Books & Literature

Book Review: The Unfolding, by A. M. Homes

CONTEMPORARY FICTION: The dazzling new state-of-the-nation novel from one of America’s most significant contemporary writers and winner of the Women’s Prize for May We Be Forgiven, which explores the makings of our political times.

A pitch-perfect oratorio of contemporary American values and hypocrisies

A new work by A. M. Homes is always a cause for rejoicing in the literary fiction world. One of those rarities — master of both the novel and the short-story —Homes produces work that is often dark, edgy, and political. She won the Women’s Prize for fiction in 2013 with May We Be Forgiven.

Her latest novel The Unfolding takes place in the time period between November 4th 2008 and January 20th 2009. Anyone with a smattering of knowledge of the American political system will know these two dates are the election of a new president, and his/her inauguration respectively. And in this case, the president-elect is Barack Obama. This is a time of great celebration for many people, but not so for more conservative republicans such as The Big Guy, Homes’s protagonist.

As the novel opens, he is thrilled to have his 18-year-old daughter Meghan with him and his wife Charlotte, as she votes for the first time. He has pulled her out of her expensive boarding school especially, and flown her to Phoenix so that she can not just vote, but also join them at the historic Biltmore Hotel as they celebrate with the McCains and their entourage. The Big Guy is not expecting to lose. But when Obama is elected, he decides he is going to do something about it, gathering a group around him who can fight back against what they see as an attack on American values. Meanwhile, Charlotte descends more into alcoholism as she fights to hide a dark family secret from daughter Meghan, who returns to school while her sense of self starts to unravel.

Homes has written an almost perfect narrative around the political being personal, and the personal being political. Told from the twin points of view of The Big Guy and Meghan, an interesting portrait begins to emerge of the conservative vision and how it was further sculpted by the election of Obama. After all, Meghan would now be a politically active 32-year-old. Yet as the story unfolds, the family starts to unravel, and the personal comes to the fore, demoting the politics to the role of soundtrack. These segues are seamless, as politics and family start to close in on each other.

Don’t fear that The Unfolding is some kind of dense, serious, terribly-important work. This is is very, very funny writing. Dark humour abounds. But so too does an almost radical empathy for her characters. And although some of them are larger-than-life, they all remain grounded in realism. And ultimately, despite their myriad faults, we want the best for them: even America herself.

Another masterwork from the pen of one of America’s most skilled living writers.

Reviewed by Tracey Korsten
Twitter: @TraceyKorsten

This review is the opinion of the reviewer and not necessarily of Glam Adelaide.

Distributed by: Allen & Unwin
Released: November 2022
RRP: $39.99

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