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a.m. homes interview
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The New York novelist gets serious.Her debut 1989 novel, Jack, aside, AM Homes’ smart and beyond-blackly funny work tends towards the extreme, from documenting a young boy’s abusive relationship with a Barbie doll through to crack-addicted parents and a harrowing, novel-length study of paedophilia. With that sort of form, the fact that her new novel, This Book Will Save Your Life, sees her training her unerringly perceptive eye on human decency comes as a surprise. “It was being in New York City on 9/11,” she explains matter-of-factly. “Looking out my window and seeing these horrible events happen made me think about how this is the only life you get, and it would be better to try and make a positive out of it than leave it as a negative.”
Homes’ new novel is positive, profoundly so, albeit still teeming with the deadpan oddities that make her fiction unique and so uncannily believable. Wealthy Los Angelean divorcee Richard Novak’s revelatory moment comes in the form of a searing pain that hospitalises him and sets him on a path of reassessment. “How do you write about optimism?” ponders Homes. “How do you write about hope in not a particularly hopeful time in American culture? I wanted to write about a guy who had everything and yet had nothing at the same time, and who really wanted to change the way he was living his life. Which I think is ultimately not a funny thing, and a very difficult thing to do.”
Just as the book’s theme is serious but leavened with humour and surreality, so is its setting, LA, brought vividly to life as a bizarre conjunction of beauty and lunacy. “It’s kind of like a bleached, blank surface,” Homes explains. “And that’s fascinating and kind of terrifying at the same time. The other weird phenomenon is that you ask people why they like it there and they say, ‘We love it here because of the weather.’ Now, my understanding of the weather in Los Angeles is kind of Biblical: it rains, it floods, there are fires, mudslides, the earth opens up and things fall into it, and everybody says they love it because of the weather. That kind of sums it up for me.” Attractive and alluring but capable of swallowing you whole without warning? Welcome to the fiction of AM Homes.
This Book Will Save Your Life by AM Homes, out now published by Granta.
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