The Safety of Objects by A.M. Homes is a fascinating collection of odd suburban tales. Written in a simple style, these stories are laden with symbolism that reveal a disturbing depth. A couple experiments with drugs after shipping their kids to the grandparents, a fat girl sunbathes nude in her backyard, a boy has a sexual affair with his sister’s Barbie doll.
I first read A.M. Homes last summer. Her short story Do Not Disturb was listed as one of the best short stories of all time. When I read that, I knew her writing was write up my alley. In clear, concise language, she is descriptive and haunting. Her prose reminds me of Raymond Carver, though A.M.’s stories are unsettling in a different way – utilizing stark symbolic images.
A few of the stories in this collection really connected with me. The first story, Adults Alone, is true suburban darkness. A couple with a faltering numbness in their marriage, send the kids to Florida for the weekend. They don’t have much to do together anymore, and they end up getting stoned, eating in bed, watching TV and eventually experiment with smoking crack. Stories that plunge into this darkness of the soul are something I’m fond of – Leviathan from Tobias Wolff is one of my all time favorites – and Homes does an excellent job here.
Esther in the Night is heartbreaking. A mother recounts her life taking care of her son who has been injured in a car accident, how this tragedy has changed her family’s life and made their situation a spectacle. This territory is every parents’ nightmare, and it’s wrenching to read as she reveals what this life is like and what the mother deems is her solution.
Slumber Party resonated the most with me, yet it would be awkward to say I “like” it. The symbolism is very well drawn out. A young girl and her slightly older friend, who is a boy, are getting into mischief – setting fires in the woods until their ankles are burned. When the boy sleeps over, they end up touching each other sexually, and the boy suggests going to stand in the backyard naked. As they stand in the backyard, two innocent naked children, two older boys who are burglarizing the neighbors walk through the backyard and stop. The scene is full of palpable tension, and the mark left resonates on a much larger scale in the girl’s life and in the reader’s eyes. Well done.
These are not feel good stories, but they are stories about the darkness often found in the soul. For readers who don’t pick up symbolism, they will just appear to be strange and in some cases, even degrading. For those readers that are able to uncover and absorb the symbolism, the best of these stories will haunt you.