For readers of Jonathan Franzen and Richard Russo, Jonathan Dee's novels are masterful works of literary fiction. In this sharply observed tale of self-invention and public scandal, Dee raises a trenchant question: what do we really want when we ask for forgiveness?
Once a privileged and loving couple, the Armsteads have now reached a breaking point. Ben, a partner in a prestigious law firm, has become unpredictable at work and withdrawn at home - a change that weighs heavily on his wife, Helen, and their preteen daughter, Sara. Then, in one afternoon, Ben's recklessness takes an alarming turn, and everything the Armsteads have built together unravels, swiftly and spectacularly.
Thrust back into the working world, Helen finds a job in public relations and relocates with Sara from their home in upstate New York to an apartment in Manhattan. There, Helen discovers she has a rare gift, indispensable in the world of image control: She can convince arrogant men to admit their mistakes, spinning crises into second chances. Yet redemption is more easily granted in her professional life than in her personal one.
As she is confronted with the biggest case of her career, the fallout from her marriage, and Sara's increasingly distant behavior, Helen must face the limits of accountability and her own capacity for forgiveness.
"Starred Review. With his sixth novel, Pulitzer finalist Dee has written a page turner without sacrificing a smidgen of psychological insight. What a triumph." - Kirkus
"In this cunning novel of selfishness, despair, and second chances, Dee nets the absurdities of a society geared to communicate in athousand electronic modes while those closest to each other can barely make eye connect." - Booklist
"A number of problems plague this novel: the thin Hamilton is ultimately inconsequential to the book, as is the romance between Sara and a black classmate discovering identity politics. Worse is Helen's transformation from housewife to PR genius, which happens in a blink and is given no support. "She could see he was coming around, just like they always did," she thinks while meeting with an early client. These flaws are a pity because Dee shines when unveiling the inner workings of the PR industry, which is at once ubiquitous and obscure. When the author focuses on the ways in which public opinion is routinely manipulated, he gives a tantalizing glimpse at what might have been." - Publishers Weekly
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Rated of 5
Katherine S. (Seaford, VA)
The Gift of Forgiveness
This is a believable, tightly written book about painful mistakes made by likeable characters. Ben & Helen's marriage and life dissolves in slow motion after a death spiral by Ben. Their teen daughter is collateral damage, but somehow there is hope through forgiveness. A Thousand Pardons is a jewel of affection and redemption.
Rated of 5
Elisabeth W. (Durham, NC)
Landing On Her Feet
I enjoyed A Thousand Pardons which is about a woman putting herself together professionally after being a stay-at-home mom knocked back by an unexpected divorce. A Thousand Pardons has a similar, contemporary feel to Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, but with less morose undertones. One of the reasons I related to this book is because it points up the financial vulnerability of the stay-at-home mom. It takes a lot of trust and courage to give up the ability to support yourself by letting go of your career to take care of children for the long term. I do think this book is targeted toward women 40-60 and would promote some interesting book club discussions!
Rated of 5
Barbara W. (Watertown, NY)
Confession is good PR
Themes of transgression, confession and forgiveness are woven throughout this novel. The author also nimbly demonstrates how people in the most intimate of relationships can be so clueless about what the other person is really like. The fact that one character works in a public relations agency gives an uneasy picture of how character and truth can manipulated to fit our ideas of remorse and redemption.
Rated of 5
Dorothy L. (Manalapan, NJ)
Forgiveness needed for A Thousand Pardons
I was looking forward to reading this book because it sounded interesting and the author had fine credentials. Unfortunately, for me, it was disappointing from the beginning and didn't improve all that much as I plodded along. I thought the dialogue in the opening chapter was unrealistic as written. The scene with the psychiatrist was not true-to-life. I had difficulty understanding Ben's unhappiness. Perhaps a smattering of flashbacks throughout the novel showing different periods of their marriage would've helped. I felt the strongest part of the novel was the middle section. It was refreshing to see the "injured wife" not stand by her man. Instead she was the focus instead of her husband and I liked seeing her grow and develop as a person in her own right instead of an appendage to her family. I wasn't that interested in the Hamilton episode. It seemed implausible to me as did the ending. What I thought was intriguing was that Sara chooses a boyfriend like her father--one who seemingly has "everything" but in reality has very little. There was little preparation in the novel for Sara's preference for her father at the end. Again some flashbacks of her relationship with both parents would have been helpful in understanding the way they behave when the story opens. It was not a particularly good book. It was not really bad. I wouldn't recommend it and I think there are better books around for book club discussions.
Rated of 5
Mimi F. (North Venice, FL)
A Thousand Pardons
I always am fascinated by the ability of a male writers to develop a plausible female character and I believe that Jonathan Dee accomplished that task. Helen was believable and likeable as the main character who faced with adversity copes and indeed excels as she recreates herself by being true to her basic tenets. I thought that Sara reacted as a teenager caught in that situation would and I found it easy to dislike Ben, but I did understand Helen's feelings at the end. I felt that the disjointed tableau involving Hamilton weakened a novel that was otherwise strong in character development.
Rated of 5
Debb R. (Grand Island, NE)
Take your time with this one.
This is one of those books that takes time to absorb and enjoy. I love Helen and Sara...... Ben, not so much. Lots of twists and turns and an unexpected ending. If you have a snowy weekend in front of the fire, this book is a perfect addition!
Jonathan Dee is the author of four novels, most recently Palladio. He is a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine, a frequent contributor to Harper's, and a former senior editor of The Paris Review. He teaches in the graduate writing programs at Columbia University and the New School.
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