Homes, A.M. 1961–
Homes, A.M. 1961–
(Amy Michael Homes)
PERSONAL: Born 1961, in Washington, DC; children: one daughter. Education: Attended American University; Sarah Lawrence College, B.A., 1985; University of Iowa, M.F.A., 1988.
ADDRESSES: Home—New York, NY.
CAREER: Writer. Held position at Columbia University, New York, NY; writing instructor at New School, New York; instructor at New York University, New York; member of board of directors of Yaddo, Saratoga Springs, NY, Fine Arts Work Center, Provincetown, MA, PEN American Center, The Writers Room, New York, and the President's Council of Poets and Writers.
AWARDS, HONORS: Benjamin Franklin Award; National Endowment for the Arts fellowship; New York Foundation for the Arts Artists fellowship; Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers fellowship, New York Public Library; Deutscher jugendliteraturpreis, 1993, for Jack; Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, 1998.
Jack (novel), Macmillan (New York, NY), 1989.
The Safety of Objects (stories), Norton (New York, NY), 1990.
In a Country of Mothers (novel), Knopf (New York, NY), 1993.
The End of Alice (novel), Scribner (New York, NY), 1996.
Appendix A: An Elaboration on the Novel "The End of Alice," Artspace Books (San Francisco, CA), 1996.
Music for Torching (novel), Rob Weisbach Books (New York, NY), 1999.
Things You Should Know: A Collection of Stories, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2002.
Los Angeles: People, Places, and the Castle on the Hill, National Geographic (Washington, DC), 2002.
This Book Will Save Your Life, Viking (New York, NY), 2006.
The Mistress's Daughter (memoir), Viking (New York, NY), 2007.
Contributor to Clifford Ross's Wave Music, Aperture (New York, NY), 2005, and Amy Arbus's On the Street, Welcome Books (New York, NY), 2006. Contributor to artist's catalogs for Cecily Brown, Rachel Whiteread, Ken Probst, Gergory Crewdson, Carroll Dunham, and Todd Hido. Contributing editor to Vanity Fair, Mirabella, Bomb, and Blind Spot. Contributor to periodicals, including Artforum, Harper's, New Yorker, Granta, New York Times, and Zoetrope. Served as a writer and producer for the television series The L Word.
ADAPTATIONS: The Safety of Objects was adapted for film by Rose Troche and released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 2001; Jack was adapted for television and aired on Showtime, 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: A.M. Homes made her literary debut at age nineteen with Jack, a novel that follows an adolescent boy's emotionally painful progression into adulthood. Praised for its realistic portrayal of the average American teenager, the story is told from the point of view of the title character, who is in the midst of adjusting to his parents' recent divorce. Jack's ambivalence is soon intensified when he learns that his father is homosexual, and the boy subsequently becomes the victim of his classmates' insensitivity. Jack tells one boy's story about "prejudice and bias," Homes told Elizabeth Kastor in an article in the Washington Post. Both the discovery that his best friend's family is perhaps more dysfunctional than his own and a new friendship with a girl who also has a homosexual father help Jack to ultimately avoid feelings of self-despair.
In her next book, a collection of stories titled The Safety of Objects, Homes presents a cast of profoundly neurotic characters unable to cope with the tedium of life in middle-class America. Described as "vivid and disturbing" by Margaret Camp in the Washington Post, the narratives are concerned with what the reviewer termed the "dark harvest of our postmodern culture." In the story "Adults Alone," for example, a quintessential suburban couple spends ten days reveling in debauchery; they eat and drink to excess, watch pornographic videos, and smoke crack cocaine while the kids stay at their grandmother's house. And in "A Real Doll," a teenage boy has bizarre sexual encounters with his sister's vivified Barbie doll.
Camp assessed the collection as an "enthralling spiral into surrealist Hell." Los Angeles Times Book Review writer Amy Hempel wrote that the author maintains "credibility by getting the details right," especially in "Looking for Johnny," which depicts the abduction of a nine-year-old boy, Erol. The narrative explores the psychological deficiencies of the kidnapper as well as the emotional trauma experienced by Erol when his captor finds him dull and returns the boy to his unsympathetic family.
