Saturday, November 24, 2012

Jonathan Dee, Don't Let Him Fly Under Your Radar!

I generally pride myself on being at least aware of authors with considerable talent even if I have to put their book titles aside on the "to be read when I retire list." Then, last year, Jonathan Dee wrote The Privileges and the amount of great press quadrupled. His novel was even nominated for a Pulitzer and, yes, it's still sitting on my "to read" shelf. However, with my fabulous new subscriptions to Edelweiss and NetGalley, I have the opportunity to eyeball wonderful new novels often four to six months prior to publication. And that, my friends, is how I came to read A Thousand Pardons, Dee's latest novel that will be out in the spring.

Let me just say right out of the box, this guy has an ear for family dynamics that competes with my very favorite writers - think Richard Russo. He's especially adept at the prickly relationship between moms and teens, the way we tend to hurt the ones closest to us because we intuit that they have to take it without judgement and lots of forgiveness.

When readers meet Helen and Ben Armstead they will beg for some tension between the two. There is none, and that's their trouble. They live together like two ghosts, scarcely communicating or seeing each other through the scrim of their individual disappointments with life. There's no tangible reason for their discontent, no one actually to blame, they are simply the victims of inertia. So Ben, in his anguish and desire to feel something, anything, throws it all away in an act that is so out of character it could almost be laughable if it weren't so painfully poignant.

Helen hasn't worked since she and Ben adopted their daughter Sara, now at that horribly hormonal pre-teen place where parents and teachers are barely worth a smirk. For Helen, who's entire married life has revolved around Sara, this rejection from both husband and daughter is dispiriting, but with a resilience that makes you just have to love her, she upends their life, moves from the small town scene of her shame to the anonimity of Manhattan and gets herself back in the game. PR that is. Reputation repair. For which she seems to have an unsuspected knack.

As Helen's star rises, her confidence blossoms, she begins to work too much, make too much, and lose sight of her beloved Sara, until a chance encounter with a person from her past, Dee's hilarious sendup of a very conflicted superstar, brings her life around full circle.

I just hate it when a reviewer tells the entire story. I won't do that to you. It's like seeing previews to a movie that are so in-depth, you no longer feel the need to pay your ten bucks. Let me say simply that this novel by Jonathan Dee is small in size but huge in heart. Each character is so vulnerable and flawed that you know them instinctively.

I read with a sense of melancholy at first, talking to myself, then talking to them, as in "you fools, don't you see what's right in front of your eyes?" But of course, they don't. That's part of the human experience, isn't it? I found myself hoping beyond hope for a happy ending to the Armsteads' story, something I seldom need  in order to feel satisfied by a book. I cared that much about these people. And in that caring I came to appreciate the quality of Jonathan Dee's sharply observed storytelling. Don't miss out like I almost did. Coming soon to a library or bookstore near you.


Lisa May said...

I hadn't heard of this author, even with the prizes, but I will certainly keep an eye for this one - thanks!

Sallyb said...

Thank you for reading and commenting Lisa. Isn't amazing the things we miss. And, I've been following you. Your taste is so encompassing and eclectic. Puts me to shame.