At Thanksgiving dinner, clearing the plates in the kitchen, Harold is kissed wetly by Jane, the wife of his hated younger brother, George, sparking vivid sexual fantasies involving her in the months that follow. In February, George runs a red light, killing a husband and wife and injuring their son. Seemingly deranged, George is taken to a psychiatric ward for observation. A few days later, Harold and Jane have sex four times over the course of slightly more than a day. That very night, George leaves the hospital unnoticed, returns home, finds them asleep, picks up the lamp on Jane’s side of the bed and bashes her on the head, twice. That plotful beginning takes us to the bottom of page 14 and sets the stage for A.M. Homes’s remarkable (and very funny) novel of reinvention and atonement.
From this outlandish suburban tragedy, Harold, a middle-aged Nixon scholar, sets about rebuilding his life, constructing a family that is better—more engaged, more thoughtful—than the grasping American Dream that was destroyed. He becomes parent to his nephew, Nate, 12, and niece, Ashley, 11; later, Ricardo, the boy orphaned in the accident, is brought into the fold. At first, Harold is in freefall, doing his best under horrific circumstances; but as the book unfolds, so does Harold. His transformation is uplifting, moving, touching—all those uncynical adjectives we so rarely encounter in modern American literature.
The book is teeming with incident—Internet encounters with women seeking daytime sex, a moving bar mitzvah ceremony in a remote Zulu village in South Africa, a government sting operation to bring down an Israeli arms dealer, the appearance of hitherto unknown short stories by Richard Nixon (which are pretty good). Real people—Julie Nixon Eisenhower, New Yorker editor David Remnick—drop in for cameos.
Homes’s seventh novel is a 500-page work of breathtaking imagination, shocking, surreal, its quirky sideways humour leavening its serious intentions. The story ends, as it began, at Thanksgiving. This time, the people gathered have much to be thankful for.