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A quasi-parable about the way America lives now, A Thousand Pardons tells the story of one family's disintegration and reconciliation.

Summary and reviews of A Thousand Pardons by Jonathan Dee

As the novel opens, Ben and Helen tell their daughter that they are off for their weekly "date night"; Sara rolls her eyes and pretends to gag. That is what it's like for me every day … It's like a fucking death sentence, coming back to that house every night.

I mean, no offense. Understandably quite offended, Helen resolves to force Ben to choose his own route out of the marriage, and it doesn't take long. He self-destructs in spectacular style; losing his family and job, he is forced into a spurious stint in rehab to help with his court case but still can't avoid a brief jail sentence.

The rest of the novel intercuts among the three Armsteads as they wrestle with questions of blame and forgiveness. Helen turns out to have what the novel declares a "genius" for crisis management, although her solution is always the same: her clients must beg for public forgiveness, regardless of whether they are in the wrong. Is it, though? Thanks to camera phones and the internet, scandals are a dime a dozen these days, as are apologies.

Like many people, I am increasingly numb to both. Helen guides a city councilman who has been caught on video beating his mistress through a public mea culpa and then strong-arms a supermarket chain that is being sued probably spuriously for selling bananas with razor blades in them into the same. The head of a fancy and enormous PR firm plucks her from obscurity for his crack Crisis Management team so that she can extract apologies from such heavies as the Catholic Church.

When Ben expresses a desire to apologize to the woman who accused him of sexual assault, his lawyer tells him that he is only allowed to apologize to Helen and only in his office. Ben does.

A Thousand Pardons by Jonathan Dee, review

Helen does not accept. So here is a woman who knows firsthand how laughably inadequate an apology can be, how puny and irrelevant in comparison to transgressions committed and pain caused. Not only did I question why that woman would be such an advocate for penitence as a cure-all, I doubted the efficacy of the apologies she squeezed out of her clients.

The novel seemed to anticipate my skepticism. In her faith in the tactic of total submission she felt herself delivering a kind of common-sense rebuke not just to her ex-husband and his lawyer but to legal minds everywhere. Her feelings of isolation and displacement are treated with the same care and seriousness as those of her parents. But as a whole, the novel feels unconvinced of itself.

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Technically, I suppose, Dee employs an omniscient narrator, but that external voice has no personality of its own and offers little insight or feeling of authority. Likewise, the theme of apology is returned to so often and from so many different angles that it draws uncomfortable attention to the contrivances of the plot. The novel, though, derives so much more interest and power from the smaller, less theme-driven story of how the Armsteads destroy and reconfigure themselves as a family. They are three people tumbling through their parallel lives, each wondering what the point of all of it is, what else is out there.

An original look at the American PR world. Though completely contemporary, this literary novel overall feels like an old fashioned parable with a message about evil in its various present day forms and how a person ought to respond, or at least find safety. Would be great for a book group.


A good read with believeable characters that you care about. Interesting setting in crisis management and a nice twist to the ending. However, at the end it turns into a literary thriller and the author Jonathan Dee manages to weave the mystery into the plot quite seamlessly. The characters in the story are Helen, Ben and their adopted daughter.

"A Thousand Pardons," and just as many plot contrivances

The family threads are unraveled by Ben and Helen becomes the strong sustaining parent by moving to Manhattan and finding a job at which she excels. When her past reappears in the form of an actor Helen is suddenly asked to cope with a lot and the reader keeps turning pages to see how Helen manages.

Breaking Dawn Parody by The Hillywood Show®

Good read. Their assets frozen in the resulting divorce proceedings, his wife, Helen, lucks into a job in PR, at which she proves to be quite talented. Her secret is to convince people to apologise, and her belief that what people do best of all is forgive is borne out in the first of many successes.

A "page turner without sacrificing a smidgen of psychological insight" Kirkus Reviews , this literary novel reflects not only on the ways in which public opinion can be manipulated, but on the challenges of personal relationships as well. Review by Philip Tew, fiction selector. Skip to main navigation Skip to main navigation Skip to search Skip to search Skip to content. Use current location. See all locations.

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