The Unfolding by AM Homes review: satire on Waspy Republicans misfires
By Cal Revely-Calder
In American fiction, Don DeLillo has much to answer for. His offbeat, enchanted novels have wired many a young writer into the grid of technological and societal change. On the other hand, while few are better at conjuring insidious forces and consumerist malaise, too many are substantially worse. It's tricky, in novels, to voice ideas.
Take AM Homes. Her best-known book, The End of Alice (1996), defied comparisons: a tale of rape and child abuse, presented from the viewpoint of a paedophile, its grasp on the charms of a dangerous mind relied in how subtly it was told. By contrast, The Unfolding, Homes's first novel in a decade, is a mélange of political and domestic unrest. It's an all-too-familiar mix - and with respect to its publicists, "prescient" and "funny" are not among its ingredients.
Set over two months in 2008, starting on November 4 - the day that Barack Obama was elected US president - The Unfolding follows a Republican family in the shellshocked aftermath. There's "The Big Guy", a super-rich party-donor who plots revenge on the Democrats; Charlotte, his Waspy wife, whose personality is "alcoholic" and "thin"; and Meghan, their teenage daughter, the subject of a family secret that proves incendiary (till it fizzles out).
Toggling between father's and daughter's heads, Homes's novel has two scales of concern. There's the familial, in whcih the trio attend East Coast parties even as their family unit collapses; here, we have dabs of human emotion, and vignettes from the Washington party scene. But there's also the conspiratorial, rendered poorly and at length. As the Big Man and his friends plot a "domestic disturbance", the nature of which is pompously obscure, they drone on in DeLilloese that lacks his menace, strangeness or - crucially - his air of subterranean truth. The line between feeling and wit is delicate, and Homes has much too clumsy a tread.