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A Novel

Written by Jonathan DeeAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Jonathan Dee



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On Sale: March 12, 2013
Pages: 240 | ISBN: 978-0-679-64500-9
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY KIRKUS REVIEWS

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 Ben, a partner in a prestigious law firm, has become unpredictable at work and withdrawn at home—a change that weighs heavily on his wife, Helen, and their preteen daughter, Sara.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 A Thousand Pardons
 
A Thousand Pardons is that rare thing: a genuine literary thriller. Eerily suspenseful and packed with dramatic event, it also offers a trenchant, hilarious portrait of our collective longing for authenticity in these overmediated times.”—Jennifer Egan, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of A Visit from the Goon Squad

“Hugely enjoyable . . . Dee is a snappy, cinematic writer. . . . A Thousand Pardons moves fast. It’s a mere 200 or so pages, and it packs a lot of turns of fate within there.”The Boston Globe
 
“Dee’s gifts are often dazzling and his material meticulously shaped. . . . [He] articulates complex emotional dynamics with precision and insight.”—The New York Times Book Review
 
“Some stories begin with a bang. And some begin with a roaring fireball of truth. Jonathan Dee’s latest novel belongs in the latter camp.”—O: The Oprah Magazine
 
“Dee bounds gracefully among Helen’s, Ben’s, and Sara’s points of view as they try to reassemble their lives. Their stories feel honest, and the prose is beautiful.”—Entertainment Weekly
 
“A page turner . . . What a triumph.”Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
 
“Graceful prose and such a sharp understanding of human weakness that you’ll wince as you laugh.”—People
 
“Propulsively readable.”—The Millions
 
“Dee continues to establish himself as an ironic observer of contemporary behavior. . . . The plot is energetic. . . . But most compelling is the acuteness of the details.”—The Atlantic


From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt

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 pressed jeans. His hair still looked like he’d been driving with the top down, but whatever. That kind of detail Sara was very unlikely to notice. When he was done they marched back out through the living room and Helen grabbed her bag and kissed Sara on the top of her head.

“You can call either cell,” she said. “We’ll be back by eight thirty. You know the drill.”

On the television a girl and her father appeared to be auditioning a group of male strippers. “Happy Date Night,” Sara said in a deep voice meant to sound hickish or retarded, and with one finger she mimed inducing herself to vomit.

They took Ben’s car because it was still in the driveway. Helen tossed his necktie onto the back seat. He drove too fast, but only because he always drove too fast, and they were ten minutes late for Dr. Becket. Not that Becket seemed to care. Why would she? She got paid for the hour either way. So if she doesn’t mind, Helen thought as they took their seats at the threadbare arms of the couch, and Ben doesn’t mind, then why am I the only one who minds? What is the matter with me?

“So how was your week?” Becket said. She wore her hair in a tight gray braid whose teardrop-­shaped bottom was nearly white. The office was in the rear section of an old carriage house that had long ago been converted for commercial use by a real estate broker, who operated out of the half of the house that faced the road and rented out the back. Fourteen years ago, when they were trying to make themselves look stabler and more prosperous for the insanely superficial Chinese adoption agencies, Helen and Ben had bought the Meadow Close house from that very broker. Now it was night and the only light on in the house was Dr. Becket’s. Where was her husband? What did her kids do when she worked nights? Helen didn’t always feel that certain about her, but unless you wanted to drive all the way to White Plains and back, Dr. Becket was the only game in town.

“Maybe a little better,” Helen answered, when it became apparent Ben wasn’t going to say anything. It was a lie, but in the atmosphere of this sorry room the truth was generally something you had to work up to. “We tried some of the things you suggested last time. We tried to at least sit down for meals together, even though that’s difficult with Ben working past seven most nights.”

“I know a number of couples,” Becket said, “find that it works well to set aside one night a week for spending that kind of time together, make it part of the schedule rather than subject to the schedule, if you see what I mean. Like a Date Night.” They both snorted, and it gave Helen a little nostalgic pang, honestly, just for the two of them to laugh at the same thing, at the same time. Becket raised her eyebrows, with her typical maddening dispassion.

“We can’t really use that one,” Helen explained. “We’ve been telling Sara that we’re on Date Night every week when we come here.”

“Maybe we can tell her that Thursday is our night to date other people,” Ben said.

