With her signature humor and compassion, A.M. Homes exposes the heart of an uneasy America in her new collection - exploring our attachments to each other through characters who aren't quite who they hoped to become, though there is no one else they can be.
There is much to praise about A.M. Homes's varied story collection Days of Awe, her first since 2002's Things You Should Know. Wired into the zeitgeist, she's both a keen observer of some of the more absurd aspects of contemporary American life and someone who's not afraid to explore the boundaries where real life morphs into fantasy ... The best of Homes's stories take a familiar situation and give it a bizarre twist. That's true of A Prize for Every Player, where Tom, Jane and their two children embark on what appears to be a routine Saturday morning shopping trip at a Costco-type store. But this outing takes on an eerie aspect when one of the children discovers an abandoned baby atop the towel display; meanwhile, Tom's observations in front of a bank of televisions inspire his fellow shoppers to promote him as a presidential candidate. In barely 20 pages, it's a telling satire of our consumer culture and current political moment ... Unlike many story collections whose appeal lies in some unifying theme, Days of Awe's pleasure emerges from its embrace of the unexpected. Turn the page and you never know what you may find.
Homes circles and tugs at the question of what it means to live in flawed, fragile, hungry human bodies ... The title story is about a war reporter and a novelist who meet at a conference on genocide and have a weekend affair. Here the body is death—the millions killed who haunt the conference attendees — but it’s also desire. The affair is vivid and real and yet there is a shard of violence in it, the everyday violence of two people using each other to counter pain they don’t know how to digest ... One character embeds rose thorns in her feet; several have very disordered eating habits; people die too young, go to war and hold in their cells and minds the memories of past trauma ... The absurd and the delicate occupy the same space. Another story begins with a family going grocery shopping and ends with the father being nominated to run for president by fellow customers in the electronics aisle, while holding a baby his daughter found on a stack of towels ... Whatever the tone, hanging over Days of Awe are questions about how we metabolize strangeness, danger, horror. In each story the characters seem to be looking around at their lives and asking: 'Is this even real? Has the world always been so jagged?'
'It’s like a kinky psychodrama,' says Cheryl, the student protagonist of the final story in AM Homes’s new collection. She’s talking to her friend Walter. They’re both dressed up in her parents’ clothes. The line comes from within the role-play and outside it. She’s commenting on the peculiarity of their idea of an afternoon’s entertainment but also on the absurdity of her life in general: a life in the upper echelons of Los Angeles, where even the dog has had plastic surgery to remove its unappealing fatty tumours, the TV channel changes depending on who’s walking past and their favourite restaurant serves only tiny designer-sized macrobiotic bites ... Much of Homes’s skill lies in inventing plots that seem just about plausible as she leads you along but far less plausible when you stop to consider them. She narrates the stories in a pacy present tense, energised by amusing quips and details.