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? Read more...
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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 Ben, a partner in a prestigious law firm, has become unpredictable at work and withdrawn at home--a change that weighs heavily on his wife, Helen, and their preteen daughter, Sara.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.
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"
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-01-14
- Reviewer: Staff
“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. Agent: Amanda Urban, ICM. (Mar.)
Crisis management in an age of public mistakes and apologies
Americans follow a familiar script when a powerful man falls from grace. We’re shocked, though news of such-and-such tweeting his private parts or engaging in an affair may secretly fill us with glee—especially when he’s forced to confess after a strategy of “deny, deny, deny.” Is it human nature to relish watching the train wreck of a public collapse? In Jonathan Dee’s A Thousand Pardons, his first novel since 2010’s The Privileges (a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize), we see another side of this story. It is human nature to forgive—if only the transgressors will let us.
Helen Armstead finds herself in a sticky situation after Ben, her corporate-lawyer husband, is accused of sexual assault and driving while intoxicated. He’s disbarred and checked into rehab, and Helen, a stay-at-home mom, has to find a way to support her family. She gets a job at a struggling public relations firm in New York City and discovers an untapped talent: She can turn the tide of a PR nightmare by making men apologize. By ’fessing up, the men are in charge of their own narratives.
One conversation Helen has with a client—an executive at a grocery store chain—underscores her intuitive philosophy. The grocery store is in deep trouble when a young mother claims she bought a bunch of bananas stuffed with razor blades. Naturally, the manager is indignant; he thinks the mom planted the razors. But Helen implores him to apologize: “If you keep denying what they believe, that just strengthens their suspicion. You’re already guilty in their minds.” If the man owns the accusations, then he’s the one “making the choices that drive the story from that point forward,” Helen says. This is because the public’s “ultimate desire is to forgive.”
The story also follows Ben as he attempts to rebuild his life, the Armsteads’ daughter as she attempts to rebel and a movie star in need of Helen’s services. However, Dee is at his amusing and clever best when he hones in on Helen and her no-nonsense approach to public relations (and personal survival). Readers will root for her success and evaluate how their own opinions have been shaped by some astute public relations.
Read a Q&A with Jonathan Dee for A Thousand Pardons.