“That’s not really that funny,” Helen said, but it was too late, Becket was leaning forward, sinking her teeth into it like she did into any stupid, spontaneous thing either of them might ever blurt out. “I’m curious why you say that, Ben,” she purred. “Is that something you’d like to do? See other people?”

Helen closed her eyes. Dr. Becket was just confirming every stereotype Ben held of her, every complaint he went through on the drive home every week about how she was a huckster, a charlatan, who didn’t do anything except repeat whatever you said to her and then ask you what it meant. Why are we even doing this? he would ask. What is the point? Because you had to do something: she had no better answer than that, which was why she usually delivered it silently. You had to try something, even something as wasteful and frustrating and demeaning as this weekly hour in the back of the carriage house, because to do nothing was to find it acceptable that you were in a marriage where you hardly spoke to or touched each other, where your husband was so depressed he was like the walking dead and yet the solipsism of his depression only made you feel cheated and angry, and your daughter was old enough now that none of this was lost on her whether she knew it yet or not.

But now thirty seconds had gone by and Helen hadn’t heard him say anything or even make some kind of immature, derisive sighing sound, as he usually did; and when she opened her eyes again and looked at him, what she saw, to her astonishment, was her husband wiping his eyes with the back of his hand like a child.

“Yes,” he said. “Yes. I mean Jesus. I would love to see other people.”

Which could only be followed by a momentous silence; but since silence was anathema to Dr. Becket, on the grounds that silence might belong to anyone but vapid professional jargon was something that could bear her own distinctive stamp, she said to him, “Stay with that.”

“Not anybody in particular,” he went on. “In fact, a stranger would be best. I would like to wake up tomorrow next to someone who has no idea who I am. I would like to look out the window and not recognize anything. I would like to look in the fucking mirror,” he said with a truly inappropriate laugh, “and see other people. I mean, I cannot be the only person who feels that way. Are you seriously telling me that you don’t feel that way too?”

It wasn’t clear which of them he was speaking to; he was staring at the carpet, tears hanging from his nose, and stressing certain words with a kind of karate-­chop motion of his hands.

“Helen, what are you feeling right now?” Dr. Becket said.

Ben was right, she thought; it was all an act, the gray-­haired old fake maintained an air of smug control even though she had no better idea what the hell was happening in front of her than either of her patients did. “A lot of things,” Helen said, trying to laugh. “I guess mostly that that is the longest I have heard him talk at one stretch in like a month.”

“Because it’s all so unsurprising,” Ben said, very much as if he hadn’t heard anyone else’s voice. “I’m scared of it. I’m scared of every single element of my day. Every meal I eat, every client I see, every time I get into or out of the car. It all frightens the shit out of me. Have you ever been so bored by yourself that you are literally terrified? That is what it’s like for me every day. That is what it’s like for me sitting here, right now, right this second. It’s like a fucking death sentence, coming back to that house every night. I mean, no offense.”

“No offense?” Helen said.

“It’s not that Helen herself is especially boring, I don’t mean that, or that some other woman might be more or less boring. It’s the situation. It’s the setup. It’s not you per se.”

“Oh, thank you so much,” Helen said, her heart pounding.

“Every day is a day wasted, and you know you only get so many of them and no more, and if anybody uses the phrase ‘midlife crisis’ right now I swear to God I am coming back here with a gun and shooting this place up like Columbine. It is an existential crisis. 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? I don’t think I am too good for it all, by the way. In fact I am probably not good enough for it, if you want to think of it like that. I am bored to near panic by my home and my work and my wife and my daughter. Think that makes me feel superior? But once you see how rote and lifeless it all is, you can’t just unsee it, that’s the thing. I even got Parnell across the street to write me a prescription for Lexapro, did you know that?” He finally looked up at Helen, whose hand was over her mouth, as if miming for him what she wanted him to do, to stop talking, to turn back. “Of course you didn’t know that, how would you know that. Anyway, I took it for two months, and you know what? It didn’t make the slightest fucking difference in how I feel about anything. And I’m glad.”

Helen stole a glance at Becket, 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. “Something’s got to happen. It is hard to get outside yourself. It’s hard to get outside the boundaries of who you are. Why is that so hard? But the pressure just builds up until there’s some kind of combustion, I guess, and if it doesn’t kill you then maybe it throws you clear of everything, of who you are. Well, either way. I suppose that’s how it works.”

