In the new novel “May We Be Forgiven,” high school history teacher Harold Silver’s world changes drastically with each turn of the page. Toward the end of the book, Harold’s job is compromised by his style of teaching — apparently, even as a history teacher, he is too focused on the past.
A.M. Homes’ newest novel is a story of loss and tragedy for the modern age. Homes employs the perspective of a man whose life disintegrates after his brother tragically loses control. As Harold takes responsibility for his brother’s neglected duties, his relationships form and re-form while the lines between identities blur.
“May We Be Forgiven” is an anthem for our era. We watch the protagonist fall into a whirlwind of loss where solace can only be found in the words of his idol, Richard Nixon. Homes uses Nixon as a sounding board for morality, a representation of the definitive ideals where society draws the line.
In a recent interview, Homes indicated that her initial intention was to write a short story for a collection organized by her friend — and well-known contemporary writer — Zadie Smith. Homes began working on developing characters and decided that the world she had created had the potential to expand.
“In some ways, unpacking each story is like unveiling a whole other world that
exists in another reality,” Homes said.
Harold’s supervisor tells him that the ideal history curriculum should be a “study of the future,” for a more forward-thinking generation. Homes commented on this comical conversation with a meaningful idea: “That passage speaks to my concern that we’re losing sight of the past, and the difficulty of making sound decisions
without a historical context.”
For Harold, life cannot possibly return to the way it was, but relationships can bring support. Looking through a personal or political-historical lens can compel us to repeat our errors or to be the catalyst for change. Homes begs the young generation to reflect on the subject of where we have come from, and to hold onto the fraying ideals of reflection, consciousness and accountability.
Homes’ “May We Be Forgiven” will be released Sept. 27, 2012.
A version of this article appeared Thursday, Sept. 27 print edition. Tali Kuhel is a contributing writer. Email her at email@example.com.
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