A Thousand Pardons
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY KIRKUS REVIEWS
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 Ben, a partner in a prestigious law firm, has become unpredictable at work and withdrawn at home—a change that weighs heavily on his wife, Helen, and their preteen daughter, Sara.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.
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Praise for A Thousand Pardons
“A Thousand Pardons is that rare thing: a genuine literary thriller. Eerily suspenseful and packed with dramatic event, it also offers a trenchant, hilarious portrait of our collective longing for authenticity in these overmediated times.”—Jennifer Egan, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of A Visit from the Goon Squad
“Hugely enjoyable . . . Dee is a snappy, cinematic writer. . . . A Thousand Pardons moves fast. It’s a mere 200 or so pages, and it packs a lot of turns of fate within there.”—The Boston Globe
“Dee’s gifts are often dazzling and his material meticulously shaped. . . . [He] articulates complex emotional dynamics with precision and insight.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Some stories begin with a bang. And some begin with a roaring fireball of truth. Jonathan Dee’s latest novel belongs in the latter camp.”—O: The Oprah Magazine
“Dee bounds gracefully among Helen’s, Ben’s, and Sara’s points of view as they try to reassemble their lives. Their stories feel honest, and the prose is beautiful.”—Entertainment Weekly
“A page turner . . . What a triumph.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Graceful prose and such a sharp understanding of human weakness that you’ll wince as you laugh.”—People
“Propulsively readable.”—The Millions
“Dee continues to establish himself as an ironic observer of contemporary behavior. . . . The plot is energetic. . . . But most compelling is the acuteness of the details.”—The Atlantic
"Something's got to happen," complains middle-aged suburbanite Ben Armstead, before destroying his marriage and career with a workplace tryst at the start of Dee's undercooked new novel (after The Privileges, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize). Newly divorced, Ben's ex-wife Helen moves to Manhattan with their adopted Chinese daughter Sara. Helen discovers that she has a gift for public relations and finds work at a PR firm, though she lacks experience and training. Before Ben can say "mea culpa," Helen is headhunted by a powerhouse firm, whose leader calls her approach to PR "the wave of the future." But when old school crush Hamilton Barth, now a troubled movie star, comes to her with a problem, she turns her PR skills to helping him, which ultimately puts Helen, Ben, and Sara in the same place again. 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.