It’s such a cliche in contemporary fiction that you can almost assume it’s part of the plot of every new novel: the suburban couple that is mind-numbingly unhappy, despite their perfect home and family. In some cases writers are able to create successful characters, regardless of the trappings of their stereotype, while others are crushed by the weight of it.
In A Thousand Pardons, Jonathan Dee seems quite aware of the fact that he is writing a familiar frame from the beginning. Rather than giving readers a painstakingly detailed account of the missteps that lead Helen and Ben to a therapist’s couch for their “Date Night”, Dee describes with amazing subtlety the monotony and sourness that can come with eighteen years of marriage.
“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.”
Dee is then quick to cut to the big event that leads to their separation, putting the major plot in motion. Helen thrives in her newly single position, and the pace of the novel does, too. I found myself pouring through the pages detailing her journey from stay at home wife to single working mother. Unfortunately, the characters’ behaviors in the second half of the novel seem to steer off track, hanging ever close to the cliches Dee worked hard to avoid. As a whole, however, A Thousand Pardons is a refreshing, wonderfully written story outside what you’d expect from a seemingly usual suspect.