Wonders of the Visible World
The magical meets the mundane in Jonathan Dee's latest
A Thousand Pardons:
by Jonathan Dee
$26.00 List Price
A Thousand Pardons opens at a large home on a dead-end street in a fictional well-to-do bedroom community near New York City called Rensselaer Valley. The home belongs to Helen Armstead, an unsatisfied housewife; her husband, Ben, an unsatisfied corporate lawyer; and their daughter, Sara, who was adopted from China and is also unsatisfied. This familiar literary scenario, with its echoes of Cheever and Yates and Updike, reaches its expected destination with alarming speed: Ben goes after a comely summer associate; receives a serious beating from the associate’s boyfriend; crashes his Audi, drunk on bourbon, off of County Route 55; and ends up in rehab, the divorce pending, by page 23.
The alacrity with which novelist Jonathan Dee blows through this amount of plot makes more sense when you realize that the first forty pages of A Thousand Pardons make up what comic-book enthusiasts call an “origin story.” Helen Armstead, it turns out, has a superpower: the ability to make well-placed men apologize. Why does Helen have this skill? How does it work? You may as well ask how, precisely, a radioactive spider-bite could transform a human being into a freakishly strong web-spinner. It’s a mystery.
The first time Helen uses her apparently magical words, Dee tells us, “she felt what she was about to say coming over her, moving in her, before she understood what it was.” It’s not clear why her words, which have no particular rhetorical pizzazz, are so powerful. Perhaps it’s the sound of her voice? Dee doesn’t say. By this point, Helen, who must find a job after Ben leaves his, is