Reviews for Thousand Pardons
Booklist Reviews 2012 December #2
A Pulitzer Prize finalist for The Privileges (2010), Dee is adept at meshing the complexities of marriage and family life with the paradoxes of the zeitgeist. In his sixth meticulously lathed and magnetizing novel, he riffs on the practice of crisis management, beginning with the abrupt end to the seemingly happy home of lawyer Ben, housewife Helen, and their 14-year-old adopted Chinese daughter, Sara. After Ben's scandalous self-destruction, Helen heads resolutely into Manhattan and manages to get a job at a shabby little public-relations agency. There she convinces clients desperate to repair their public image to apologize for their bad behavior and ask for forgiveness, a radical approach in a field dedicated to deception. When she tries to help movie megastar Hamilton, with whom she grew up and who is now facing the abyss, everything comes to a boil. In this cunning novel of selfishness, despair, and second chances, Dee nets the absurdities of a society geared to communicate in a thousand electronic modes while those closest to each other can barely make eye connect. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.
BookPage Reviews 2013 March
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.
RELATED CONTENT Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.
Read a Q&A with Jonathan Dee for A Thousand Pardons.
Kirkus Reviews 2013 January #1
A marriage flames out. Gleefully, thrillingly, Dee (The Privileges, 2010, etc.) tracks its aftermath, focusing primarily on the evolution of the ex-wife. That's Helen Armstead, struggling to save a dying marriage. Husband Ben, partner in a New York City law firm, has been so deeply depressed he's ignored not just her and their upstate home, but their 12-year-old daughter, Sara (Chinese, adopted). The end comes fast. Ben, discovered in a hotel room with his intern, is beaten bloody by her boyfriend, then discovered again in his car, drunk and unconscious. Fired, and facing rape and DWI charges, he goes into rehab. Divorce filed but their assets frozen, Helen, a stay-at-home mom, must hustle to find work. She lucks out when she's hired by a down-at-the-heels PR company in the city. Her first assignment, persuading the owner of a Chinese restaurant chain to publish an apology to his striking workers, is a huge success. Even the boss' sudden death doesn't slow Helen down. She persuades two more male clients, drowning in bad publicity, to go the apology route. Her crisis management skills attract the attention of a huge PR company, which recruits her. This is not some empowerment fairy tale; Dee keeps the action grounded and credible. In an already dramatic story, the most sizzling drama comes after Helen accidentally meets an old childhood classmate at a movie premiere. Hamilton Barth is a Hollywood superstar, a deeply troubled man with a history of benders and blackouts; a greatly magnified version of Ben. When Helen subsequently gets a rescue-me call from Hamilton in a Vermont motel, the already brisk pace becomes breakneck. There's a young woman missing, bloody sheets and an amnesiac Hamilton willing to believe the worst of himself. It will take all Helen's crisis management skills to resolve this one. With his sixth novel, Pulitzer finalist Dee has written a page turner without sacrificing a smidgen of psychological insight. What a triumph. Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Library Journal Reviews 2012 September #2
Pulitzer Prize finalist Dee goes au courant with the story of a woman who returns to work when her corporate-lawyer husband loses all after an egregious act at the office. Helen, now in public relations, has a handy talent for getting powerful men to apologize for their misdeeds. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2013 January #2
"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.) [Page ]. Copyright 2012 PWxyz LLC