Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Thousand Pardons

A Thousand Pardons by Jonathan Dee
Random House, 3/12/2013
Hardcover, 224 pages
ISBN-13: 9780812993219 

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 Ben, a partner in a prestigious law firm, has become unpredictable at work and withdrawn at home—a change that weighs heavily on his wife, Helen, and their preteen daughter, Sara.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.

My Thoughts:
In A Thousand Pardons by Jonathan Dee, Ben and Helen Armstead have a marriage that is predictable but also in crisis. Lawyer Ben's nefarious, self-centered and irresponsible actions wreck complete destruction on the family. Ben, facing several legal issues, is sent off to rehab and his assets are frozen. Helen is advised to divorce Ben, which she does, and then she must find a job.
Helen, who was a stay-at-home mom for many years ends up finding a job with a very small public relations firm in Manhattan. It turns out that she has a gift for crisis management PR as she persuades clients to apologize for their real or perceived misdeeds. This quickly turns into a great job with a top firm ($90k plus benefits). Helen ends up selling the family home and moving with their adopted Chinese daughter, Sara, to the city.
While I wanted to like this novel there are just too many glaring problems with it for me. First, this novel has a message of forgiveness - that seemingly an apology can make-up for any number of infractions. The problem is that none of the apologies presented have any basis in reality. The majority have their genesis as PR stunts. The others are incongruous with the facts or the personalities (specifically Hamilton and Ben later in the novel.)
Another glaring problem is Helen's job. Please... She is not working for over 18 years other than doing the local fund raising events, and volunteer work, etc., that stay-at-home-moms are noted for doing. Then she suddenly gets a PR job, at which she is so gifted that in a seemingly short span of a few months and with uncommonly fair prevailing circumstances, she is miraculously hired by a top firm. She goes from zero to 90k plus benefits a year in a matter of months. Let me clue you in - it ain't gonna happen. In reality she would find a job at which, if she is lucky, she'd make more than minimum wage and get benefits. I can suspend disbelief for a novel but I'm not willing to go this far a field.
There were some other niggling problems that also took away from the forgiveness message for me. It almost seems to me that this novel is incomplete, or perhaps it loses focus before it is a fully realized narrative.
The good parts of  A Thousand Pardons include great writing and a quickly moving plot that keeps you reading. He also gifts his characters with some keen insight into their problems and feelings - even though this insight is inconsistent.
Recommended - for those times when Dee's gift for insight shines through the murkiness
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Random House and Netgalley for review purposes.

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