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What readers think of Absolution, plus links to write your own review.

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Absolution

A Novel

by Alice McDermott

Absolution by Alice McDermott X
Absolution by Alice McDermott
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  • Published:
    Oct 2023, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jacob Lenz-Avila
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Power Reviewer
Cathryn Conroy

Brilliant! A Story of Vietnam You've Never Heard Before…A Story of the Women, the Wives
In a word: brilliant!

This is a book about Vietnam in the very early days of the war, a story you've never heard before. This is a book about the women, the wives of the important men—diplomats, engineers, intelligence officers, attorneys, and military brass. These bright young men were sent to Saigon in the early '60s to do mostly secret work while their pretty little wives threw garden parties and cocktail parties with local servants doing all the work. This is a book about two of those women, who didn't exactly fit the mold.

Written 60 years later as a kind of memoir/letter by Tricia to her friend Charlene's daughter, Rainey, this is the story of a brief stint in Vietnam in 1963. Peter and Tricia are working class Irish Catholics from Yonkers. He is eight years older than she and is in Vietnam working as an attorney for Navy intelligence. They are desperately trying to have a baby. Charlene and her husband, Kent, have been there a while with their three children, 8-year-old twins Rainey and Ransom and baby Roger. Charlene is pretty, smart, bossy, a bit of a bully, and a vivacious hostess; she also has a passion for "doing good" that is wonderful but heartbreaking in who gets hurt in the process. Life is so different for these women, and not only because they are in Vietnam. They are considered nothing more than "helpmeets" for their husbands. Trish often writes, "You have to remember how it was in those days. For women. For wives." They are women on the periphery. Women no one takes seriously. Meanwhile, outside their wealthy, guarded compounds, Vietnamese children are starving, families are living in abject poverty, and people are dying in surprise attacks by the Viet Cong. What is the moral obligation of these protected, pampered wives as they seek absolution in a broken, tragic place that is gearing up for a horrifying war?

Bonus: Barbie dolls have a big part in this book—a part that is both surprising and appalling.

Beautifully written with so many details and lush descriptions that it transports the reader back to this time and place, this remarkable novel is an enlightening and provocative expose on unseen women with unseen lives. This is a story of Vietnam you've never heard before.
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