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Things You Should Know

Things You Should Know

by A. M. Homes

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In this stunningly original collection, A. M. Homes writes with terrifying compassion about the things that matter most. Homes's distinctive narrative illuminates our dreams and desires, our memories and losses, and demonstrates how extraordinary the ordinary can be. With uncanny emotional accuracy, wit, and empathy, Homes takes us places we recognize but would


In this stunningly original collection, A. M. Homes writes with terrifying compassion about the things that matter most. Homes's distinctive narrative illuminates our dreams and desires, our memories and losses, and demonstrates how extraordinary the ordinary can be. With uncanny emotional accuracy, wit, and empathy, Homes takes us places we recognize but would rather not go alone.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Homess first collection since 1990s much-praised The Safety of Objects offers 11 sharply original portraits of domestic life: the distance between family members, the minor wars between friends and lovers. Written over the last decade, with several stories previously published in glossies and literary magazines, this volume confirms Homess reputation as an expert stylist and unique chronicler of suburban drama. Conception takes a strange turn in Georgica, as a woman recovering from an accident fixates on the golden boys of the beach and plots to make one of them the father of her child. The narrator of The Chinese Lesson finds his sympathy for his confused, homesick mother-in-law, Mrs. Ha, has alienated him from his wife, who has spent her life trying not to be Chinese. In the title piece, a fourth-grade teachers list of things you already should know but maybe are a little dumb, so you dont becomes an obsession for the narrator, who missed school the day it was supposedly handed out. A shape-shifting woman who visits the insouciant, anorexic girl of Raft in Water, Floating finds her own story in The Weather Outside Is Sunny and Bright. Not much happens in it"she goes to her job (architectural forensics ), visits her mother in a nursing home, takes a bath and casually exercises her powers"but the story feels full anyway, replete with a strange magic. Its precisely this sort of thing that makes Homes so good. (Sept. 6) Forecast: Homess reputation alone should guarantee strong sales. The planned July release of the film version of The Safety of Objects, starring Glenn Close and Dermot Mulroney, would have helped, but the release date has been pushed to spring 2003. Eight-city author tour. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Twelve years after her debut, The Safety of Objects, Homes once again unearths the dark side of domestic life in a handful of disturbing pieces, Here, relationships and emotions are scrutinized within abnormal situations. The stories present a series of uniquely memorable characters: a woman who spies on young couples making love and who tries a bizarre method of impregnation, a shape-shifter who can transmogrify into various animal and human forms, a young boy whose idyllic summer is jolted by an accident, an anxious man who wants desperately but futilely to enjoy life, and a former President of the United States afflicted with Alzheimer's. Homes's storytelling is hypnotic, allowing the reader a peek into the exotic thoughts and worlds of people we do not normally meet in literature. Despite the oddness of the stories, readers are still able to identify with the characters. Engaging and dynamic, Homes's writing is remarkably surreal. Recommended for all fiction collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/02.] Colleen Lougen, Mt. St. Mary Coll. Lib., Newburgh, NY Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A second collection from Homes (after The Safety of Objects, 1990, coming soon to a theater near you) is focused as usual on suburban angst and extreme behavior. This author's particular gifts are generally better displayed in novels, where her penchant for shock effects is tempered by a covert compassion that's usually only evident in the longer run. We glimpse it here in the more controlled stories: "The Chinese Lesson" is rich in geographic and social detail as it limns a shaky marriage between a couple uneasily transplanted to Larchmont from Manhattan (further frazzled by the presence-and worrying absences-of the wife's "slowly evaporating" mother). The same glimpse can be gotten in "The Former First Lady and the Football Star," a bleak but oddly tender imagining of what Nancy Reagan's life is like now with Alzheimer's-afflicted Ronnie. "Rockets Round the Moon" is initially even better: the 12-year-old narrator, shunted aside by his self-absorbed divorced parents, has taught himself "to be a person whom people like to have around." He clings to the seeming normalcy of his father's next-door neighbors until an out-of-the-blue accident dislocates them too and leads to a gory climax that Homes blows off in her most annoying manner. There are other irritants. Why muffle the impact of the "Do Not Disturb," a harrowing portrait of an enraged cancer victim, with unexplained but insistent links to a weaker story ("Please Remain Calm")? Why does a writer whose strength lies in depicting the weirdness of ordinary lives bother with the bad pseudo-folkloric magic of "Raft in Water, Floating" and "The Weather Outside Is Sunny and Bright"? "Georgica" (a woman masturbates while she watches couplesmake love on the beach, then collects the used condoms to inseminate herself) and "The Whiz Kids" (graphic gay sex, deliberately unpleasant to no apparent purpose) show Homes in her gross-out-the-squares mode. The title piece is intriguing but underdeveloped. Far from perfect but never dull, and the author impresses as always with her willingness to take risks. Author tour

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Things You Should Know
A Collection of Stories

The Chinese Lesson

I am walking, holding a small screen, watching the green dot move like the blip of a plane, the blink of a ship's radar. Searching. I am on the lookout for submarines. I am an air traffic controller trying to keep everything at the right distance. I am lost.

A man steps out of the darkness onto the sidewalk. "Plane gone down?" he asks.

It is nearly night; the sky is still blue at the top, but it is dark down here.

"I was just walking the dog," he says.

I nod. The dog is nowhere to be seen.

