The book is entitled A Thousand Pardons, written by Jonathan Dee.
This is Dee’s fifth novel, though I was a Dee-virgin prior to reading this particular work. I have seen him described as “literary” in many places, but don’t know that I agree with that assessment for this particular novel.
What is it about?
A Thousand Pardons looks at the Armstead family – prestigious lawyer Ben, his wife Helen, and their adopted Asian daughter Sara. Ben & Helen have been married for awhile, and their marriage has lost its’ spark. While their daughter Sara thinks they are having a date night, they are actually going to couples’ counseling.
Ben is severely depressed and just bored with everything, which results in his entangling himself in an awkward situation with an attractive young female working at his firm – an awkward situation that ends with him being disgraced, losing his job, and even serving some jail time.
Suddenly, Helen, who has been out of the workforce for many years, needs to find a job and struggle to keep her daughter Sara feeling safe and at home in their now reduced family (a struggle which is destined to fail, as Sara is a teenager).
The title of the novel comes from the very public struggle that the Armstead family has to endure, since Ben’s thoughtlessness leads to scandal that is covered in all of the media outlets, as well as from the job that Helen procures. Helen finds a job in PR, and becomes “the apology specialist.” She convinces specific people, companies, etc., that when they are suffering a scandal, it is better for them to apologize for any wrongdoings, because the public wants to forgive them.
And this strategy works. She ends up receiving a promotion, and even spends some time around a movie star she was acquainted with in her youth.
Was it any good?
Yes. There were many aspects of this novel I enjoyed. Like I said, however, I would not call this literary fiction, and there were definitely some spots that missed the mark.
The novel begins very strong, and it is this strong beginning that will keep you reading, even when you get to parts of the book that you do not like as much.
One of the reasons that the beginning is so strong is the introduction to the characters – but specifically, to Helen. While Dee skips around a little bit with respect to which character he is focusing on, he does seem to focus on Helen the most, making her feel like a protagonist (as your reading progresses, however, it seems that Dee has the idea of the family being the focus all along). Helen is, in general, a pretty likeable & relate-able character. While she does get her job in PR absurdly easily, considering her lack of experience or education specializing in that field, because you want to see Helen succeed, you’ll probably slightly suspend disbelief for this fact.
The writing for this novel was very smooth and readable. Moreover, this novel is more than a frothy beach-read. While it is easy to read, and has many elements of simplicity in it, at the same time, it works to avoid the conventions and cliches that could easily have turned this novel into a predictable pile of romantic schlop.
On the other hand, something which this novel did that I was not particularly fond of was broaden its’ scope. I felt like the author tried to include too many things, leading to some of that simplicity being lost, and resulting in the novel feeling a bit messy at the end. A possible murder appears out of nowhere to muck things up, which just feels ridiculous. The adopted daughter Sara begins dating a boy who makes her question how her race affects how other people view her, and who possibly begins stalking her, a storyline which is not resolved but simply disappears shortly before the novel ends. The husband Ben is reintroduced and seems completely changed and chagrined by his jail time, which is simply not believable. Basically, the novel begins to feel like it is rambling, and rather than making something poignant and touching out of this family portrait, ends up just reminding the reader of how messy family life is (and what a shit the reader probably was as a teenager).
Rating: 2 gold stars
As always, that depends on what you are like as a reader, and what you are looking to read at this particular time. While Dee does write something interesting with an arresting beginning, he does not end the novel quite so coherently, and brings up unnecessary factors to the novel which are disconcerting and often simply ridiculous. The thing which disappointed me most was the introduction of racial tension when that issue was obviously not going to be adequately handled. If you are looking for a read that is slightly above beach-read/romance dribble, then yes. If you are looking for something with depth, I do not recommend this book.
This book is slated to be released March 12, 2013. I received an advanced copy for review, but all opinions, thoughts, etc., are my own.