Cover image for Things you should know : a collection of stories
Things you should know : a collection of stories
Homes, A. M.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : HarperCollins, [2002]

Physical Description:
viii, 213 pages ; 24 cm
The Chinese lesson -- Raft in water, floating -- Georgica -- Remedy -- Rockets round the moon -- Please remain calm -- Things you should know -- The whiz kids -- Do not disturb -- The weather outside is sunny and bright -- The former first lady and the football hero.
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The most daring voice of her generation, A. M. Homes writes with terrifying compassion about the things that matter most. Homes's distinctive narratives illuminate our dreams and desires, our memories and losses, and our profound need for connection, and demonstrate how extraordinary the ordinary can be. In "Chinese Lesson," we meet Geordie, a man watching over his wandering, senile mother-in-law by means of an electronic chip implanted in the back of her neck. In "Remedy," an advertising executive bolts from the city one afternoon for the imagined comfort of her childhood home and finds that her parents have allowed Ray, an eccentric wellness guru, to move in. Sexy and inspiring, "Georgica" offers a meditative narrative about one woman's unconventional strategy for getting pregnant. "The Former First Lady and the Football Hero" is the deeply moving, darkly comic story of a former First Lady's courage in dealing with the President as his mind slowly evaporates.

In these beautifully written stories, we find shape-shifters, children running headlong into the darkness of adolescent sexuality, a man passionately wanting to live but not knowing how. And, most important, we find ourselves.

An expert literary witness, A. M. Homes takes us places we would not go alone and brings us back -- always with uncanny emotional accuracy, wit, and empathy. She is one of the master practitioners of American fiction, and Things You Should Know is a landmark collection.

Author Notes

A. M. Homes is the author of the novels Music for Torching, The End of Alice, In a Country of Mothers, Jack, and a collection of stories, The Safety of Objects. Among her many awards are Guggenheim and NEA Fellowships. Homes is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair and has published fiction and essays in the New Yorker, Granta, McSweeney's, Art Forum, and the New York Times. She teaches in the writing program at Columbia University and lives in New York City

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

This first collection of stories since The Safety of Objects (1990) brings readers a remarkable range of dramas, with characters whose tenuous or troublingly limited connections Homes establishes with a deft compactness. In "Please Remain Calm," a husband discourses on pain and suicide relentlessly. "Wanting to be dead is as natural to me as breathing" and "I hate you," he tells his wife, afraid of risking the very different truth. In "Raft in Water, Floating," which appeared in the New Yorker, a young girl's family life in a gated community is increasingly disconnected, ineffectual, and remote, and there's little to counter it from the outside. When a boyfriend's two-handed sexual maneuvers beneath their swimsuits poolside conclude, she asks, "Do you like me for who I am?" "Do you want something to eat?" he replies. It remains for her to imagine herself beyond by way of a metamorphosing coyote woman. --James O'Laughlin

Publisher's Weekly Review

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. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Currently a fellow at the Center for Scholars and Writers at NYPL, Homes is famed for the biting insights on display in works like The Safety of Objects, a story collection that served as the basis for a film starring Glenn Close that will be released in July. Her new collection will be boosted by an eight-city author tour. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



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. "Why?" "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. Excerpted from Things You Should Know by A. M. Homes Copyright © 2002 by A. M. Homes Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

The Chinese Lessonp. 1
Raft in Water, Floatingp. 21
Georgicap. 29
Remedyp. 58
Rockets Round the Moonp. 91
Please Remain Calmp. 123
Things You Should Knowp. 132
The Whiz Kidsp. 135
Do Not Disturbp. 140
The Weather Outside is Sunny and Brightp. 167
The Former First Lady and the Football Herop. 180