He sat back into the couch, the same couch where his wife sat, and within half a minute he had disappeared again, his face had resolved into the same zombie cast Helen had been looking at for a year now, two years maybe, without ever really guessing what was going on behind it.

“I know it may seem painful,” Becket said, “but I think we have really, really given ourselves something to build on here tonight.”
Jonathan Dee

About Jonathan Dee

Jonathan Dee - A Thousand Pardons

Photo © Marion Ettlinger

Jonathan Dee is the author of four novels, most recently Palladio. He is a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine, a frequent contributor to Harper's, and a former senior editor of The Paris Review. He teaches in the graduate writing programs at Columbia University and the New School.
Praise

Praise

A Thousand Pardons is that rare thing: a genuine literary thriller. Eerily suspenseful and packed with dramatic event, it also offers a trenchant, hilarious portrait of our collective longing for authenticity in these overmediated times.”—Jennifer Egan, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of A Visit from the Goon Squad
 
“Hugely enjoyable . . . Dee is a snappy, cinematic writer. . . . A Thousand Pardons moves fast. It’s a mere 200 or so pages, and it packs a lot of turns of fate within there.”The Boston Globe
 
“Dee’s gifts are often dazzling and his material meticulously shaped. . . . [He] articulates complex emotional dynamics with precision and insight.”—The New York Times Book Review
 
“Some stories begin with a bang. And some begin with a roaring fireball of truth. Jonathan Dee’s latest novel belongs in the latter camp.”—O: The Oprah Magazine
 
“Dee bounds gracefully among Helen’s, Ben’s, and Sara’s points of view as they try to reassemble their lives. Their stories feel honest, and the prose is beautiful.”—Entertainment Weekly
 
“A page turner . . . What a triumph.”Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
 
“Graceful prose and such a sharp understanding of human weakness that you’ll wince as you laugh.”—People
 
“Propulsively readable.”—The Millions
 
“Dee continues to establish himself as an ironic observer of contemporary behavior. . . . The plot is energetic. . . . But most compelling is the acuteness of the details.”—The Atlantic


From the Hardcover edition.
Reader's Guide|Discussion Questions

About the Book

A THOUSAND PARDONS by Jonathan Dee

A Conversation with Jonathan Dee and Dana Spiotta

Dana Spiotta is the author of three novels: Lightning Field; Eat the Document, which was a finalist for the 2006 National Book Award and a recipient of the Rosenthal Family Foundation Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters; and Stone Arabia, which was a finalist for the 2011 National Book Critics Circle Award. Spiotta has won a Guggenheim Fellowship, a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, and the Rome Prize in Literature. She is an assistant professor in the Syracuse University Creative Writing Program.

Dana Spiotta: Helen’s apology wrangling is described as a gift, a vocation, and an accidental specialty. It is mysterious to her exactly why, yet her idea of “total submission” works. This process strikes me as almost religious.

Jonathan Dee: I’m not interested in current events per se, but I am interested in how certain aspects of social or public life that might seem ultra-contemporary actually take their place in a long American continuum. If you look at the practice of “crisis management,” and maybe squint at it a little, you can make out in the corners of your vision the ghosts or the vestiges of a much older, but still thoroughly American, form of public life, one centered not on public opinion but on religion. The theater of press conferences, Oprah sit-downs, et cetera is like an old, sacred vessel into which all this contemporary, profane content gets poured. To me, A Thousand Pardons is a book not about spin or scandal or PR or even forgiveness, but about religious heritage. But I wanted the story itself to have a smooth surface, and to wear its ideas lightly.

DS: A Thousand Pardons has a breakneck pace. Events propel the characters forward, and as soon as they react to one event, another event happens. It’s hard to resist the momentum, and then the reader wants to go back and read it all again, more slowly. Tell me why pace was so important in this book?

JD: It would be going way too far to say I wanted the novel to be a parable, but I wanted it to have some of the formal aspects of a parable or a religious tale. Parables are short and sweet; they move only forward, from event to event, as you say; they don’t contain flashbacks or other devices for re-ordering time; and there’s no pause in them for reflection or commentary or explorations of meaning. Those things exist outside the story, to be provoked by it.

DS: Helen believes abjection and confession are transformative. But why doesn’t Ben’s abject apology toward the beginning of the book work on Helen? Does he need to atone as well as apologize?

