Music for Torching

Music for Torching

by A M Homes

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780688177621
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 04/05/2000
Series: Harper Perennial
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 589,535
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.83(d)

About 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.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

It is after midnight on one of those Friday nights when the guests have all gone home and the host and hostess are left in their drunkenness to try and put things right again. "Too much fat," Paul says, carrying in dishes from the dining room. "The potatoes were swimming in butter, the salad was drenched in dressing."

Elaine stands at the sink, in an apron, in Playtex gloves, trying to protect herself She doesn't see it yet, but despite her prophylactic efforts, her clothing is stained. Later, she will wonder if the spot can be gotten out, if her clothing can be made clean. She will regret having bought the outfit, having cooked the dinner, having made the enormous effort to make everything good again.

Paul goes into the dining room, this time returning with the wineglasses, the bottle tucked under his arm.

Elaine scrapes plates into the trash can.

Paul puts the glasses down, brings the bottle to his lips, and finishes it, swishing the last sip round and round before bending over her shoulder and spitting it into the sink, splashing her.

"Watch it," she says.

"Gristle," he says. "You're doing it on purpose. Poisoning me. I could taste the fat-going right to the artery."

Again, she doesn't say anything.

"I should be eating legumes."

"I can't make legumes for eight-"

She loads the dishwasher. "What about her?" she asks.

"Who?""The girlfriend, the date." The woman Henry-who recently left Lucy, whom they all liked a lot-carried around allnight like a trophy.

"Nice," he says, not telling his wife that when he asked the date what she did-as in what her occupation was-she said, Whatwould you like me to do? And when he asked, Where do you live? she said, where would you like me to live?

He doesn't tell his wife that before she left she said, Give me your phone number, and he wittingly jotted it down for her. Paul doesn't tell Elaine that the date promised to call him tomorrow. He goes back into the living room for the dessert plates.

"How old do you think she is?" Elaine calls out.

Paul returns, his hands filled with wadded-up napkins. He shakes crumbs into the sink. "How old would you like her to be?"

"Sixty," Elaine says.

She finishes loading the dishwasher, mumbling, "Hope it's fixed, hope it doesn't flood, hope the gasket isn't gone, hope you were right."

"Hope so," he says.

She adds detergent. "Sink's stopping up," she says. "The house is failing apart. Everything is made of shit."

"It only lasts so long," he says, thinking about the date. How many children do you have? she had asked him. Two, he'd said. Isn't that below average? Aren't you supposed to have two point three?

"We need so many things," Elaine says.

Paul doesn't hear her. Aren't you supposed to have two point three? she'd asked, seriously, as though it were a possibility. He hadn't responded. What was there to say? He had poured her another glass of wine. Every time he hadn't known what to say, he'd poured her another glass of wine. They'd had two bottles between them. You really know how to get to me, she'd said, drinking it.

Paul looks at Elaine-Elaine from the back, Elaine bent over the sink. He looks at Elaine and lifts up her skirt, he presses against her, he starts to pull her pantyhose down.

"Is this supposed to be funny?" she asks, still washing dishes.

"I don't know," he says, looking at the pan where the roast had lain; the bottom is thick with congealed white fat, veined with bloody juice. He looks at the pan on the counter, imagines dipping his hand into the grease, smearing it over Elaine's ass and fucking her.

Her pantyhose are down, just above her knees. The water is running, the dishwasher is running.

Unbeknownst to them, the slipper-feet of his pajamas making him stealthy, silent, undetectable, their older son, Daniel, has slipped into the room. The kid opens the refrigerator door.

Paul turns, sees him, quickly pulls Elaine's skirt down. Elaine stands, embarrassed, at the sink.

"What are you doing?" Paul demands.

"Is there any caviar? Mom said that if there was any caviar left over, I could have it."

"You should be asleep," Elaine says.

Paul points to a small dish on the counter. The kid takes white bread out of the fridge and smears caviar over a piece.

Elaine, trying to pretend everything is normal, walks around the kitchen putting things away. She walks with peculiar half steps, the pantyhose holding her legs together like a big rubber band.

The kid makes himself a second caviar sandwich. "Enough," Elaine says, taking the dish away from him. "It's a delicacy, not a snack. You don't make a meal of it."

"Do you think I'm weird?" the kid asks; suddenly again, as if he were two again, everything is a question. "Is it weird that I'm eating caviar in the middle of the night?"

