A riveting account of women’s lives on the margins of the Vietnam War, from the renowned winner of the National Book Award.
You have no idea what it was like. For us. The women, I mean. The wives.
American women—American wives—have been mostly minor characters in the literature of the Vietnam War, but in Absolution they take center stage. Tricia is a shy newlywed, married to a rising attorney on loan to navy intelligence. Charlene is a practiced corporate spouse and mother of three, a beauty and a bully. In Saigon in 1963, the two women form a wary alliance as they balance the era’s mandate to be “helpmeets” to their ambitious husbands with their own inchoate impulse to “do good” for the people of Vietnam.
Sixty years later, Charlene’s daughter, spurred by an encounter with an aging Vietnam vet, reaches out to Tricia. Together, they look back at their time in Saigon, taking wry account of that pivotal year and of Charlene’s altruistic machinations, and discovering how their own lives as women on the periphery—of politics, of history, of war, of their husbands’ convictions—have been shaped and burdened by the same sort of unintended consequences that followed America’s tragic interference in Southeast Asia.
A virtuosic new novel from Alice McDermott, one of our most observant, most affecting writers, about folly and grace, obligation, sacrifice, and, finally, the quest for absolution in a broken world.
Named a Most Anticipated Book by the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Newsday, Oprah Daily, TIME, and more.
"Alice McDermott has always been one of our greatest writers but here she exceeds every expectation. Absolution is one of the finest contemporary novels I've read. It is a moral masterpiece." —Ann Patchett, author of The Dutch House
"With Absolution, Alice McDermott delivers another elegantly written, immaculately conceived novel that immerses the reader in the contradictions and moral ambiguities of the human heart. McDermott is a storyteller who aims for the stars. Absolution takes us there, by way of wartime Saigon, and with a powerful reminder that good intentions can have consequences that jerk us awake over a lifetime. What a splendid, compelling book this is." —Tim O'Brien, author of The Things They Carried
"For more than 40 years, McDermott’s deep understanding of human nature and wizardry in creating characters has been the seedbed of one bestselling, award-winning novel after another. Now she has outdone herself with an exquisitely conceived and executed novel that explores her signature topic, moral obligation, against the backdrop of the fraught time preceding the Vietnam War . . . This transporting, piercing, profound novel is McDermott’s masterpiece." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Sublime . . . McDermott is a resplendent writer of lacerating insights, gorgeous lyricism, and subtle yet exacting moral reckoning, here illuminating shades of good and evil within a bubble of Western privilege and prejudice in a country on the brink of war, concentrating the inane and cruel misogyny women faced in Barbie, that freshly energized icon of female paradox and power.” —Donna Seaman, Booklist (Starred Review)
"Damning and dazzling, this is the story of a Vietnam we never got in history class—a story of innocence lost, the bounds of womanhood tested, and our nation held to account." —Charley Burlock, Oprah Daily