JD: She’s too angry, at that point, to accept it. And she stays angry with him for a long time; she’s been wronged and humiliated by him, so she can’t bring to his case the same sort of objectivity she brings to the dilemmas of her clients. As for Ben, being a lawyer I think he understands too well the negotiability of words; he knows that the road back for him will be about repenting not in speech but in service. He just has to hang around long enough to learn what that service will be.

DS: Public relations has cynicism built into it. It is brilliant and slightly perverse to posit such a sincere person as a public relations savant. Where did the idea come from?

JD:
In order to describe a particular subculture, you might want to portray people who are typical or representative of that subculture; but to dramatize it, to make it an interesting setting for a story, you want to bring someone anomalous into that setting, to see how she conforms to it, and it to her.

DS: Did you read a lot of tabloids when you decided to write about crisis management? Public scandal is now so performed and mediated—did the machinations behind these events fascinate you? How do you know so much about it?

JD: What I read, mostly, were memoirs, first-person accounts written by veterans of the crisis-management industry. That’s always the most productive research—research into tone, into voice. Facts are nice too, but facts are more raw material than creative inspiration.

DS: Why are the stories of powerful people brought low so compelling? Has the ritual of public apology become a way for the culture to remind itself of how we define “good” behavior? Or is it just an opportunity for hypocrisy and schadenfreude?

JD:
You’ve said the magic word, which is “ritual.” The culture is periodically made to yield up these figures who are first exalted, then rejected, then given the opportunity to return to grace by performing certain highly ritualized acts of public contrition. So I don’t think of it as hypocritical. It serves a genuine need. It brings the congregation together.

DS: In A Thousand Pardons, some of the characters want a break from the past and the accountability that comes with contemplating the past. But Helen remembers everything, and certainly confessing and apologizing are acts of remembering. Do you see a connection between memory and morality? In your previous novel, The Privileges, the Moreys refuse to contemplate the past and their refusal deforms them. Is this an American problem, a kind of willful amnesia?

JD:
The opportunity to remake yourself by cutting yourself off from your own past, and the spiritual difficulties thereof: this has always been one of the classic American literary themes. I don’t think it will ever be exhausted. We want to moralize about it—to say that it’s impossible, that you can only run from who you are for so long—but the Moreys are really good at it, and being so good at it is ultimately what makes them so rich. Helen would not have had much use for the Mo- reys (in fact, just imagining her sitting across from Cynthia is pretty amusing). To her, the only way forward is to acknowledge your sinful past.

DS: Helen’s gift reaches its limit with the Catholic Church. Has she finally lost interest in absolving powerful men?

JD: What Helen sadly discovers is that when it comes to leading sinners to contrition, there is, as she says at one point, a problem of scale. She is happy and successful in the exercise of her spiritual power when her clients are individuals. When her clients are corporations or institutions, it’s a lot harder to know the difference between the genuine and the feigned, the real and the merely strategic. And if you can’t tell the difference, does the difference still exist?

DS: You leave the ending of the novel somewhat open, and, like the rest of the book, it happens quickly. Did you want the reader to imagine what happens next to Helen, Ben, and Sara?

JD:
The reason for the abruptness of the ending goes back to the idea of the religious tale. No drawn-out endings, no reflection or interpretation or summary, no flashing forward to let us know how everything ramified. Just the characters closing the door behind them. And then you’re left to decide what it meant.

DS:
You resist the impulse to have the narrator indicate the judgment the reader should have about the characters. A lot of the tension in your recent novels comes from a feeling of being very intimate with and yet slightly pulled back from the characters. Why is this narrative restraint so important to you?

JD: To me, any apparent moral judgment of one’s own characters— whether positive or negative—is always a mistake. That’s the reader’s job. I think what you describe as “pulling back” is maybe just a sort of matter-of-factness on my part about the characters, because I am trying not to judge them but to inhabit them, to see the world inside the book as they see it. Let’s not forget that I am creating these figures: the notion that I would then praise or condemn them for some attribute I gave them in the first place seems way too easy to me.

DS:
Ben says he is “almost comfortable” in his disgrace, he likes the “sad, clear vision” he has. There have been some great recent books about disgraced men. Philip Roth and J. M. Coetzee come to mind. Did you think about these books when you were writing yours?