"Go to bed," Paul says.

The kid leaves the room. Paul goes back to Elaine and lifts her skirt again. She turns around.

"Don't fuck with me," she says, grabbing a carving knife from the counter and pressing it against his neck.

"What do you mean?"

"You insult me, my cooking. I am my cooking," she says. "I'm a good cook. I tried hard, very hard, to make a nice dinner. You used to like lamb roast, you once said it was your favorite food. Even tonight you ate it, you took four pieces-there almost wasn't enough to go around. Luckily, Ben is a vegetarian." She holds the knife against his neck. Her pantyhose are still bunched between her legs. She feels exposed.

"I was teasing," Paul says. "Musing about whether anyone had ever been charged with murder by The Joy of Cooking."

"If I wanted to kill you, I would just go like this." She pulls the knife across his neck, and the blade breaks his skin, making a shallow slash like a paper cut. A thin line of red springs up on his neck.

He runs for the bathroom. She follows him, doing her awkward duck walk. He slams the door, locking her out. The loose molding around the doorframe falls to the floor.

"It's nothing," she says, through the door, pulling her pantyhose up-just in case they have to go to the hospital. "Let me see, I'm sure it's fine. It was an accident. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to really cut you."

"Bitch," he says, opening the door.

"I said I was sorry." She pours peroxide onto a Kleenex

Music For Torching. Copyright © by A Homes. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

What People are Saying About This

Richard Price

In Music for Torching, A.M. Homes writes about middle class America with the jittery yet precise machine-gun rhythms of a young Bruce Jay Friedman. But added to this is a ferocious erotic anarchy--a gleeful sexual subversiveness all her own. Music for Torching is a savagely funny read, both unnerving and irresistible.
— Author of Clockers and Freedomland

Michael Cunningham

A. M. Homes is one of the bravest, most terrifying writers working today. She never plays it safe, and it begins to look as if she can do almost anything.

Robert Stone

Music For Torching is a wondrous, terrifying book that zeroes in and draws out for examination the confusion and violence under the surface of contemporary middle class life. Her insights into social and sexual relationships are breathtaking, and she balances marvelous dialogue with interior reflections in a way that leaves nothing out, yet employs a rare economy of effects. She is certainly among the most important young writers working now and her new book is dazzling.
—l Author of Damascus Gate and Outerbridge Reach

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Music for Torching 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
abirdman on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Brilliant novel. A light and comedic surface covers a really scary story.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
i like most of her writing and this was no exception...these characters were real to me, she explored the dark sides of humans without it being a parody...i got through the book quickly, always a good sign, and i recommend it highly.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In her deft novel, AM Homes slices open the facade of suburbia, exposing it's underbelly for all to see. The picture painted here is colorful, but painful. There is a longing on all points for the characters and the novel to be more than they/it are/is. Nowhere within the novel does anyone have to own up or be responsible for their actions and the most innocent of bystanders are the ones damaged. Ms. Homes is a writer of great skill, unearthing one of pop psychology's greatest catch phrases 'the dysfunctional' family and elevating it to hysterical proprotions. Claustrophobic and more than intimate, Music for Torching, will leave the reader with either much to think about or an emptiness beyond reason ...
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm only able to comment on what I read, which was not a lot. I found myself being overwhelmed with sadness to read about another two people who can't get along anymore because they have no idea who they are. The author may have been trying to get to a point but i wish they would have done it sooner.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This story explores the fantasy of the everyday person and the reality of living out your fantasies, even the ones you don't want to admit you have. It will make you realize that life is precious and to be thankful for what you have and to stop dwelling on what you may or may not be missing!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Wonderfully written, highly recommended, beautiful, crazy, funny, real. Simular to American Beauty.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Elaine and Paul are married and living in a quiet hell neither one deserves--until they accidentally set their house ablaze. This leads them to join Pat and George 'a neighborhood couple seemingly as well matched as Paul and Elaine', but Elaine and Paul engage in serious head games with others, leading them into affairs neither one thought they needed or wanted. In the meantime, while the exterior of their lives gets rebuilt, horrors develop that change both Elaine and Paul's lives forever. An absolute must read for those who read the beginnings of Paul and Elaine's story on 'The Safety of Objects,' a book of short essays by Ms. Homes.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had hopes that Holmes' exploration of the dark side of human relationships and crushing boredom would compare to Lionel Shriver but it fell short.