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A Thousand Pardons

Cover of A Thousand Pardons

A Thousand Pardons

A Novel

For readers of Jonathan Franzen and Richard Russo, Jonathan Dee's novels are masterful works of literary fiction. In this sharply observed tale of self-invention and public scandal, Dee raises a trenchant question: what do we really want when we ask for forgiveness?

Once a privileged and loving couple, the Armsteads have now reached a breaking point. Ben, a partner in a prestigious law firm, has become unpredictable at work and withdrawn at home--a change that weighs heavily on his wife, Helen, and their preteen daughter, Sara. Then, in one afternoon, Ben's recklessness takes an alarming turn, and everything the Armsteads have built together unravels, swiftly and spectacularly.

Thrust back into the working world, Helen finds a job in public relations and relocates with Sara from their home in upstate New York to an apartment in Manhattan. There, Helen discovers she has a rare gift, indispensable in the world of image control: She can convince arrogant men to admit their mistakes, spinning crises into second chances. Yet redemption is more easily granted in her professional life than in her personal one.

As she is confronted with the biggest case of her career, the fallout from her marriage, and Sara's increasingly distant behavior, Helen must face the limits of accountability and her own capacity for forgiveness.

Praise for The Privileges

"Full of elegance, vitality and complexity . . . Dee is at once funny, subversive and sympathetic."--The New York Times Book Review

"Scintillating . . . Dee is a remarkably skilled portraitist."--The Washington Post

"Admirably relentless."--The New Yorker

"Transfixing . . . composed in Dee's typically elegant style--gorgeous winding sentences."--Los Angeles Times

"Pitch-perfect prose--a real delight for those who have all but given up on recent fiction . . . a riveting book about the new American family and the atomizing pressures of modern life."--Chicago Tribune

"Dee's book is so witty and savvy and adroit and basically humane--as well as breathtakingly intelligent--that it shines beyond all categories on its astonishing merits."--Richard Ford

"Dee's luminous prose never falters; he's a master."--Entertainment Weekly

For readers of Jonathan Franzen and Richard Russo, Jonathan Dee's novels are masterful works of literary fiction. In this sharply observed tale of self-invention and public scandal, Dee raises a trenchant question: what do we really want when we ask for forgiveness?

Once a privileged and loving couple, the Armsteads have now reached a breaking point. Ben, a partner in a prestigious law firm, has become unpredictable at work and withdrawn at home--a change that weighs heavily on his wife, Helen, and their preteen daughter, Sara. Then, in one afternoon, Ben's recklessness takes an alarming turn, and everything the Armsteads have built together unravels, swiftly and spectacularly.

Thrust back into the working world, Helen finds a job in public relations and relocates with Sara from their home in upstate New York to an apartment in Manhattan. There, Helen discovers she has a rare gift, indispensable in the world of image control: She can convince arrogant men to admit their mistakes, spinning crises into second chances. Yet redemption is more easily granted in her professional life than in her personal one.

As she is confronted with the biggest case of her career, the fallout from her marriage, and Sara's increasingly distant behavior, Helen must face the limits of accountability and her own capacity for forgiveness.

Praise for The Privileges

"Full of elegance, vitality and complexity . . . Dee is at once funny, subversive and sympathetic."--The New York Times Book Review

"Scintillating . . . Dee is a remarkably skilled portraitist."--The Washington Post

"Admirably relentless."--The New Yorker

"Transfixing . . . composed in Dee's typically elegant style--gorgeous winding sentences."--Los Angeles Times

"Pitch-perfect prose--a real delight for those who have all but given up on recent fiction . . . a riveting book about the new American family and the atomizing pressures of modern life."--Chicago Tribune

"Dee's book is so witty and savvy and adroit and basically humane--as well as breathtakingly intelligent--that it shines beyond all categories on its astonishing merits."--Richard Ford

"Dee's luminous prose never falters; he's a master."--Entertainment Weekly

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    1

    Helen tried not to look at her watch, because looking at your watch never changed anything, but it was already a quarter to seven and her husband's headlights had yet to appear at the top of the hill. Evening had darkened to the point where she had to press her forehead to the kitchen window and frame her eyes with her hands just to see outside. Meadow Close was a dead end street, and so even if she couldn't make out the car itself, the moment she saw headlights of any kind cresting the hill there was a one in six chance they were Ben's. More like one in three, actually, because by turning her face a bit in the bowl of her hands she could see the Hugheses' car parked in their driveway, and the Griffins', and that obscene yellow Hummer that belonged to Dr. Parnell--­

    "Mom!" Sara yelled from the living room. "Can I have some more seltzer?"

    Twelve was old enough to get your own fanny out of the chair and pour your own third glass of seltzer. But it was Tuesday, and on Tuesday evening guilt always ruled, which was why Sara was eating dinner in front of the TV in the first place, and so Helen said only, pointedly, "Please?"

    "Please," Sara answered.

    She couldn't help stealing a look at the kitchen clock as she closed the refrigerator door. Six-­fifty. Mr. Passive Aggressive strikes again, she thought. She wasn't always confident she understood that expression correctly--­passive aggressive--­but she referred to it instinctively whenever Ben failed to do something he had promised her he would do. Sara was sitting on the couch with her plate on her lap and her feet on the coffee table, watching some horrific show about rich girls; she still wore her shin guards but at least she'd remembered to take her cleats off. Helen placed the seltzer bottle on the table at a safe distance from her daughter's right foot.

    "Thank you?" she said.

    "Thank you," Sara repeated.

    Then they both turned to watch a beam of light finish raking the kitchen, and a few seconds later Helen heard the lazy thump of a car door. Instead of relaxing, she grew more agitated. She hated to be late for things, and he knew that about her, or should have. Ben walked through the front door, wearing his slate-­gray suit with an open collar and no tie. When he was preoccupied, which was his word for depressed, he had a habit of pulling off his tie in the car and then forgetting it there; last Sunday Helen, passing his Audi in the garage, had glanced through the window and seen three or four neckties slithering around on the passenger seat. It had sent a little shudder through her, though she didn't know why. His eyes moved indifferently from Sara to her dinner plate to the TV as he trudged past them toward the hallway, but his expression didn't change; he was sunk too deep in whatever he was sunk in even to make the effort to convey his disapproval. Helen followed him into their bedroom. He finished emptying his pockets onto the dresser and then turned toward her without a trace of engagement, as if she were trying to talk to a photo of him.

    "We're late," she said.

    He shrugged, but did not so much as consult the watch right there on his wrist. "So let's go," he said.

    "You're not going to change?"

    "What for?"

    She rolled her eyes. "It's Date Night?" she said.

    He scowled and started taking off his pants. Really, it was like having two adolescents in the house sometimes. So that he wouldn't lose focus--­he was perfectly capable, these days, of sitting on the bed in his shorts with his lips moving silently for half an hour or more--­she stood there and watched him pull on a clean sweater and a pair of...

About the Author-
  • Jonathan Dee is the author of five previous novels, most recently The Privileges, which was a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize and winner of the 2011 Prix Fitzgerald and the St. Francis College Literary Prize. He is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, a National Magazine Award--nominated literary critic for Harper's, a former senior editor of The Paris Review, and the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation.

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