Cover image for Music for torching
Music for torching
Homes, A. M.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Rob Weisbach Books, [1999]

Physical Description:
357 pages ; 25 cm
Geographic Term:
Format :


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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In Music for Torching, the controversial author of The End of Alice lays bare the foundations of marriage and family life at the end of the century. Flash-frozen in the anxious culture of a suburban subdivision, Paul and Elaine (the couple first featured in Homes's collection of stories The Safety of Objects) have two boys and a beautiful home, yet they find themselves thoroughly inexplicably stuck. Obsessed with "making things good again," they spin the quiet terrors of family life into fantastical frenzy that careens out of control, doing and saying all the things we dare not, throwing into full relief the chasm between our public and private selves.

From a strange and hilarious encounter on the floor of the pantry with a Stepford-wife neighbor, to an ill-concieved plan for a tattoo, to a sexy town cop who shows up at every inopportuune moment, to house cleaning team in space suits, to a mistress calling on the cell phone, to a hostage situation at the school, Homes creates characters so outrageously flawed and deeply human that they are entirely believable. With Music For Torching, A.M. Homes brings her unnerving emotional intensity to the heart of America, creating a new and dangerous territory that is distinctly her own.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Homes presents a slice of kafkaesque life in an unnamed Westchester County New York suburb. The torching in the title can refer to the small incident of family arson that our characters Elaine and Paul engage in. Thinking to end their problems and move on, Paul sprays lighter fluid on the house and Elaine kicks over the lit barbecue grill. The house is not destroyed, merely damaged, and rather than being free, they have made their trap that much tighter. Torching can also refer to the continuing affairs that Paul has and to the unexpected lesbian encounter that Elaine has with a friend who up to that point has seemed less human and more "Stepford" wife. Neighbors, the police, fellow commuters, bosses, Boy Scouts, and friends all contribute to the book being seen as the very blackest of black comedies, until the very end when the payment for all their sins comes due. And, of course, payment is required in this readable, engaging, and startling novel. Danise Hoover

Publisher's Weekly Review

A child enters a suburban grammar school with a gun and explosives strapped to his body; a SWAT team moves in; a boy is shot at close range. This creepy and all too familiar scenario appears at a pivotal moment of Homes's latest novel (after The End of Alice), a caustically funny and eerily plausible portrait of a suburban family meltdown. In a nondescript Leave-it-to-Beaveresque Westchester neighborhood, Elaine and Paul find their marriage and their lives at a standstill: Paul commutes to a vaguely sinister corporate job ("how do you make people think fat is good?" asks his boss at one point) and enjoys weekly trysts with a neighbor, while Elaine plays housewife, attends school plays, and shops. Both feel desperately "stuck." In a fit of boredom and frustration, following two nights of cocktail parties and barbeques with the neighbors, the two kick their grill to the ground and partially burn down their house, an event that plunges them into a sordid suburban nightmare. Moving in with what seems the perfect couple, Pat and George, they leave their boys with families they scarcely knowÄa decision with perilous consequences. Paul begins popping pills and has an affair with a friend's girlfriend, a psychic known only as "the date," who has a penchant for phone sex and persuades him to get a tattoo on his shaved crotch, while Elaine is seduced by Pat, a Stepford Wife with a penchant for sex toys. Homes unflinchingly documents the disintegration of Elaine and Paul's family, paying explicit attention to the sexual ennui and sadistic impulses roiling beneath the sterile veneers of their lives. The dark underbelly of the average American neighborhood may seem an obvious theme, and Homes's vision of marital dysfunction is long on sardonic humor and short on profundity. But the denoument to which this disquieting tale carefully builds is powerful enough to seem coextensive with the latest, and most distressing, real-life suburban horrors. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

What better ways for a hateful, hate-filled couple to alleviate their middle-aged suburban blues than to set fire to their home, sleep around, get a groin tattoo of snaking ivy during an executive lunch at the behest of the cheating girlfriend of one of the their best friends, cross-dress, curse each other endlessly, and treat their parental responsibilities as an annoying afterthought? Paul and Elaine live ugly lives doing ugly things to each other. They both have affairs with neighborhood wives, passively allow other sexual peccadilloes to happen to them, and then wonder why they are so miserable. Homes (The End of Alice, LJ 12/95) employs flat, stilted dialog to create a whiner's anthem of thoroughly unlikable people. To spice up this go-nowhere tale, she pulls out a headline from real news to create a tragedy of innocence wounded long before the actual bullet is fired. For larger libraries with a Homes fan base.ÄBeth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Music for Torching 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, What would 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. Excerpted from All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.