On the shelf
From AM Homes
Vikings: 416 pages, $28
If you purchase books linked from our site, The Times may receive a commission from Bookshop.org, whose fees support independent bookstores.
AM Homes is no stranger to controversy. Her first novel, Jack, written when she was 19, has been one of the American Library Association’s Most Banned and Controversial Books since its publication in 1989. Her fourth novel Music for Torching struck a nerve in an explosive moment. It was about a school shooting, and its release date — April 20, 1999 — coincided with the Columbine massacre.
Her latest novel The Unfolding has a similar claim to uncanny foresight. Homes began writing more than a decade ago, around the time of President Obama’s defeat by Senator John McCain. In the book, a character referred to only as “The Big Guy” organizes a group of wealthy Republicans to form the “Forever Men,” a secret cabal committed to using any means necessary to protect themselves and to keep their species in power. They assume that the women in their lives will be right behind them. But the Big Guy’s wife and daughter aren’t so flexible. They make discoveries that drive them on their own crazy journeys.
I recently sat down to talk about The Unfolding, which is out this week. The novel pairs slapstick political satire with tender observations on the relationship between parents and children. Aspects of the story are reminiscent of Home’s own adoption memoirs, The Mistress’s Daughter. which chronicles the unexpected appearance of her birth mother in her life and the discovery of her birth father. This is her first novel since May We Be Forgiven, which won the 2013 Women’s Prize for Fiction.
Homes and I have known each other professionally for years. In the early 1990s mutual friends insisted we meet. At the time, I was writing a cultural history of the Barbie doll, and Homes had recently published A Real Doll, a disturbing short story that begins, “I’m Dating My Sister’s Barbie.” Our conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
“The Unfolding” felt authentic because its fictional characters interact with real people. For example, Malcolm Moos, the President Eisenhower’s 1961 speech warning of the “military-industrial complex,” is a real person. And George Washington too. What surprised you during the research?
I was fascinated by that sense of confidence that comes from not only knowing your history but also having a legacy of historical importance. As I was finishing the book, this strange piece of information came to me: My ancestors had owned the land that is now Capitol Hill—roughly Everyone the country.
Ancestors of your birth father?
yes dr Thomas Gerard. I also learned that two of my ancestors – they were sisters – were consecutively married to George Washington’s great-grandfather. It has something to do with literally writing yourself to some kind of story that you know on some level without knowing exactly what you’re doing.
Are you saying you knew that at some genetics? even?
I am. My birth father had said things – and his own demeanor was a bit Big Guy-esque in that sense of great confidence and sense of ownership or privilege of a place. And I didn’t quite understand that. But when I discovered this information, it made a lot more sense.
Who was your biological father?
A banker in Washington, DC In the book, the thread of Big Guy and his daughter Meghan is an echo of my life, but also very different. Because obviously I didn’t grow up with my father. And we didn’t have any of those conversations and we never spent more than 36 minutes together.
Her fiction tended to be ahead of its time – to depict cultural upheavals before they happen. Is it foresight or is it reading the culture?
It’s by no means the first time I’ve written about something. When I wrote “Jack,” my teachers said, “This is going to be very controversial.” And I remember asking myself, Why? Was it because there weren’t any books about kids whose parents were gay back then? Was that foresight? As a writer, I like to think it’s about reading the culture.
I love the way you evoke the values of an entire class with three vanishing terms: “Noblesse Oblige, Haberdashery, and Dinner.”
I thought of a generation that is fading fast for me. When I look at what happened to Trump, you see so much disregard for the rules. Many of these rules were unwritten because no one thought we would ever have to write them. Because the expectation was that people would behave accordingly – and all would have the same desire to preserve democracy. But then one of my editors in England said, “Well, I’m confused because you keep saying you want to keep democracy and you don’t seem to want to.”
And I think, well, democracy means different things to different people. Your “democracy” and my “democracy” are not necessarily the same.
Where do the Forever Men – and their plans for disruption – fit in? The book ends before Trump shows up.
I’ve always been very interested in post-WWII America, investing in the American dream and losing understanding of the dream. This coincides with the rise of big money and dark money in politics. I imagine these men looking at Trump and asking, “Did we do that?” In other words, would this be their fault?
What did you want to achieve with this novel?
It’s important to me that this book is a weave of the ideas envisioned as the Great American Novel – ie a novel written by someone named Jonathan (that’s what Jonathans do) – and the Intimate Domestic, who does too the female novel is . This was an opportunity to weave them together and to capture the big socio-political ideas and experiences with those of the family. It also illustrates the differences between our public and private selves. The way the Big Guy is one person with his family and a different version of himself when he’s with the Forever Men.
Despite its humor, the book paints a bleak picture of America. Is there anything to be optimistic about?
When I look at the January 6th hearings, I look at all the women – the young Women – who reported and came forward with information. who have put themselves in difficult situations. They were in these rooms and witnesses of things and men ignored their presence.
Meghan is very concretely her own person. She comes to herself and realizes that she may see the world differently than her family described it to her. This process of individuation and separation is universal. I enjoyed watching her discover her own sense of agency. If you don’t go within yourself in some way, no one will push you there. The Big Guy might think she’ll go along with his ideas. But that’s the Big Guy being naïve about his point of view.
Lord, author of The Accidental Feminist, is an associate professor at USC.
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/books/story/2022-09-05/how-family-revelations-enriched-a-m-homes-new-novel-about-a-maga-type-cabal A.M. Homes on her novel, “The Unfolding,” Trump and her family