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.
When 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.