Sunday, November 25, 2012

Things You Should Know by A.M. Homes

This is a collection of eleven stories by an author I'd never heard of (or whose existence penetrated my consciousness) until I read a favorable review of her most recent novel, May We Be Forgiven. By the time she'd published this in 2002, she'd published four novels and another collection of stories. According to Wikipedia, she "currently lives in New York City with her young daughter. She has taught in the writing programs at Columbia University, the New School, and NYU. She currently teaches in the creative writing programs at Princeton University. In April 2007, she stated in the Washington Post, 'I've dated men and I've dated women and there's no more or less to it than that.' In an interview with Diva magazine she said, 'I am bisexual, but I wouldn't necessarily define myself that way.'" (N.B.: I've just checked the Wikipedia links for these quotes. They take you to the publications, not to the articles with the quotes. An "A.M. Homes" search on the Diva site, has no results.)

All but two of the stories are told in the present tense. Several of the narrators are male. They vary in length from three pages to more than thirty. They are all engaging, some—as is inevitable in any collection—more than others.

In "Georgica," the narrator, a young woman, cruises a nighttime summer beach, watching couples have sex through night-vision goggles, and harvesting the sperm left in the condoms to inseminate herself. Baldly describing the story in this way makes the narrator sound extreme, but within the story, what she's doing seems natural and reasonable.

That story has relatively little dialogue (compared to others in the book). Homes' dialogue is wonderful. Here's a piece of a scene in which the adult daughter comes from New York to visit her elderly parents in Washington.:

"Is she here?" She hears her mother's voice across the house.
"Hi Mom," she says, and her mother does not hear her. She tries again. "Hi Mom." She walks down the hall saying Hi Mom, Hi Mom, Hi Mom at different volumes, in different intonations, like a hearing test.
"Is that you?" her mother finally asks when she's two feet away.
"I'm home."
He mother hugs her--her mother is smaller too.  Everything is shrinking, compacting, intensifying. "Did you have a good flight?"
She has never flown home. "I took the train."
"Is Ray back?" her mother asks.
"Not yet," her father says as he puts two heaping tablespoons of green powder into a glass of water.
"Where did you meet this Ray?"
"Your father left his coat at the health food store and Ray found it and called him."
Her father nods. "I went to get the coat and we started talking."
"Your father and Ray go to vitamin class together."
"Vitamin class?"
"They go to the health food store and a man speaks to them over a video screen."

I am delighted to have found—or been pointed to—Homes, both for the pleasure that her stories have given me and for the lessons I believe I can learn from them. I now look forward to reading more of her work.

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