Ever since the publication of her first novel, Jack (1989), and continuing through her 2018 story collection, Days of Awe, A.M. Homes has focused with laserlike precision on some of the darkest corners of contemporary American life. It makes sense, then, that in her provocative novel The Unfolding, she would turn to a bitingly satirical exploration of our current political predicament.
Homes’ novel smartly imagines the machinations of a shadowy group of rich and powerful men who organize for action in the aftermath of Barack Obama’s election in 2008. Calling themselves the “Forever Men,” they’re led by a character identified only as “the Big Guy,” who divides his time between a Wyoming ranch and a luxurious home in Palm Springs, California. There’s also a retired general with connections at the deepest levels of the American security establishment, a Texas judge and a “mad scientist” whose expertise includes a gift for spotting emerging trends.
When they’re not riding in a hot air balloon or participating in target practice, the men ponder in self-aggrandizing terms “how to reclaim our America, a traditional America that honors the dreams of our forefathers.” In truth, the heart of their project is ensuring the preservation of an American democracy that they believe is about “capitalism, guns, and lower taxes.” The suggestion of a “seamless transition unfolding in the corridors of power, a slow roll to the right that no one sees coming,” has an eerily familiar feel.
But even as the conspirators plot to wrest America from the Obama coalition and return it securely to the control of their fellow wealthy white men, the Big Guy must deal with a complicated assortment of challenges closer to home. His wife’s alcoholism is worsening, and his independent-minded 18-year-old daughter, safely ensconced in an all-girls boarding school in Virginia, is beginning to formulate her own ideas of how the world should to work. When the Big Guy is forced to reveal a long-buried family secret, his once-tidy life teeters on the edge of implosion.
Homes ends her story on January 20, 2009, Obama’s inauguration day, before the group’s hostile takeover plan is actually set in motion. If only for that reason, The Unfolding is a novel that cries out for a sequel. On the other hand, Homes cannily suggests, maybe that sequel is playing out right before our eyes.