It was just past midnight. “About time to sleep,” I said to AB as I pulled Music for Torching by A. M. Homes from the shelves to read. It was around five in the morning when I turned the last page on the suburban nightmare that Homes created.
Music for Torching is centred around an upper-class couple in a dysfunctional marriage, living in the suburbs of New York with their two young children. The husband, Paul, is in a middle-management position in a dreary company in New York. The wife, Elaine, feels helpless, incompetent and stuck in her mundane housewife role.
The couple had bought a house in this suburban neighborhood years ago. This house had symbolised the promise of a good life, of achieving the American Dream.
Music for Torching is full of provocative and sensationalist clichés: Couples cheating on their partners with their friends’ spouses, bored housewives, friends thriving on gossip of others in their group so that they end up feeling better about themselves,a psychotic nymphomaniac, repressed sexuality and erotic desires, to name a few.
The story starts with a tense exchange between Paul and Elaine, cleaning up after yet another dinner party. By the end of the first chapter, the unhappy couple has willfully set their house on fire. The story that follows unfolds over a one-week period, unveiling the protagonists’ secrets and thoughts as well as those belonging to the people around them.
After reading Music for Torching, I was reminded of Deborah Levy’s Swimming Home which has similar clichés, with the story revolving around a middle-class, disintegrating British family. In my review, I described reading Swimming Home as being “like watching a disaster that you know is going to happen, yet you cannot – and do not want to – avert your eyes from the oncoming carnage.”
This holds true for Music for Torching. However, I find Swimming Home to be more subtle whereas there are no holds barred in Music for Torching – Homes just keep bringing it on, one ugly blow after another, smashing the shiny facade of her characters’ American Dream.
Music for Torching is probably a gross exaggeration of suburban family life in New York. Yet I was rapt by her gripping storytelling and detailed descriptions. I was pulled into the minds of the protagonists as their world hopelessly unravelled as they occasionally tried, desperately, to make “a good life” for themselves and their family.
The dramatic ending was terribly unsettling. It was unexpected and yet it wasn’t. Paul and Elaine and almost everyone else around them missed the warning signs. Had they have been less self-absorbed, the tragedy might have been avoided.
I tossed and turned in bed for about an hour before I could mentally move away from the bloody carnage. Some 10 hours later, I still can’t take my mind off Music for Torching.
P.S. I had not intended to take the photo of the book as above. AB was repairing a gap in the balcony door and these items happened to be on the ground.