Things You Should Know
A.M. Homes
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Things You Should Know
A.M. Homes
224 pages
September 2003
rated 3 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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This is not meant in any chauvinistic sense, so please don't be angry, but when these first pages unfold, the writing seems to come from the pen of a man. Homes is a woman and conjures with both the sensitivity and reflex of one as well as the dark and brooding edge of a man. Her stories are stark and smoky and full of the mean things that inhabit the world, and she draws us in by revealing the terrible urges in her characters as they brush up against the spiny and poisoned spokes of relationships and love lost and desires dashed. She shows the people on her pages no mercy, and in the brutal light of her imagination, we somehow feel better about ourselves. After all, there's no way we could be that mean? She's not writing about me.

But she brings such a beauty and attraction to the beast inside of us that we almost want to be like the emotionally crippled people here. In a tale called "Please Remain Calm," a married man wants to die, wants to commit suicide. We never find out his name, nor the name of his wife, and by keeping this knowledge from us, the author has made the male a universal template. We don't know him as Joe or Tim, because in so doing we could more easily deflect the terror here - that which we can recognize and name, holds less mystery, less allure. Thus, this faceless husband scares us silly - because he is us.

Every day he tells her, "Today's the day," or "The moment has come." She loves him and accepts this wrinkle. They are coming back from a movie, and she swerves the car to avoid hitting a deer. The vehicle tumbles and they both almost die but emerge unscratched. He utters the final line of the piece: "I want to live," I tell her. "I just don't know how." The line is simple and unerringly accurate and so poignant as to make you wonder where in this world she found it.

The book is filled with these types of lines. Only a woman could draw a man so perfectly. Only a woman could hate, and love a man, this much.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Steven Rosen, 2005

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