“I’m sorry”

A Thousand Pardons (NetGalley)
Jonathan Dee
Release date: March 2013

Helen had a gift: she could induce even the most powerful to follow her directive–apologize for their misdeeds, real or imagined. Sincerely, with candor. Without thoughts of manipulation. And as part of a crisis management team at a large public relations firm, she excelled. But despite this talent, Helen couldn’t keep her own crisis at bay.

Husband Ben Armstead’s mid-life crisis was not all that unusual. What might be unusual is the swift trajectory of his downfall: once a successful lawyer living in a posh New York suburb, he finds himself in the space of a year disbarred, charged with DUI and sexual assault, and serving a brief stint in prison. So with the marriage dissolved and the family home on the market, Helen and their daughter Sara escape to a new life in Manhattan hoping to reinvent themselves–which they do with only limited success. Because Helen can’t quite figure out the unspoken rituals of the corporate world and single life. And thirteen-year-old Sarah is still too young to know who she wants to invent herself in to.

The irony that Helen could bring other men to their knees, yet not her husband, is obvious. But it’s also ironic that it is Ben who realizes first that reinvention might not be the cure-all we think it to be–that perhaps returning to the center is where healing takes place. While some readers might think Ben’s answer to his disgrace is too pat (and, in fact, Ben himself didn’t really understand the why of his actions), it felt right to me. What also felt right was the family’s tentative attempts at the end of the novel to rise from the ashes of their collapse.

I was not at all certain why the publisher compared Dee and Thousand Pardons to Jonathan Franzen or Richard Russo. I’ve read both writers and I am off put by what so many readers and reviewers call ‘social commentary’–the characters in both Franzen’s and Russo’s work have few redeeming qualities and they remain mired in their shortcomings. I found Thousand Pardons more comparable to Joyce Carol Oates’ We Were the Mulvaneys–it spoke of healing and hope

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