Harold Silver has learned to live with the fact that his younger brother, George, lives a more glamorous and outwardly successful lifestyle than he is ever likely to attain. But living with that knowledge, and accepting it, are two very different things.
The two men are nothing alike. George is a television executive at the top of his game, an aggressive man whose size allows him to be physically intimidating when he wants to be. Harold is a “Nixon scholar” who has been working on a Nixon book for years and has just lost his small-time teaching job. In contrast to George’s life, Harold’s future is completely up in the air at this point. But George is a ticking time bomb, and after his violent temper finally gets the best of him, the two Silver families are changed forever.
Almost before he knows it, Harold is living in George’s house and has shouldered sole parental responsibility for his brother’s young son and daughter. Everyone around him is suffering, and it is easy to blame George for all of that pain. But Harold knows what really happened on the horrible night his brother destroyed their families. And he feels guilty.
May We Be Forgiven is the blackest of comedies, a satirical look at contemporary American culture and what is happening to our families, especially to our children. And, when it is not going completely over the top (something it does way too often), the novel is both funny and insightful. At almost 500 pages, May We Be Forgiven is almost twice the length of the average novel, and reading it is much like reading two separate novels under one cover.
The first 200 pages, or so, encompass an intriguing look at two very different men who have had a difficult relationship since childhood. It is about a man willing to take responsibility for his part in something that could destroy the next generation of his family. It is about redemption and forgiveness, and as improbable as the story is, something like it could actually happen. The rest of the book is a farcical, slapstick comedy, so over the top that the book’s message is lost amid the absurdity of the story. All sense of realism is gone, and the novel suffers for it because May We Be Forgiven becomes overcrowded with minor characters and subplots that do more to distract the reader than to add to the book’s central plot.
This is a case where less would most certainly have been more.