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May We Be Forgiven

A Family Affair

Adultery, homicide- and then life really gets complicated.

By Leigh Newman

After washing the last Thanksgiving dish, Jane Silver reaches over a soap-filled sink and plants a kiss on Harold Silver that’s “serious, wet, and full of desire.” The problem is that Jane is married to Harold’s richer, smarter, and possibly insane younger brother, George, who, not long after the kiss, kills two strangers in a car accident, then discovers his wife in bed with Harold and murders her. Don’t worry, that wasn't a spoiler. It all happens in the first 50 pages of May We Be Forgiven (Viking), A.M. Homes’s sprawling, heartfelt, and hilarious new novel.

Devastated by the trouble he caused, Harold attempts to atone with a spree of kind deeds, including caring for George and Jane's two children. But his problems are just beginning. His wife leaves him after the New York Post exposes his infidelity, and his job as a university lecturer on the Nixon presidency ends when the school adopts a “future-fonvard” history curriculum. These setbacks don't deter Harold; his protective instincts expand to an ever-widening circle of vulnerable people. He helps his niece recover from the advances of a pedophile, becomes foster parent to the boy who survived George's car crash, and takes in two senior citizens suffering from dementia. Although Homes weaves in piercing satire on subjects like healthcare, education, and the prison system, her tone never veers into the overly arch, mostly thanks to Harold—a lovably earnest guy who creates his own kind of oddball, 21st-century family. —Leigh