The Safety of Objects

by A. M. Homes

Paperback, 1999

Call number




Rob Weisbach Books (1999), Edition: 1st Rob Weisbach Books ed, 173 pages


The breakthrough story collection that established A. M. Homes as one of the most daring writers of her generation Originally published in 1990 to wide critical acclaim, this extraordinary first collection of stories by A. M. Homes confronts the real and the surreal on even terms to create a disturbing and sometimes hilarious vision of the American dream. Included here are "Adults Alone," in which a couple drops their kids off at Grandma's and gives themselves over to ten days of Nintendo, porn videos, and crack; "A Real Doll," in which a girl's blond Barbie doll seduces her teenaged brother; and "Looking for Johnny," in which a kidnapped boy, having failed to meet his abductor's expectations, is returned home. These stories, by turns satirical, perverse, unsettling, and utterly believable, expose the dangers of ordinary life even as their characters stay hidden behind the disguises they have so carefully created.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member absurdeist
Amy Homes is here to shock, bemuse, and amuse you in her debut collection of stories, The Safety of Objects. The title's ironic, of course, as there's no safety to be had anywhere in the dark (though often, hysterical) worlds her characters - both living and inanimate objects - populate.

The parents
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of Adults Alone ship off their two kids (one's a baby) to the wife's parent's house for the week so that our two substance abusing anti-heroes, Elaine and Paul, can take drugs and get high 24/7 while the kids are away. It's a stay-cation of cocaine, hashish, and acid, sans room service. The damn in-laws, though, announce they're bringing the kids home early because, after all, shouldn't a little baby be with its mother? Frantic, the dopester parents clean up the house in a hurry but, thankfully, for their precious baby's sake, aren't so wasted as to forget checking the cushions on the sofa prior to the baby's return in order to ensure there's no empty drug vials. A curious baby deep into its oral stage of human development might place an empty vial of cocaine in his or her mouth and choke to death. And that wouldn't be good, no sirree bob.

Another child disappears in Looking For Johnny, and we see his perspective of his own kidnapping, much as we saw the girl's perspective of her own rape and murder in Alice Sebold's, The Lovely Bones - only this child, in Homes' story, hasn't realized he's kidnapped at first. We'd expect, as readers in this predictably tense situation, to read about the child being molested and ultimately worse, right? Instead, Homes, as she's prone to do, throws the reader one of her patented screwballs and we read of the boy only being forced to go fishing and to eat the fish he's caught (which he hates) and forced also to learn how to cook. Huh? That's it? Or, could it be, perhaps, since the child narrates the story, maybe the humiliated child doesn't want anyone knowing if stuff besides fishing and cooking went on, maybe? We can guess over the ambiguity, but probably only A.M. Homes (and our imaginations) knows the answer for sure.

An obese teenage girl in Chunky In Heat, is so subtly disturbing (as all these biting gems of suburban nightmare black comedy are) I don't think I can write about, but I'll try. It's about, well, an obese, lonely, sixteen year old girl, Cheryl, nicknamed, "Chunky," by the girl's mother after the girls favorite candy bar. We meet "Chunky" while she's sweltering in the summer heat in the backyard of her home on a K-Mart lawn chair, fantasizing in lewd and lucid detail about the 13 year old boy next door having his way with every ounce of her. The ardour of her fantasy consumes her and before long she's half naked on the lawn chair. By the time her mother returns from grocery shopping, she's completely nude and nearly orgasmic. Her mother, without looking outside, calls for Chunky to come inside and help unpack the groceries. Chunky obliges. And here's where Homes masterfully lowers the boom (albeit an understated backhanded boom) describing a mother-daughter emotional disconnect so severe it borders on criminal neglect:

"Her mother is just outside bringing in bags from the car. The boy from next door passes by on his skateboard and looks in the door. He sees her and calls out her name, "Chunky". Cheryl stands there, sees him see her, hears her name, and still stands there. Without realizing it she drops her hand to her crotch, covering herself. Her mother comes in carrying three bags, looks at her, and says, "Get dressed, dear."

And that's it! That's all her mother says to her! As a reader I'm shrieking, 'Wake up, you cruel and clueless Mom you; your exhibitionist daughter is screaming HELP! She's literally naked before you, masturbating for all to see. Are you blind? Can't you hear her?' Homes is quite gifted at evoking outraged reader reaction in such a way you don't necessarily feel manipulated even though she's definitely angling for a strong response, especially when it comes to witnessing the wretched parenting "skills" of some of the most apathetic and oblivious parents imaginable.

I love too how Homes can say so much by saying so little. "Get dressed, dear." Three words says it all about that particularly disturbing dysfunctional relationship.

