A Thousand Pardons: A Novel by Jonathan Dee (New York: Random House, 2013. 214 pp)

Jonathan Dee is a Pulitzer Prize Finalist for his novel, The Privilegeswhich also won the 2011 Prix Fitzgerald and the St. Francis College Literary Prize.  He is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, a former senior editor of The Paris Review, and the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation.

A Divorce Looming

“She knew what the right thing to do was. Dismantle it together: help him find a new place, work out the money, sign whatever needed to be signed, put on a united front for poor Sara, who’d already had two parents abandon her, after all. But for once in her life Helen didn’t want to do it. Why should she make even this easy for him? She’d made everything easy for him for eighteen years, and he repaid her by mak-ing an explosive, weepy public display of his horror at the very sight of her. Screw the right thing. If he hated her so much, if life with her was such a death sentence, then let’s see him be a man about it, for once, and devise his own escape” (9-10).

So begins A Thousand Pardons, with a somewhat extemporaneous view of marriage that shocks the reader. Ben is a New York attorney who lives in an affluent town in the outskirts of the city. His wife, Helen, is a stay-at-home mother to their adopted Chinese daughter, Sara. Ben, to Helen’s chagrin, spends countless long hours at work, comes home, finds something to eat, then goes to bed. The marriage has flamed out, and the couple moves their separate ways. Their daughter, Sara, largely ignored by Ben because of his busy work life, moves in with Helen.

Now a PR Expert

Now divorced and actively seeking work, Helen is headhunted by a powerhouse firm as her views on PR are the supposed wave of the future. Troubled movie star and former love interest, Hamilton Barth, finds his way to her, and Helen puts her PR expertise to the test. Hamilton is the epitome of all of her former husband’s vices, which in turn brings Ben back into the picture.

My problem with the novel is that it goes from Helen being a stay-at-home mom to a PR expert in almost a blink of an eye. While the transition could be a natural one, Dee doesn’t give it much explanation. Dee does a fantastic job unveiling the inner-workings of the PR industry, and I just wish he spent a little more time on the beginning of the plot development so we could see Helen’s transformation a little more clearly. What’s more, Hamilton, the star that brings everything to a crux in the novel, is largely inconsequential for such an important factor in Helen’s transformation.


While A Thousand Pardons was overall decent, I felt that after Dee’s The Privileges, it was quite the let down. I’d go for his better known work.

Verdict: 3 out of 5

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