After a grim foray into memoir, Homes (The Mistress’s Daughter, 2007, etc.) returns to fiction with the tale of a beleaguered history professor.
A relentless series of shocks rattles hapless narrator Harry Silver. First, his brutal younger brother, odious TV executive George, kills two people in a car crash and is committed to the local hospital’s psych ward. Three nights later, George returns to find Harry in bed with George’s wife, Jane, and smashes her over the head with a lamp. George is whisked off to a mental institution, brain-damaged Jane dies in the hospital, and Harry winds up as reluctant guardian of 12-year-old Nate and 11-year-old Ashley. His wife launches divorce proceedings, he loses his job, and he has a stroke. Even Richard Nixon, longtime subject of Harold’s research, didn’t have many months worse than this. Living in his brother’s Westchester mansion and having sex with women he meets via the Internet, Harry succumbs to despair. He’s adrift in a world “so new, so random and disassociated that it puts us all in danger. We talk online, we 'friend' each other….We mistake almost anything for a relationship.” Yet, Harry does build an oddball community with his niece and nephew, the son of the couple George killed, the elderly parents of one of his sex partners, the owners of his favorite Westchester Chinese restaurant and the family that runs a deli across the street from the Manhattan law firm where he’s reading Nixon’s previously unknown fiction—made available to Harry by Julie Nixon Eisenhower, the cousin-in-law of another sex partner. They all come together (except Julie) in the novel’s closing pages, which contrast their peaceful, happy Thanksgiving with the tense holiday a year earlier that foreshadowed Harry’s woes.
The formula of shock treatment followed by sentimental affirmation was fresher in Homes’ Music for Torching (1999) and This Book Will Save Your Life (2006), and it’s hard to take seriously social commentary grounded in such bizarre particulars.