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May We Be Forgiven Discussion Guide: Home

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A.M. Homes

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Information about the author is available at her website.

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Discussion Questions

(From the publisher)

1. An overarching theme of this novel is the concept of the institution, be it a mental hospital, a marriage, a family, or academia. As the institutions in this novel are re–evaluated—forced upon some, rejected or clung to by others—does your view of the institution change? Are these places/relationships safe havens? Prisons? How does each character experience each institution differently?

2. Religion and ritual are interwoven as important aspects in the Silvers’ lives. Traditional religion seems to cause stress for Harold, and yet he takes great comfort in his daily rituals. What are some of these rituals? Are they healthy or signs of addiction?

3. What is the difference between tradition and religion in this novel?

4. There is a lot of physical comedy in this story, ranging from slapstick to the scatological. Harold takes the majority of the pratfalls, sometimes delivering self–inflicted blows. How do these moments symbolize Harold’s internal loss of control? Do they make him seem more cartoonish or more human?

5. For which of the Silver brothers is President Nixon used as a foil?

6. Illness is a consistent theme throughout the book, encompassing mental illness, a stroke, sex addiction, and more. Do any of the characters in this novel make a full recovery?

7. After the tragic incidents at the start of the novel, Harold is left to assemble a life from what’s been left to him. He steps in as guardian for his brother’s children and later as primary caretaker for an elderly couple. Through this process of assembling (or reassembling) a family he can truly call his own, Harold finds something close to contentment. What kind of case doe this book make for or against the traditional nuclear family vs. the modern blended family?

8. Harold exhibits a general mistrust of modern technology. He is frustrated by his students using their cell phones during class and downloading their final papers online. His foray into online dating goes terribly awry. And yet he learns to Skype with Nate, transfers money to a South African village with the click of a button, sends an iPad to his brother in prison, and manages multiple relationships via text message. Does Harold’s skepticism of technology stem from his immersion in Nixon’s era and the former president’s unfortunate turn with technology? Is it a generational thing? How does technology help and/or hinder Harold’s journey throughout the novel?

9. There are a number of violent and disturbing crimes committed in this story: murder, sexual abuse, child abuse, arms dealing, theft. Is any justice brought to the perpetrators of these crimes? Does any criminal reform take place?

10. Communities play a large role in this novel: online communities, Nate’s and Ashley’s boarding schools, the town Harold lives in, his mother’s nursing home, The Lodge where George is undergoing treatment. How is the idea of fitting into one’s community explored throughout the novel? In contrast, how is the concept of the foreigner examined?

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Recommended Reading

If you liked May We Be Forgiven, you might enjoy the following books.

Films Based on Homes' Books