Originally published March 2013
A Thousand Pardons … a thousand questions for your book club.
Pulitzer-nominated author Jonathan Dee’s exploration of the disintegration and subsequent rebirth of the modern, upper-middle-class-living-in-the-‘burbs family is a lot to chew on.
Who is to blame for Ben Armstead’s descent into temporary insanity? (Yes, asking a legal intern to just stand in front of you naked in a hotel room while you weep is punching your ticket to CrazyTown.) Is it a mid-life crisis? Did his wife, Helen, just grow too complacent in the stay-at-home mom routine of library and PTA fundraisers? No matter—his royal fuck up sets off a chain of events that includes new jobs, a new school, new apartments, a brief stint in prison and a movie star kiss in front of an ex-spouse. Oh, and the movie star thinks he may have killed someone.
Dee does a fantastic job at breaking down the complexities of relationships—Helen and Ben; Helen and her daughter, Sara; Ben and Sara; Helen and herself; and Ben and himself. I was more intrigued by the characters’ self-exploration as they moved through the various phases of the novel—Helen’s re-entry into a career (a tad unrealistic, but …OK), Ben’s coming out the other side of his breakdown only to have to deal with the ramifications of his actions, and Sara’s tender coming of age (8th grade sucks!).
OK, so should you read it? “A Thousand Pardons” press material compares it to Russo and Franzen—I’m putting it somewhere in the middle of that literary road. Franzen, whom I really enjoy, can be tedious in his character development. He would have given us another three chapters of Sara brooding in her bedroom. Russo would have made Ben more cantankerous and less accessible. I can say this—the story immediately drew me in and had me in full-on book-in-face mode for an entire day. Only good stories do that.