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by A.M. Homes

Pub Date: May 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-688-16711-X
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Paul and Elaine Weiss have a very bad ten days in this newest by Homes (The End of Alice, 1996, etc.), who takes her penchant for extreme situations and behavior to the suburbs. It begins as a typical Westchester County weekend: a dinner party followed by a barbecue at which everyone drinks too much and reveals their boredom and unhappiness—except that the Weisses top their neighbors in acting out. Elaine cuts Paul’s neck with a knife on Friday; he has phone sex with their divorced buddy Henry’s new girlfriend on Saturday; and they join forces on Sunday to set fire to their house, then head for a motel with their sons, sullen teen Daniel and asthmatic nine-year-old Sammy. Homes flings us into the middle of her protagonists” messed-up lives, yet for a long time keeps her readers emotionally distant from them. Whether detailing a lesbian encounter on a washing machine or genital tattooing, the narration doesn—t bat an eye or hazard an explanation. This trendy flat affect consorts oddly but aptly with the author’s rather generic satire of suburban society: though the time is clearly the present, the wives obsess about laundry and meals while the husbands commute to unspecified jobs at anonymous corporations in approved “50s fashion. It seems at first that Homes intends merely to patronize her characters. Then slowly, sneakily, without softening the weirdness and nasty edges of their actions, she entangles us in a sense of complicity with Elaine, Paul, and their equally troubled friends. “None are what they seem, none are what you think, none are what you—d want them to be,” she writes in the book’s most moving passage. “They all are both more and less—deeply human.” Although too heavily foreshadowed, the climax is still shocking, drawing a jagged curtain across a drama with plenty of conflict but no real resolution. Seldom subtle but often effective and almost always deeply creepy. People will be talking about this one. (QPB featured alternate; author tour)