And Homes says even a lot more about how absurdly relationally disconnected we've become in suburban, North American culture, in what has to be the most darkly comic and bitingly satirical short story I've ever read (so biting there's practically fang punctures in the story's pages, and this story is not - repeat, not - to the best of my limited knowledge, about a love struck teenage vampire); the centerpiece of her debut collection, the cult classic, A Real Doll. David Foster Wallace regarded it so highly he made A Real Doll required reading in his creative writing classes.

On the surface, A Real Doll is about an adolescent boy who "dates" his little sister's Barbie doll when his sis isn't around and, more importantly, when Ken isn't looking. Homes sums up her story's plot in its iconic opening paragraph: "I'm dating Barbie. Three afternoons a week, while my sister is at dance class, I take Barbie away from Ken. I'm practicing for the future".

In Homes' marvelously demented hands, Barbie talks audibly to the boy and the two become fast friends. They learn one anothers likes and dislikes; how Barbie hates it when Jenny, the boy's sister, chews on her plastic feet, for instance - and it hurts! Were Barbie human, her feet would be horribly deformed from so much girlish chewing!

The boy and Barbie soon share intimate secrets and, just as dating between two human beings often turns romantically intense, resulting in sexual sparks, so does the boy and the piece of plastic become "intimate". Pardon what may sound like a sexist statement at first blush, but the first time I read the following passages from A Real Doll, I was shocked (and maybe I'm naive) when I considered that this provocative narrative came from the pen and mind of a woman. I don't think any male writer I've ever read has ever written about a teenage boy's lustful fantasy life quite so pruriently, humorously, and well:

"I've never seen anything so big," Barbie said. It was the sentence I dreamed of....She stood at the base of my dick, her bare feet buried in my pubic hair. I was almost as tall as she was....I was on top, trying to get between her legs, almost breaking her in half. But there was nothing there...except a small thin line that was supposed to be her ass crack...I rubbed the thin line...Barbie said, "Don't stop"....

Trust me when I say that Homes omits no explicit details (as I have) in describing their bizarre (and laugh-out-loud funny) erotic encounters. Barbie just can't get enough of the boy because the makers at Mattel inadvertently deprived Barbie all those years ago when they created a Ken doll endowed with only a "bump". Poor Barbie! Imagine your boyfriend only had a bump! What would you do?

So that's the surface of A Real Doll. Cut open and look inside the plastic, though, just as Jenny, the boys sister, ultimately does, beheading both Barbie and Ken and then switching their respective heads so that Ken becomes a she and Barbie becomes a he, and you're confronted with a multitude of socio-sexual commentary. Namely, our culture's obsession with sexual pathos and, in some cases, "perversion," if I dare call it that; and, more specifically, how our gender roles and sexual identities - our "sexual psychologies," if you will - are formed and informed and maybe reinformed and oftentimes "twisted" - such as in the case of the boy in A Real Doll. But, is the boys behavior with the doll truly twisted? Is his behavior a sexual aberration? A fetish? Is he "deviant"? Or is he just plain weird? How would the DSM-IV-R, I wonder, classify his sexually plastic proclivities? Will his youthful predilection for Barbie dolls cause him, once he grows up, to rape and murder lifesize human women named Barbie? Homes never directly addresses these questions, but it's obvious she's implying them - and having a helluva lot of fun in the process. I think she's also asking: What exactly happened to this teenage boy, friendless and so isolated, that he would resort to amorous experimentation on molded plastic rather than experimenting with, say, the flesh and blood comprising the girl next door? I wonder if maybe the Barbie doll, in Homes' mind, symbolizes pornography, and perhaps Homes is covertly inquiring why it is that boys (a.k.a., "men") so often prefer the emotionally- and psychologically-disconnecting and destroying media of pornography over a real face-to-face relationship with a woman?

But that's just conjecture and maybe over-analysis on my part. Sometimes a Barbie doll is, in fact, just a Barbie doll; a doll meant to, in the spirit of childhood, have its feet regularly chewed and head decapitated and replaced with Ken's by a little girl, and to also be literally used as a sex object by a teenage boy.

Who knows?

And sometimes, too, a new writer like A.M. Homes arrives on the literary scene as she did nearly two decades ago with a sublimely subversive book taking point of view and pathos and absurdity to strange but all uncompromisingly true satirical scenarios previously unimagined in contemporary literature.
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LibraryThing member RandyMetcalfe
The protagonists in A.M. Homes’ stories are nearly all slightly askew. Their situations are neat and orderly — a couple’s staycation whilst their children holiday with their grandmother; sunbathing; office work; a sleepover. The locales tend to be suburban, typically middle-class and white.
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But in the midst of all this predictable normalcy, the characters’ interior lives are a frightening jumble of misplaced desire and irrationality. As a result, Homes came move from the mundane to the outlandish and back in a flash. The effect is striking. But to what end?