JD:
Not consciously, though I am a huge Coetzee fan. If I had a model in mind, it was not a novel but a short story: “Life Is Better than Death,” by Bernard Malamud, a story about a widower who meets a young widow in the cemetery where their spouses are buried, then seduces and abandons her. That story has just the tone—the unbroken momentum, the apparent simplicity, the refusal to interpret itself—that I wanted A Thousand Pardons to have.

DS:
At various points after the scandal, Sara, Ben, and Helen lurk around their Westchester town trying not to be recognized. Yet in the end they return to their house there. Why can’t they leave and start over somewhere else?

JD: I liked the idea that the house itself—not some gorgeous, Howards End–like manor that’s been in the family for generations, but just a regular, somewhat unlovely suburban house through which many families have passed—exerts its own unexpected pull. All the Armsteads, in their different ways, want to leave it behind, but in the end, one at a time, it draws them back.

DS:
Although there are many serious moments in the book, there is also a lot of dry wit, sly humor, and many moments of sharp irony. There are even some elements of screwball comedy. Is it wrong to call it a funny book?

JD:
I sure hope it’s funny to others, because parts of it seem funny to me. It’s a comic novel in the sense that everybody winds up reunited, sort of happily, possibly forever after.

DS:
Ben’s journey takes him from a despised life of upper class security to abjection to something close to integrity. His storyline does not go the way the reader expects, partly because he refuses to let himself off the hook for what he did. Has he redeemed himself by the end?

JD:
Ben’s sufferings are of course totally self-inflicted; but he needs to manufacture this sort of midlife purgatory in order to remake his relationship to himself, to his labor, and to the people he loves. He commits the sin in order to feel the guilt, because repenting for that guilt will give him a sense of purpose, which he lacks. It’s a pretty narcissistic journey, but at the end of the novel it seems like it might be working out the way he hoped.

DS:
The collection of clients needing the help of Helen and particularly Malloy Worldwide is a pretty nasty group. Why does she not hesitate to help bad guys? Does she think everyone is redeemable? Are her nonjudgment and her sympathy part of what makes her special?

JD: Not to put too fine a point on it, in the scheme of the book, Helen is a priest. Not only would she never withhold her offices from a sinner, her obligation increases in proportion to the depth of the sin. She’s scared to be alone with that assemblyman, as she should be, but refus- ing his request for help is out of the question.

DS:
Both lawyers and PR people use storytelling to create an effect. Yet Helen sees her own gift as a rebuke to lawyers and other PR reps. Helen feels inspired by Harvey’s claim that we all use stories to understand ourselves. Does Helen reclaim storytelling from lawyers and public relations firms?

JD: Stories are redemptive; they teach us to be humble by coercing us into seeing the world from other points of view. You could really get crazy theoretical and say that any story, properly told, is an admission of guilt. But I think what Helen is trying to reclaim is not storytelling per se, but confession. She’s trying to rescue the private from its dilution in the public. Confessions, as she remembers from her Catholic school days, require abjectness and purity of heart if they are to gain you anything at all. She doesn’t see why this should be any less true in the secular realm than it was in the religious, and for a while, it seems like she’s right.

Discussion Guides

1. Scandals seem to be perennially topical. Did you see any parallels in the novel with real-life events?

2. Jonathan Dee’s novels are often described as social critiques. Do you think A Thousand Pardons should be interpreted that way? If so, what is the author criticizing?

3. Helen has a special gift for making powerful men apologize. Why do people respond the way they do to these apologies?

4. Why is Sara drawn to Cutter? Does it have anything to do with why Helen was drawn to Hamilton?

5. Hamilton asks Helen for forgiveness but she thinks, “His whole life was a Method performance, a dream within a dream, but whatever he wanted from her, however preposterous, she was not free to refuse him.” What transaction is being completed when she kisses him?

6. How did Sara’s relationships with each of her parents change throughout the course of the book? Did you find Sara to be sympathetic?

7. Do you think Hamilton will ever find out the truth about what hap- pened to Bettina? Why does Helen hope that he never will?

8. By end of the book, Ben and Helen find themselves back where they started, at the house on Meadow Close. Have they come full circle? How have they grown or changed over the course of the novel?

9. Do you think Sara orchestrated her parents’ reunion? If not, what brought Ben and Helen back together?

10. Do the characters in the novel deserve to be forgiven for their various transgressions?

11. Was the ending satisfying? What do you think will happen next?

12.  Is there anyone in your life who should issue a public apology? Or to whom you’d like to apologize?


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