Monday, March 11, 2013

The rocky road to redemption

A Thousand Pardons
by Jonathan Dee

As Jonathan Dee’s latest novel opens, readers get to witness suburban New Yorkers Ben and Helen Armstead give up the ghost on couples counseling. Their marriage is at an impasse when successful lawyer Ben goes off the rails. Staggeringly bad judgment causes both his marriage and his career to implode. His very freedom is jeopardized. And now forty-something housewife Helen must care for their adolescent daughter and find a new path for their lives.

In a somewhat unrealistic turn of events, Helen finds her professional calling. The thing is, realism isn’t everything. I was willing to give Dee a pass on some of the finer plot points, because I was entertained and invested in the tale being told. Husband Ben, stays on the periphery of the narrative, but there’s a third character, a childhood friend of Helen’s who has achieved great fame. This reader was just waiting for him to make an appearance, and of course, eventually he did—though not, perhaps, exactly as I expected him to.

This was my first experience reading Mr. Dee, but I certainly heard the buzz on his last novel, The Privileges, and am aware of his literary reputation. Therefore, I think I was a bit surprised by the simplicity of this novel. The prose is highly readable, but neither remarkable nor overly ornate. Characters were well-drawn and sympathetic (surprisingly so in many cases), but it’s a fairly brief redemption tale being told. It’s just not that deep. I point this out not as a fault; it simply is what it is. And A Thousand Pardons succeeds quite well on that level. This was a quick, entertaining read that I enjoyed more for the story being told than anything else. It moved more quickly and I read the book in no time flat.

I would offer one caveat: Readers who need to have all narrative threads tied up neatly in a bow may feel some frustration with the novel’s ending. I, myself, have no objection to a few loose ends. They leave me with food for thought. Still, this novel’s ending did give me pause. It sort of snuck up on me. I read it, thought, “I don’t know about that,” and read it again. And upon second reading I decided that it was all good. This was an enjoyable and overdue introduction to an author on the ascent.

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