Homes’ early stories, as found in this collection, might be a response to the prominent mode of dirty realism in the ‘90s. But for her, the grittiness lies inside. Adults become self-absorbed teenagers in the absence of their children. A man with anger management issues implodes when his routine mechanism to diffuse his pent-up anger becomes temporarily unavailable. Indeed adults seem to always be at risk of disintegration. For the young teen protagonists of stories like “Chunky in Heat,” or “A Real Doll,” pubescence borders on self-harm. And the interiors of minds or linen closets (as in “Yours Truly”) just are the arenas of action.

Curious and slightly disturbing, but riveting all the same. Gently recommended.
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LibraryThing member suesbooks
I did not care for any of these short stories. I didn't like the writing, and I felt nothing for the characters. Quite a disappointment!
LibraryThing member rslynch
I watched the movie adaptation and became obsessed much in the way as when I first watched Donnie Darko. I couldn't wait to get my hands on the book, and when I finally did, I was not disappointed overall. Although the book was written in 1990, few details seemed dated. Even then, things like the
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girls with big hair and the struggle to figure out what CD players are all about seem reminiscent to my own experiences if not totally relatable in my current life. Reading the book was like getting the backstory of the movie and untangling and rectifying the "mushings" of the movie.

I loved "A Real Doll." It seemed fresh to me and not overdone like the other stories of living dolls, in which they tend to be bloodthirsty. This time Barbie was just living her saucy little life, but with a lot more sexual charge to match her body. It seemed realistic to me that she would allow herself to be abused by the sister and not want to get out because she felt that's the only it could be, much like in real abusive relationships. I also loved reading about Jim Train (love that name!) peeing in the plants and pulling marigolds instead of weeds.

The story about the STD ("The I of It") and the one about the girl writing in the closet were good examples of stream-of-consciousness writing, but I found them to be confusing and a bit sparse. Still, they were not total losses and I am glad I didn't skip over them.

In the future I would like to share these stories with others (I took this book to my 26th birthday sleepover because it was so engaging), in a college course if I can. There are so many lessons and examples of conventions to share.
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LibraryThing member mel-L-co0l-j
what fun! Homes invites O. Henry, Poe, and Shirley Jackson over for a slumber party, and they stay up all night telling stories with flashlights under their faces. next, Homes adds her dark wit and imagination, and bakes it all in pre-Millennial 1990s heat. what results is this daring group of
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a boy is in love with his sister's barbie doll... a successful couple fuels their darker sides with hard drugs... a kidnapped kid learns rejection when a pedophile takes him back home.... and more. fierce, and not for the weak of constitution.
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LibraryThing member Djupstrom
Good, quirky short stories.
LibraryThing member Laurenbdavis
Well-written, but disturbing indeed. The title is wholly ironic, as the objects here -- everyday objects ranging from closets to cars to lawn furniture to parts of the characters' bodies -- twist into treacherous, malevolent frankly terrifying parodies of the American dream. Suburbia has never
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looked more sinister.
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LibraryThing member kristi17
A book of 10 short stories about people with identity, sexuality, and/or psychological issues. I was only mildly interested in two of the stories, the rest contained forgettable characters and awkward situations that I felt no emotional connection to.
LibraryThing member DanielAlgara
It's was tough to get what I didn't like about this work into a single word or phrase, but eventually, after a story called The Bullet Catcher, I decided on "Passionless". And that's the way Ms. Homes writes. The narrative is so bland and uninteresting one is forced to un-suspend their disbelief.
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In the first story about a couple who gets a break from the kids the tone is absolutely necessary, it fits the story perfectly. But that's why it was first, after a few more stories one begins to fall asleep at the lack deftness yet anatomically correct construction of a literary story. It turns out her very style is passionless, there's no (I don't know how to say it) "punch" to her words, no "energy". AND, in most of the stories, nothing happens, which is fine if you there's an encompassing beauty about the narrative. But in these works there isn't anything to keep you reading.

Then there's this ridiculous story "The Bullet Catcher". It's a meandering tale that isn't worth summation here, but at the end the MC gets SHOT in the back. Pretty cool right? NO. Because the one who shoots him is a mall security guard. That's right a mall cop who carries a gun and shoots fleeing shoplifters. And what did the guy steal? A baseball mitt and a bat. There's is a lot wrong and implausible there. Just fucking lame.
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LibraryThing member lydia1879
A.M Homes is somewhat of a cross between Alissa Nutting's Tampa and Brett Easton Ellis.

Actually, she's an author all her own. She commands your attention from the first page and doesn't let you go. I read her book in a day or a few days.

I think the thing I admire most about her work is that this
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novel isn't an easy read but that doesn't mean it isn't readable. She pushes the boundaries of what's comfortable and what you don't talk about, because she can.

She takes characters who are so domestic and ordinary and opens them up and allows the reader to see their darkness completely unrestricted.

This was my first book by A.M. Homes and I'll be back. (But I'll probably read in the day time. It won't make me feel any safer, but I'll feel better about it.)
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0688170838 / 9780688170837
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