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A. M. Homes: Jack

A M Homes’ first novel follows her standard pattern. A catastrophe occurs within a family. The rest of the book is how the various family members and others associated with them adapt and cope. Jack is a fifteen-year old boy. He is an only child, something he regrets. Indeed, his model, ideal family is the Burka family. Father, Sandy, is a friend of his father, mother Elaine is his mother’s best friend (and he is very fond of Elaine, to the point of having some sexual feeling for her), oldest son, Max, is his best friend and he gets on well with Max’s five-year old brother, Sammy. He frequently eats at the Burkas. Jack’s parents row and, very early in the book, Paul, his father, packs his thing and moves out. Like many children, he finds this very distressing, particularly as his father continues to come round, tries to help out in the house, even installs a basketball hoop in the garden. Then, one day, he takes Jack out boating. In the middle of a lake, he tells Jack that he is living with Bob, his gay lover. Jack is horrified and, worse, disgusted. For Jack and his peers, homosexuality is the ultimate crime and ‘fags’ get teased and mocked and, of course, the term is a general term of abuse for the weak and effeminate

Jack now lives in mortal fear of this being discovered. He tells no-one, not even Max. He makes a special point of getting a girlfriend, a not very attractive girl who has braces on her teeth and whose hand he tries to hold in public as much as possible, though nothing else happens. Indeed, he is not attracted to her but merely using her to show that he is heterosexual. However, his father invites Jack and Max to come bowling with him one day, where they will meet a friend and the friend’s daughter, Margaret. Margaret turns out to be Maggie, one of the very cool girls at the school. Her father is also gay and has brought his gay lover with him to the bowling game. The two commiserate. Max is shocked and it is Max who mentions it to someone else at school. Soon Jack is nicknamed fag-baby, someone writes faggot in large letters in indelible pen on his locker. Jack feels his life has been turned upside down.

Homes tells her story in a very witty way, gently mocking all the main characters and their foibles, but having Jack, her narrator, as a sympathetic, likeable though somewhat confused boy. He and his family try, with difficulty, to move towards a modus vivendi and the ideal family shows that it, too, has its problems. It is an enjoyable read but not as sharp as her later books will be.

Publishing history

First published 1989 by Vintage