"The imagination that shapes A.M. Homes's fiction is exhilaratingly perverse," wrote New York Times Book Review contributor Maggie Paley. Homes's first adult novel, In a Country of Mothers, is ostensibly the story of Jody Goodman, a young college-bound woman seeking help from Dr. Claire Roth, a therapist who is old enough to be her mother. As therapy proceeds, however, the focus of the novel seems to move from Jody to Claire. Elaine Kendall explained in the Los Angeles Times that Jody "remains virtually unchanged by these meetings" while Claire exhibits a continual increase in interest in Jody which borders on obsession. Claire convinces herself that Jody is the long-lost daughter whom she handed over for adoption many years ago, a conviction based on the coincidence of Jody's date and place of birth. She steps over the threshold that transforms a therapist from an observer and counselor to an active participant in the patient's life. As the doctor's involvement escalates—from including Jody in Roth family outings to spying on the patient in Jody's own neighborhood—Claire is "driven to the edge of madness," according to Kendall.
Some critics expressed disappointment with Homes's initial entry into adult fiction. Belles Lettres reviewer Bettina Berch referred to a novel "about a handful of self-obsessed people." A Kirkus Reviews critic praised the novel's "snappy dialogue" but decided that the novel's "strong premise has a weak follow-through." Carol Anshaw reached a similar opinion, commenting in the Chicago Tribune that In the Country of Mothers fails to fulfill the promise "pulsing behind the type." Leigh Allison Wilson reported in the Washington Post, however, that Homes succeeded in creating intimate glimpses at "good people gone terribly wrong."
In her next novel, The End of Alice, Homes "takes us … to places we dare not go alone," wrote Elizabeth Houghton in the Los Angeles Times Book Review. A young college woman, home for summer vacation, becomes sexually obsessed with a twelve-year-old boy. She explores her obsession directly, but also by corresponding with a convicted pedophile, sentenced to life in prison for molesting and eventually murdering a girl named Alice. In her letters, the narrator flirts with the convict, teasing him to revive his memories of Alice and to ponder how such warped events can happen. The memories, like the narrator's responses, grow sexually explicit and graphically pornographic, according to some critics. Jennifer Kornreich suggested in the Women's Review of Books that Homes's purpose may have been to achieve the "social … [benefit] of shock value." Yet New York Times Book Review writer Daphne Merkin reported that the book's "underlying themes are more serious than prurient."
Homes returned to the characters she created in "Adults Alone" for her 1999 novel, Music for Torching. Paul and Elaine are no more mature than they were in the earlier short story, but their kids are older. The novel begins with them deliberately setting fire to their home after a barbecue accident, and follows each of them through tawdry affairs with neighbors and acquaintances. Music for Torching caused David Gates in Newsweek to compare Homes to John Cheever, but the critic stated that the author "shows none of Cheever's nuanced ambivalence about leafy, loony suburbia."
Three years later, Homes published another collection of short fiction, Things You Should Know: A Collection of Stories. Reviewing the volume in Newsweek, Susannah Meadows remarked that Homes's collection of stories demonstrate "the fundamentals of great storytelling." Similarly, James O'Laughlin in Booklist noted the "remarkable range of dramas" included in Things You Should Know. Library Journal contributor Colleen Lougen described Homes's skill in the collection as "hypnotic."
In 2006 Homes published the novel This Book Will Save Your Life. The story takes place in Los Angeles, where a rich but lonely stock trader named Richard happens upon bad times, finding himself in the hospital and his home in jeopardy of falling into a sinkhole. These catalysts wake Richard up, prompting him to reach outside of his normal routine and engage in activities he normally shuns. Along the way, he rescues a horse, saves a kidnapped woman, and befriends a cast of characters, including a movie star, writer, and doughnut shop owner. Richard also makes a new effort at being a good father to his distant teenage son.
Critics lauded Homes for her work on This Book Will Save Your Life overall. For some, it was Homes's dynamic writing style and strong story line that made her book a compelling read. This Book Will Save Your Life is full of "cinematic pizzazz," wrote Donna Seaman in a review for Booklist. Other reviewers focused on more specific aspects of the novel as containing the key to the story's success. The "characters' sudden insights" were the noteworthy moments in This Book Will Save Your Life for one Kirkus Reviews contributor.
Homes told CA: "Jack is both one of the 100 most banned books in America and on many school reading lists, and The End Of Alice was banned in parts of Europe and was front page news for days…. The Mistress's Daughter was first previewed in the New Yorker in 2004 to a wonderful, warm response, which is what allowed/prompted me to finally finish the book, which is a true story about my family."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Homes, A.M., The Mistress's Daughter, Viking (New York, NY), 2007.
Antioch Review, spring, 1991, Jon Saari, review of The Safety of Objects, p. 301; winter, 1994, Lee Huntington, review of In a Country of Mothers, p. 182.
Belles Lettres, fall, 1993, Bettina Berch, review of In a Country of Mothers, p. 42.
