class A jerk and her mother is unstable, and both seem to have unreasonable expectations of her. Her father says "fine thing' whether it is about a sports game or the author's distressed questioning about a DNA test he ordered).
As A.M. Homes said herself when asked the inevitable "where do you get your ideas from?" at a book launch: "you." Her stories are about everyday ordinary complete raving madness in a way that perhaps only Americans may be (particularly those that live in LA, if we're talking about This Book Will Save Your Life.)
Is she for you? If you enjoy reading about individuals or families that think following rules is the answer (and yet have more skeletons in their closets and souls than the rest of us together), about people who have a life-changing moment in the first chapter and have to spend the rest of the novel negotiating their new perspective on life from the myriad of their previous dysfunctional thinking, then you will LOVE it. Fans of Jonathan Franzen or the film American Beautywill devour it.
Skate or die!!
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Linking up today with With Some Grace for Flog Yo Blog Friday.