A.M Homes was in Oxford last summer finishing off the already-late collection of 13 short stories entitled Days of Awe which has now been published and is available to buy everywhere. The title, which is borrowed from one of the stories, is also a nod to Judaism - the Days of Awe (or Reckoning) are a ten-day period of introspection and a time to ask for forgiveness to those you have wronged. One person who will escape forgiveness is the janitor who flooded the author's apartment in New York and smashed a wall to let asbestos into the building, causing the book to be late because all the pages were on the floor and got destroyed. Expect to see him portrayed in her future work.
'Maybe you should have called it Days of Awe-sbestos.' I quipped, in a completely out of character show of boldness from the audience, but perhaps it was my accent or tinny pitch but no one erupted into laughter and there were no frantic calls to the printers to recall the current titles and replace with my amendment.
Unlike her students in Princeton, Homes doesn’t dash off a short story in an afternoon. It’s more like a decade and that’s why her writing feels so condensed, so rich and is so timeless yet relevant. Like a well-crafted speciality cheese (there were A LOT of cheese metaphors in the evening). Also, she’s pleased with the work which is a happy departure from self-deprecating female artists and happy with the degree of difficulty attained with some of the stories. Homes said it was important to be in Oxford to finish it off, not just to be out of America, which she found liberating, but because in Oxford you can very much exist in the life of the mind safely. I think this is something us residents forget and take for granted quite often as we complain about the roadworks on the Woodstock Road (because they really are atrocious) and barely raise our eyes to glance up at the architecture in the city centre anymore.
In a 'Prize for Every Player', a man gets nominated for President in a supermarket. Everyone assumes this was written recently but it was actually written 6 years ago. This ties in with the concept that authors need to be proactive and not reactive and essentially be writing as world events start to unravel in a prophet-like manner. No mean feat. But it does mean that they have a responsibility to be observing and interpreting all the time, not just in the aftermath of events. And, like any good grammar student will advise upon how grammar rules sink in after an undisclosed period, these stories and ideas accrue over time, percolate and then transcend time.
'Days of Awe' is about a hook up at a genocide convention but it’s ok - Homes checked with two rabbis and they gave it their blessing saying that actually you’re supposed to have sex on the Sabbath (TMI, rabbi!).
It was another wonderful evening with a great author whose ease and ability to speak on any topic made me realise what it was about her that was so captivating about her last visit. It’s that you wish she were your teacher. And if you qualify to get into the Iowa Writers Program, maybe she will be.