Booklist, May 15, 1999, Danise Hoover, review of Music for Torching, p. 1668; August, 2002, James O'Laughlin, review of Things You Should Know: A Collection of Stories, p. 1920; March 1, 2006, Donna Seaman, review of This Book Will Save Your Life, p. 68.
Chicago Tribune, May 7, 1993, Carol Anshaw, review of In a Country of Mothers, p. 3.
Daily Variety, February 16, 2006, Michael Fleming, "Steindorff Gets 'Life' Line," p. 27.
Economist, July 5, 2003, Clare Boylan, review of Things You Should Know, p. 76.
Entertainment Weekly, June 11, 1999, L.S. Klepp, "Homes's Town: Following Up on Her Shocking Novel The End of Alice, A.M. Homes Takes on Suburban Angst and Marriage in Music for Torching," p. 58.
Globe & Mail (Toronto, Canada), February 8, 2003, review of Los Angeles: People, Places, and the Castle on the Hill, p. 1.
Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 1993, review of In a Country of Mothers, p. 246; March 15, 1999, review of Music for Torching, p. 398; July 1, 2002, review of Things You Should Know, p. 905; March 15, 2006, review of This Book Will Save Your Life, p. 253.
Lambda Book Report, July-August, 1999, Elizabeth Brownrigg, review of Music for Torching, p. 14.
Library Journal, August, 2002, Colleen Lougen, review of Things You Should Know, p. 148.
London Review of Books, May 9, 1996, review of The End of Alice, p. 20.
Los Angeles Times, July 9, 1993, Elaine Kendall, review of In a Country of Mothers, p. E5.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, October 28, 1990, Amy Hempel, review of The Safety of Objects, p. 3; May 26, 1996, Elizabeth Houghton, review of The End of Alice, p. 6; June 6, 1999, Susan Salter Reynolds, review of Music for Torching, p. 11.
New Republic, March 31, 2003, Stanley Kauffmann, "On Films—Places to Live," p. 24.
New Statesman, November 28, 1997, Will Self, review of The End of Alice, p. 47; January 1, 1999, Phil Whitaker, review of Jack, p. 49; June 5, 2006, Jonathan Derbyshire, review of This Book Will Save Your Life, p. 55.
Newsweek, May 10, 1999, David Gates, "Burning Down the House," p. 79; September 2, 2002, Susannah Meadows, "Short Stories That Tell … Stories," p. 62.
New York, April 24, 2006, Jean Nathan, "Domestic Disturbance," p. 67.
New York Times Book Review, July 15, 1990, Crescent Dragonwagon, review of Jack, p. 24; May 23, 1993, Maggie Paley, review of In a Country of Mothers, p. 17; March 24, 1996, Daphne Merkin, review of The End of Alice, p. 14; May 30, 1999, Gary Krist, review of Music for Torching, p. 9.
Observer (London, England), January 19, 2003, Zoe Green, review of Los Angeles.
People Weekly, May 1, 2006, Bob Meadows, review of This Book Will Save Your Life, p. 52.
Poets & Writers Magazine, July-August, 1999, Fran Gordon, review of Music for Torching, p. 24.
Publishers Weekly, March 15, 1993, review of In a Country of Mothers, p. 67; May 17, 1999, review of Music for Torching, p. 59; July 15, 2002, review of Things You Should Know, p. 52; March 6, 2006, Charlotte Abbott, "A.M. Homes's L.A. Stories," p. 43.
Review of Contemporary Fiction, fall, 1999, Trey Strecker, review of Music for Torching, p. 167; spring, 2003, Stacey Gottlieb, review of Things You Should Know, p. 149.
Times Literary Supplement, May 10, 1991, Nick Hornby, review of The Safety of Objects, p. 20; September 3, 1999, Ali Smith, review of Music for Torching, p. 12.
Wall Street Journal, May 7, 1999, Gabriella Stern, review of Music for Torching, p. W9E.
Washington Post, September 24, 1990, Elizabeth Kastor and Margaret Camp, "The Author's Passion for Privacy," p. B1; May 10, 1993, Leigh Allison Wilson, review of In a Country of Mothers, p. B2; May 3, 1996, Carolyn See, review of The End of Alice, p. D2.
Women's Review of Books, July, 1996, Jennifer Kornreich, review of The End of Alice, p. 45.
A.M. Homes Home Page, http://www.amhomesbooks.com (September 11, 2006).
Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com/ (September 11, 2006), biography of A.M. Homes.
Powells.com, http://www.powells.com/ (September 11, 2006), Dave Weich, "A.M. Homes Is a Big Fat Liar," interview with Homes.