Jonathan Dee Owes “A Thousand Pardons” for His Mediocre Novel

Jonathan Dee’s new novel, A Thousand Pardons, explores second chances and the ever-changing concept of the American Dream. Starting with cliché suburban couple Ben and Helen Armstead and their adopted daughter Sara, Pardons follows the detonation of this family and their attempts to find some form of a livable existence. While at times humorous, the novel fails to reach any true level of enlightenment.

15732607When Ben’s drunk driving accident brings shame on his family, he divorces himself from their lives and clocks in some time in jail. Having to work for the first time in nearly two decades, Helen struggles to find a job in a completely different market from what she’s used to (computers and social media are not her forte). And teenage Sara is just so disillusioned with her parents’ drama and inevitably falls for the rebellious boy at her new school.

Dee does a great job of starting with a—painfully—cliché premise and taking it to an interesting place. His insight into the character’s psyches is at times fascinating while also lending itself to the methodical style of John Grisham. Although Helen’s storyline goes into an interesting direction (involving a nuanced PR tactic of apologizing for wrongdoing), the rest of the characters fall flat. But as the novel moves into thriller territory, Pardons seems to lose its own identity.

Maybe in the hands of a different writer, these characters could’ve been more engaging. Tom Perrotta could’ve really brought them to life, I’m sure; and had Grisham actually written it, the climax would’ve been a lot more thrilling. Sadly, Pardons never quite reaches its potential; making it just another mediocre novel about American life.

 

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Grisham’s Latest Is a Thrilling Tale of Revenge

A racketeer is “one who obtains money illegally, as by fraud, extortion, etc.” The Racketeer is the story of a wrongfully imprisoned lawyer who seeks revenge on the legal system that failed him (while trying to make a sizable profit as well). In John Grisham’s latest legal thriller, he continues to prove his mastery of this genre.

racketeer235Malcolm Bannister is our protagonist racketeer, who uses the murder of a judge to hatch a scheme to get out of prison. His plan works, but we soon learn that there was a lot more to it. The story begins to drag in the middle as Bannister gets involved with a new character, but Grisham knows what he’s doing and quickly sucks you back into the story as you race to get to the satisfying end.

The character of Bannister continues Grisham’s latest trend of not-quite-likable protagonists. Their belief systems and moral code stray far enough from my own that I find it hard to sympathize with them as a character. Yet the logic of their moves and plotting manages to get me to emotionally invest in the character.

While Grisham’s latest thrillers have been fairly run-of-the-mill thriller fodder, his storytelling abilities continue to be remarkable. No matter how uninteresting the premise of his novels sound, he is sure to suck you into the story. And sometimes that’s all you really want in a book.

Calico Joe

The latest book by Josh Grisham is not a legal thriller but a poignant drama about redemption told through the backdrop of America’s favorite pastime, baseball. Paul Tracey is the son of semi-famous Mets baseball player Warren Tracey. What Warren lacks in actual skill he makes up for by abusing his wife, children, and any player who mildly pisses him off. Paul’s hero is not his dad, but up-and-coming hotshot Cubs star Joe Castle (whom the press later dubs Calico Joe because he’s from Calico Rock, Arkansas).

When the Mets play the Cubs, disaster strikes. Careers are ruined, and even young Paul (who’s only 11 at the time) gives up the game forever. In the present, Paul has learned that his father (whom he’s barely spoken with in the last 30 years) is dying; and there is only thing on his mind. As Paul attempts to resolve a longtime wronging, he manages to salvage more than he bargained for.

Grisham is not an opulent writer, and his very direct storytelling techniques always seem to work in his favor. I, for one, cannot stand baseball and was not looking forward to reading a book about. But just like in Moneyball, the characters in the story win me over and I quickly became engaged in the book. Although it’s a quick read, Calico Joe managed to inspire me (and I even cried a little). I found this book more enjoyable than his football drama Bleachers, but I’ll still always prefer his legal thrillers.