Review: A Thousand Pardons

thousandpardonsTo be perfectly, 100% honest, I requested this review copy b/c (1) one of my favorite bloggers, Kerry over at liked it, but even more because it’s was on The Millions’ Most Anticipated list for 2013. I didn’t even read the summary, just took one look at the cover, said “Yep, that looks like my kind of fiction,” and hit the request button.

Anybody says that you can’t judge a book by a cover hasn’t looked at very many of them. Just sayin’.

Anyway, I [once again] had no idea what to expect going into this one. It’s the story of a white, middle-class family with white, middle-class problems; for the most part, anyway. You can say that it’s universal, and in some ways it is, but Dee [like Russo and Franzen, who the publisher is anxious to compare him to] doesn’t apologize for his chosen characters. Of course, the daughter is adopted & Asian, and there is a black character who has some opinions about racism, but for the most part, everybody’s white in this one. So if you’re looking for books that aren’t about white people problems [WPP], you’ll probably want to go elsewhere. But you’ll miss out.


The story is focused around three characters: Ben, the husband; Helen, his wife; and Sara, the adopted daughter. They’re all screwed up, but mostly in ways that everybody would recognize, because either they’re something you can see in yourself or in someone around you. It’s human nature under a microscope.

Dee’s writing is so…perceptive. At one point near the beginning of the novel, before everything falls apart, Ben explodes into a monologue of pain & introspection:

“Every day is unique and zero-sum and when it is over you will never get it back, and in spite of that, in spite of that, when every day begins I know for a fact that I have lived it before, I have lived the day to come already. And yet I’m scared of dying. What kind of fucking sense does that make?”

And then Dee gives pans over to the shrink [excuse me, counselor] in the corner, who “was sitting forward with her fingers steepled under her weak chin. She could not have looked more pleased with herself.

“’Something’s got to give, ’ Ben said. He sounded tired all of a sudden, as if the act of denouncing his wife and child and the whole life they had led together had taken a lot out of him. Poor baby, Helen thought hatefully.”


I could quote the whole book, but you get the idea—the images that he creates, the moments that he counterpoints are so perfectly, divisively beautiful.  He captures perfectly the fracturing of a family, the way people lash out to hurt each other, and the ways that they tentatively try to reach out to each other & make amends—hence the title.

I expect to see this one come up on at least a couple “best of” lists this summer, if not for some major book awards. It’s worth reading.

[Disclaimer: I got this book free from NetGalley in return for a fair review.]



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