"You're not from around here are you?"

"Not originally," I say. "But we're over on Maple now."

"Tierney," the man says. "John Tierney."

"Harris," I say. "Geordie Harris."

"Welcome to the neighborhood. Welcome to town."

He points to my screen; the dot seems to have stopped traveling.

"I was hoping to hell that was a toy -- a remote control," he says. "I was hoping to have some fun. Are you driving a car or floating a boat somewhere around here?"

"It's a chip," I say, cutting him off. "A global positioning screen. I'm looking for my mother-in-law."

There is a scratching sound from inside a nearby privet, and the unmistakable scent of dog shit rises like smoke.

"Good boy," Tierney says. "He doesn't like to do his business in public. Can't blame him -- if they had me shitting outside, I'd hide in the bushes too."

Tierney -- I hear it like tyranny. Tyrant, teaser, taunting me about my tracking system, my lost mother-in-law.

"It's not a game," I say, looking down at the blinking green dot.

A yellow Lab pushes out of the bushes and Tierney clips the leash back onto his collar. "Let's go, boy," Tierney says, slapping the side of his leg. "Good luck," he calls, pulling the dog down the road.

The cell phone clipped to my belt rings. "Who was that?" Susan asks. "Was that someone you know?"

"It was a stranger, a total stranger, looking for a playmate." I glance down at the screen. "She doesn't seem to be moving now."

"Is your antenna up?" Susan asks.

There is a pause. I hear her talking to Kate. "See Daddy. See Daddy across the street, wave to Daddy. Kate's waving," she tells me. I stare across the road at the black Volvo idling by the curb. With my free hand I wave back.

"That's Daddy," Susan says, handing Kate the phone.

"What are you doing, Daddy?" Kate asks. Her intonation, her annoyance, oddly accusatory for a three-year-old.

"I'm looking for Grandma."

"Me too," Kate giggles.

"Give the phone to Mommy."

"I don't think so," Kate says.

"Bye, Kate."

"What's new?" Kate says -- it's her latest phrase.

"Bye-bye," I say, hanging up on her.

I step off the sidewalk and dart between the houses, through the grass alley that separates one man's yard from another's. A sneak, a thief, a prowling trespasser, I pull my flashlight out of my jacket and flick it on. The narrow Ever Ready beam catches patios and planters and picnic tables by surprise. I am afraid to call out, to attract attention. Ahead of me there is a basketball court, a slide, a sandbox, and there she is, sailing through my beam like an apparition. Her black hair blowing, her hands smoothly clutching the chain-link ropes of the swing as though they were reins. I catch her in mid-flight. Legs swinging in and out. I hold the light on her there and gone.

"I'm flying," she says, sailing through the night.

I step in close so that she has to stop swinging. "Did you have a pleasant flight, Mrs. Ha?"

"It was nice."

"Was there a movie?"

She eases herself off the swing and looks at me like I'm crazy. She looks down at the tracking device. "It's no game," Mrs. Ha says, putting her arm through mine. I lead her back through the woods. "What's for dinner, Georgie?" she says. And I hear the invisible echo of Susan's voice correcting -- it's not Georgie, it's Geordie.

"What would you like, Mrs. Ha?"

In the distance, a fat man presses against a sliding glass door, looking out at us, his breath fogging the pane.

Susan is at the computer, drawing. She is making a map, a grid of the neighborhood. She is giving us something to go on in the future -- coordinates.

She is an architect, everything is line, everything is order. Our house is G4. The blue light of the screen pours over her, pressing the flat planes of her face flatter still -- illuminating. She hovers in an eerie blue glow.

"I called Ken," I say.

Ken is the one who had the chip put in. He is Susan's brother. When Mrs. Ha was sedated for a colonoscopy, Ken had the chip implanted at the bottom of her neck, above her shoulder blades. The chip company specialist came and stood by while a plastic surgeon inserted it just under the skin. Before they let her go home, they tested it by wheeling her gurney all over the hospital while Ken sat in the waiting room tracking her on the small screen.


"I called him about her memory. I was wondering if we should increase her medication."

Ken is a psychopharmacologist, a specialist in the containment of feeling. He used to be a stoner and now he is a shrink. He has no affect, no emotions.

"And?" she says.

"He asked if she seemed agitated."

"She seems perfectly happy," Susan says.

"I know," I say, not telling Susan what I told Ken -- Susan is the one who's agitated.

"Does she know where she is?" Ken had asked. There had been a pause, a moment where I wondered if he was asking about Susan or his mother. "I'm not always sure," I'd said, failing to differentiate.

Things You Should Know
A Collection of Stories
. Copyright © by A Homes . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

A.M. Homes is the author of the novels The End of Alice, In a Country of Mothers, and Jack, as well as the short-story collection The Safety of Objects and the artist's book Appendix A. Her fiction has been translated into eight languages, and she is the recipient of numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and a National endowment for the Arts Fellowship. Her fiction and nonfiction appear in magazines such as The New Yorker and Artforum, among others, and she is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, Mirabella, Bomb, Blind Spot, and Story. She teaches in the writing programs at Columbia University and The New School and lives in New York City.

Brief Biography

New York, New York
Date of Birth:
December 18, 1961
Place of Birth:
Washington, D.C.
B.A., Sarah Lawrence College, 1985; M.F.A., University of Iowa Writers¿ Workshop

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