Saturday, March 30, 2013

"A Thousand Pardons," by Jonathan Dee

Almost exactly three years ago (3/31/10), I wrote a rather irritated post on Jonathan Dee’s novel “The Privileges,” decrying the entitled, amoral characters (while acknowledging that the portrayal of such Wall Street characters is well observed and captures something about the spirit of the times; of course I understand that novels can and should sometimes portray highly unlikeable and even repugnant characters, as these are part of life). Dee’s new novel, “A Thousand Pardons” (Random House, 2013), is a milder version of “The Privileges,” in that the characters, while still less than admirable, are less entitled, more vulnerable, and a little more likeable. Manhattan and surroundings are still the locale. Prosperous lawyer Ben has a midlife crisis/breakdown and decides to leave the marriage, and his wife Helen has to figure out how to pick up the pieces. Suspiciously easily, she finds a new job in public relations and is unexpectedly successful at it. Despite talk of possible financial problems after the marriage breaks up, somehow neither character ever suffers too much financially. (This novel is an example of a common trope in fiction that makes a nod toward possible financial problems for its privileged characters, but readers can see that there is never any real threat, any real danger of financial hardship.) There are subplots involving their daughter Sara and other characters (e.g., a disintegrating male movie star whom Helen knew in elementary school, who now turns to her for help), but the main plot point is the couple’s separation and what comes after. The ending is unexpectedly, if inconclusively, sentimental and promises a sort of redemption.

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