Homes, A(my) M(ichael) 1961-
HOMES, A(my) M(ichael) 1961-
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.
CAREER: Writer. Held position at Columbia University, New York, NY, technical writing program, 1991; member of board of directors of Yaddo, Saratoga Springs, NY, and The Fine Arts Work Center, Provincetown, MA.
AWARDS, HONORS: Benjamin Franklin Award; National Endowment for the Arts fellowship; New York Foundation for the Arts Artists fellowship; 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 theHill, National Geographic (Washington, DC), 2002.
Author of 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.
ADAPTATIONS: The Safety of Objects was adapted for film by Rose Troche and released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 2001.
SIDELIGHTS: A. M. Homes made her literary debut 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. An excerpt from the book relating the protagonist's anxiety about growing up appeared in Elizabeth Kastor's Washington Post article: "I'm stuck between things. I'm stuck between being a kid and being an adult. The things that kids do aren't really a whole lot of fun, but what adults do still seems too hard, and to be honest, boring as hell." 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 is a story about prejudice and bias," Homes told Kastor. "Jack is this young, white male. He's never been exposed to any kind of prejudice." 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. "Homes has given us a good youngster who in the end convincingly grows larger than his circumstances," wrote Crescent Dragonwagon in the New York Times Book Review. The reviewer also found that the author "handles the big subjects and adolescent passions subtly, deftly and with an appealing lack of melodrama."
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: a bunch of lonely, bored, angst-ridden, psycho adults and listless, alienated teenagers brimming with pubescent sexuality." 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," terming the stories "original and stiletto sharp." Los Angeles Times Book Review writer Amy Hempel wrote that the author "sustain[s] 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. Hempel acknowledged that "there is not a misstep in this difficult story," and she labeled Homes "confident and consistent in her odd departures from life as we know it."
"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 "Roth's interest in her patient progresses from unusual interest to downright 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 "ultimately . . . 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 who make each other miserable for awhile." A Kirkus Reviews critic praised the novel's "snappy dialogue" and "transparently clear style," but decided that the novel's "strong premise has a weak follow-through." Carol Anshaw agreed, commenting in the Chicago Tribune that In the Country of Mothers fails to fulfill the promise "pulsing behind the type," but credited the author with "a fascinating story of the corruption of trust." Leigh Allison Wilson reported in the Washington Post Book World, however, that Homes succeeded in creating "portraits of good people gone terribly wrong, while at the same time offering visions of what might have been, what should have been." Wilson concluded, "A. M. Homes is a very dangerous writer. Danger for a reader of fiction is usually a safe place, the place of voyeurs and bystanders. Homes creates a much scarier place."
In her next novel, The End of Alice, Homes "takes us . . . with all the cunning and control of a brilliant lover . . . 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 Korn-reich suggested in the Women's Review of Books that Homes's purpose may have been to achieve "the social . . . [benefit] of shock value" by "confronting people with ugliness . . . [to] force them to think." Washington Post reviewer Carolyn See wrote that "to use pornography as a teaching device may be fine for the writer, but the reader may feel put upon." Yet Houghton wrote, "It is easy to understand serious objection to the subject matter. But the writing takes flight from such an original departure point you find yourself transported high up above the noise, leaving judgment grounded." New York Times Book Review writer Daphne Merkin reported that the book's "underlying themes are more serious than prurient. The End of Alice is concerned with the fluid nature of identity, with the permeable boundaries that divide an overtly deranged consciousness from a smugly socialized one." Kornreich concluded, however, "Ultimately . . . Homes shies away from more questions than she confronts."
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 "Homes shows none of Cheever's nuanced ambivalence about leafy, loony suburbia and the annoyingly provincial, thwartedly poetic souls who live there; for her it's a zoo." L. S. Klepp in Entertainment Weekly noted that the novel's "effect is of rapid-fire satire bordering on bedroom farce—a caustic and giddy caricature of hollow, haywire suburbanites." Review of Contemporary Fiction writer Trey Strecker concluded that Homes "succeeds in showing that no one is 'normal' when we peer behind their white picket fences."
Three years later, Homes published another collection of short fiction, Things You Should Know. Reviewing the volume in Newsweek, Susannah Meadows praised "the force of Homes's storytelling," also remarking that, "enthralling and heartbreaking, most of these eleven pieces exemplify the fundamentals of great storytelling." Similarly, James O'Laughlin in Booklist noted the "remarkable range of dramas" included in Things You Should Know, as well as the "deft compactness" of the author's prose. Library Journal contributor Colleen Lougen described Homes's skill in the collection as "hypnotic," noting that it gives "the reader a peek into the exotic thoughts and worlds of people we do not normally meet in literature."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Homes, A. M., Jack, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1989.
Antioch Review, winter, 1994, p. 182.
Belles Lettres, fall, 1993, 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.
Chicago Tribune, May 7, 1993.
Detroit Free Press, December 23, 1990.
Economist (US), 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.
Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 1993, p. 246; March 15, 1999, review of Music for Torching, p. 398; July 1, 2002, review of Things You Should Know, p. 905.
Lambda Book Report, July-August, 1999, Elizabeth Brownrigg, review of Music for Torching, pp. 14-15.
Library Journal, May 10, 1999, David Gates, review of Music for Torching, p. 79; August, 2002, Colleen Lougen, review Things You Should Know, p. 148.
London Review of Books, May 9, 1996, pp. 20-21.
Los Angeles Times, July 9, 1993, p. E5.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, October 28, 1990, p. 3; May 26, 1996, pp. 6-7; June 6, 1999, review of Music for Torching, p. 11.
New Statesman, January 1, 1999, Phil Whitaker, review of Jack, p. 49.
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 Times Book Review, July 15, 1990, p. 24; May 23, 1993, p. 17; March 24, 1996, p. 14; May 30, 1999, Gary Krist, review of Music for Torching, p. 9.
Observer (London, England), December 13, 1998, review of Jack, p. 16; January 19, 2003, Zoe Green, review of Los Angeles: People, Places, and the Castle on the Hill.
Poets & Writers Magazine, July-August, 1999, Fran Gordon, review of Music for Torching, p. 24.
Publishers Weekly, March 15, 1993, p. 67; May 7, 1999, review of Music for Torching, p. 59; July 15, 2002, review of Things You Should Know, p. 52.
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, p. 20; September 3, 1999, Ali Sith, review of Music for Torching, p. 12.
Wall Street Journal, May 7, 1999, Garvirella Stern, review of Music for Torching, p. W9E.
Washington Post, September 24, 1990, p. B1; May 10, 1993, p. B2; May 3, 1996, p. D2.
Women's Review of Books, July, 1996, p. 45.