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"May We Be Forgiven," by A.M. Homes

Jeff Glor talks to A.M. Homes about, "May We Be Forgiven."


Jeff Glor: What inspired you to write the book?

A.M. Homes: It's a long story that begins with Zadie Smith asking me to contribute a piece to The Book of Other People, an anthology she was putting together as a benefit for Dave Eggers 826 Project. The idea was to write about character--so I settled on two angry brothers--the subject of intense sibling relationships was something I'd started to explore--in my novel, This Book Will Save Your Life and also in Brother On Sunday, a short story I wrote for the painter, Eric Fischl. I started writing--and what began as a short story just kept growing and became a novel about family, about Richard Nixon, about the importance of history. For me the seeds of a book are always planted early--I grew up in Washington D.C, during the Nixon Administration and so Watergate was a key part of my teen years--other themes about the role of the internet in our lives, about how we create families of choice that go beyond biology--all come from the culture and of course there are literary influences such as John Cheever's Falconer and Joseph Heller's Catch-22


JG: What surprised you the most during the writing process?

AH: What I love about writing is the sense of discovery as the characters unfold before me. A good day as a writer is like being a time traveler--you go to other places, you live in other time periods, it's kind of amazing. I am happiest when right in the middle of a novel--it's like being in a relationship for a long time--the characters become real, you worry about them when you're not with them, they speak to you as you sleep etc. In this novel, I was surprised to see how the children, Nate and Ashley evolved and it was a treat to I watch Harry, the main character, rise to the occasion as a parent and a man. I describe the book as a mid--life coming of age story. And I just love the rollicking fast pace of all that happens along the way--it's darkly comic, sometimes absurd and in the end quite moving--all the things I like about life all the things that make what's sometimes very painful tolerable.


JG: What would you be doing if you weren't a writer?

AH: What would I be doing--well the truth is I always wanted to be in The Rolling Stones--but as you might have noticed there are no girls. Failing that I'd be a doctor, I think of the practice of medicine as both an art and a craft and I love the moment we're at when technology and hard science have brought wonderful tools for imagining and treating but also know that we need doctors who listen, who talk to their patients.


JG: What else are you reading right now?

AH: Joan Wickersham's News From Spain, short stories and Salman Rushdie's memoir, Joseph Anton. I'm a big consumer of news, I read The New York Times, the Washington Post, The Financial Times, I love reading newspapers from around the country and around the world. People often say things to me about how dark or absurd my imagination is--but the truth is every day life is pretty ironic on a regular basis.


JG: What's next for you?

AH: I'm writing a book about hospitals for the Swiss philosopher Alain de Botton. He's commissioned six writers to go into various large-scale institutions and try to make sense of what they mean in our lives and how a human relates to organizations of enormous scale. I've always been very interested in medicine so I chose New York Hospital--the idea being that I wanted to explore a top hospital--one that was succeeding despite the health care crisis, despite the economic uncertainty--it's been incredibly interesting.. Alexander Hemon is at the United Nations, Geoff Dyer went onto an aircraft carrier, and another writer is visiting the international monetary fund. Last week I was spending time with a brilliant neurosurgeon, I was in the Operating Room as he removed a large tumor from a patient--it was mind blowing in the best sense of the word.


For more on "May We Be Forgiven," visit the Penguin Group website.