If there was ever a novel in serious need of plot speed-bumps such as weather descriptions, it’s this one. You would think that in a 500 page novel the author would take her time and let things unravel slowly. No, not Homes. It was a crazy ride in a convertible with Homes behind the wheel and me sitting in the back shouting over the wind
“Homes, where are we going? Are we even going anywhere??”
And Homes would shout back
“What? I can’t hear you! We’re going too fast!”
On the first page we meet Harry Silver who seduces or is seduced by his brother’s wife, depending on how you look at it. Meanwhile, his brother, a big shot TV producer, goes through a red light and kills a family. He then goes mad, although it’s unclear actually whether killing that family was the cause of his madness or just one of its effects. He then kills his wife after having caught her with Harry. Don’t worry, this all happens on the first five pages on the novel, after which a billion other things happen, pretty much anything you can think of, short of alien abduction.
It’s funny how all these things just happen to Harry, who is really just minding his own business, trying to take care of his brother’s half-orphaned children. Yet, he seems to attract the crazy, he goes to the shop and meets a woman who invites herself over and then practically sexually assaults him. Or he meets some crazy guy in hospital who had lots of money. When the guy dies Harry finds wads of banknotes in his pockets. Now, how did that happen? Surely, Harry did not put them there himself, for Harry is a good guy, he will have you know. Things just seem to happen to him. Absurd, ridiculous things. Over the top, grotesque things.
You can’t take this novel at face value, because it’s impossible to suspend your disbelief for all those 500 pages. It’s easy to just take it as a satire full of caricatures and irony. It starts off bleakly; pages are populated by mean characters doing nasty things but then gradually everything becomes a little nicer until it’s full on rainbows and unicorns. For Harry is a good guy, and good things happen to good people. Eventually.
Or is he really a good guy? I’d like to propose a slightly different interpretation of this novel. Let’s remember Harry is the narrator here, and as all first person narrators are he is subjective. Let’s go even further, let’s say he is unreliable. After all, Harry’s great hero is Nixon, man who in his own mind was a paragon of virtue but really just created and bended the world to his liking...
That money that just magically ended up in Harry’s pockets? When I first read it, I believed he had no idea, because Harry is just such a harmless, affable guy. But then I remembered how he described that scene at the party when the accountant came up to him and said something Harry didn’t like, and then the accountant was on floor holding his jaw. Harry never tells us he hit the accountant, yet the accountant is on the floor. And if we remember how Harry describes the scene when his brother kills his wife, it looks a little dodgy as well:
"Maybe I heard that part—the dog barking. Or maybe he didn’t ring the bell and maybe the dog didn’t bark. Maybe George took the spare key from inside the fake rock in the garden by the door, and, like an intruder, he came silently into his own house. Maybe he came upstairs thinking he’d crawl into his bed, but his spot was taken. I don’t know how long he stood there. I don’t know how long he waited before he lifted the lamp from her side of the bed and smashed it onto her head. That’s when I woke up.
[…]I stand facing him, wearing his pajamas. We are the same, like mimes, we have the same gestures, the same faces, the family chin, my father’s brow, the same mismatched selves."
Often Harry reminds us that his brother George was the bully, and he, Harry, was one of his victims. Yet, there are stories that his relatives mention where Harry did horrible things. He always then corrects them saying it was his brother George, not him. And we believe him, of course, for Harry is a nice fellow.
So nice, we are in fact shocked that his wife leaves him (fair enough, he did have an affair) and then pays him a lot of money to never contact her again. Now, why would you do that to such a lovely chap? But then let’s remember that one scene, where Harry’s wife reacts to Harry’s revelations that Jane (the brother’s wife) might have the hots for him.
“You were in her way and she was trying to get past you and not get to you,” Claire said. I didn’t mention that I felt the head of my cock pressing against my sister-in-law’s hips, her thighs pressed together. “Only you would think she was making a pass,” Claire said, disgusted. “Only me,” I repeated. “Only me.”
So possibly this wasn’t the first time? Possibly Claire knows something about Harry that Harry won’t tells us?
Now, let’s look at the children. They are just the regular zombified American pre-teens before Harry steps on the scene, but then thanks to his tender love and care they turn into these precocious, wonderful little things. Or at least that’s how Harry presents it to us. The kids don’t even seem to mind that he contributed to their mother’s death in a way. Harry can’t help it, you see. Women just want him. Wherever he goes they want him – he just happens to go on the internet random hook up site. Because that’s a normal thing to do when you ex-lover was murdered before your very eyes by your own brother. Just go online and set up a series of lunchtime fuck dates. Yet, when Harry describes it seems like just the thing to do. The book happens so fast I had no time to think and it was only after I finished reading that I thought: wait a minutes, that’s actually pretty messed up.
So when everything starts going great, let’s assume it’s another one of Harry’s delusions. Not entirely made up, just slanted, because Harry sees what he chooses to see and presents it to us the way he wants to present it. But there are cracks in his story and sometimes they show, like when he suddenly suffers from guilt pangs over some murdered girl who had nothing to do with him.
I think this interpretation (for which I can’t take the sole credit or almost any credit at all, because it was discussed at our book club) makes ‘May We Be Forgiven’ a more exciting and interesting read, even if this is not what A.M. Homes intended at all. But we live in the post-modern times and this book now belongs to us, the readers, and we will do with it what we like.