STUNNING!!! I’ve gone out and picked up several of Alice McDermott’s backlist off the strength of this beautiful book. I was completely swept away by the writing, which is absolutely gorgeous but also entirely readable and believable - from the rich historical details to the fully drawn characters.
I was completely invested in the lives of Tricia and Charlene - it’s one of those books where you think I’ll just read a chapter or two and before you know it you’re ten chapters in and showing no signed of stopping.
Absolution also asks the reader to reflect on tough questions and situations - sometimes you can think you’re doing the right thing when you’re not. There is more harm than good, in the end. McDermott deals with these reckonings in a graceful way, making the nuance elegant rather than clunky.
This was the right balance of pacey and character-driven. I loved it.
Thank you for the opportunity to review this new novel.
My apologies for leaving a review this late! I tried to get into the story but apparently I'm an outlier here. I see a lot of people love it on Goodreads though! Some stories just don't stick :(
The voice of the narrator captivates immediately here. These young wives in Vietnam took me so many unexpected places. There was underlying tension enough so that I could never relax, nor could I stop reading. Thought provoking and atmospheric.
This was not my favorite of her books - it felt sanitized and I didn't like that. However, my least favorite McDermott book is still better than most.
I really enjoyed this! This is only my 2nd novel by Alice McDermott, & so far she yet to disappoint! I did not love this one quite as much as I loved The Ninth Hour, but it came pretty close.
Another piece of historical fiction, tho Absolution provided a more exotic setting and took us to Saigon which I really enjoyed, I love when I get to read about places that feel really foreign and beyond what is familiar to me. Our MC Tricia is the wife of a military man & she hooks up with another wife & they bebop around the area doing good works when they can. I loved the juxtaposition between Tricia’s calmness & quiet discernment & her friend Claires more boisterous energy. Between the two of them, we got to see the city in such an interesting light, their unique personalities highlighting and accentuating certain parts of the city & novel.
McDermott’s writing is top notch, it’s the sort of writing that is lyrical & refined, but also accessible & intuitive. She is succinct, but definitive. I will definitely be reading every single one of her books’!! A solid 4 stars.
The lives of expatriates in Saigon early in the Vietnam conflict should be compelling reading for many. While I was drawn to the setting and the historical significance of the events, I found the main characters hard to relate to and many of the early scenes in the plot tedious. Additionally, the significance of the story was largely revealed in the publicity summary accompanying the review edition. In all, it was not a fulfilling reading experience for me.
With ABSOLUTION, Alice McDermott takes readers back to Saigon in the time of the Vietnam War. The story jumps timelines and is told from the perspectives of Tricia, who was a newlywed, and Rainey, who is the daughter of Charlene, a woman who can't resist interfering in all manner of areas, under the guise of doing good.
Decades later, Tricia and Rainey reconnect, and through long letters, they revisit their different experiences in the war and the ways that Charlene impacted their lives.
The framing of the book was well chosen, and I found myself reflecting on Charlene and whether she was more of a flawed character or more of an unsympathetic woman who tries to excuse all her choices since they are merely means to an end.
(I received a digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.)
Many thanks to NetGalley for the advanced digital copy of Absolution by Alice McDermott in return for my honest review.
Alice McDermott is a “Go-To” author for me. Her stories are quietly powerful, or is it better said as powerfully quiet. Both are true. I appreciate her brevity. She says more in a few pages than others say in hundreds. Every word that this author chooses is significant. Although the Vietnam War sets the time and place of this novel, it was the women and the restrictive gender roles of the era that resonated. McDermott’s work is always recommended if you are looking for a thought-provoking read.
An emotionally taut and unexpected perspective on the lives of Americans in Vietnam in the early 1960s. McDermott’s strength lies in her ability to depict the internal landscape of her characters in a wholly empathetic way while still giving the external framework that readers of historical fiction expect. I could have done without the second narrator section. I felt it by far the weakest part of the book.
Thank you to Alice McDermott; Farrar, Strauss and Giroux; and NetGalley for an advance reader copy in exchange for an honest review.
This was my first Alice McDermott novel and it blew me away. Exactly what I needed to get out of my reading rut. ABSOLUTION tells the story of an unlikely friendship formed in Vietnam during the war, and the lasting ripples the friendship has over time/across the globe (for such a simple story, I find it very difficult to summarize!). I loved these characters, and there's one scene in particular between the MC and Charlene that will stay with me for a long time. McDermott writes their relationship so well, as well as the smaller, interior intimacies of the women. Thanks to the publisher for the e-galley!
The novel is set in 1963 in Saigon (before it became Ho Chi Minh City) and explores not only the earlier years of the Vietnam War but also revisits a time when women were “professional” wives and mothers. The cocktail parties where business was conducted interfaced with the violence of a war that savaged not only American and Vietnamese troops but also Vietnamese civilians, including children. One hospital visit by philanthropic American wives portrays the terror of an inconsolable child ravaged by burns from napalm. Yet, this barbarianism is juxtaposed with, at least on the surface, a more genteel social order, where men wore suits and ties to work and women dressed for evening parties in beautiful silk, sparkling jewelry, and perfectly applied lipstick, leaving a lovely fragrance in their wake. This is a haunting, unforgettable read. McDermott is an intense, enthusiastic, relatable presenter with a flowing, expressive, and effortless speaking style.
This is a book that gets to part of American and Vietnamese history that we haven't heard as much about, the women of Vietnam. The Americans and the Vietnamese. Well-written and engaging.
What a wonderful book! I appreciated looking at the role of wives of men stationed in Vietnam during the war. I appreciated seeing the time period from their perspectives. McDermott's writing is lovely and exquisite.
It took me quite a while to read this book; I enjoyed it but never picked it up needing to know what happened next.
Absolution is an epistolary novel (though it is easy to forget given that the letters are very long and total only three) set in 1960s Saigon at the height of the Vietnam war.
Tricia is one of the young wives relocated there with her husband. The women and their young families seem almost oblivious to the war going on around them, and even though they are within shouting distance of the sounds of war, they live as normal enjoying their luxuries and Vietnamese help, only helping the Vietnamese as almost a hobby. I have read some criticism that this a book set in Vietnam that failed to give a voice to Vietnamese people; however, I think that’s the point – to highlight how insular the American community was, treating their time in a country at war as an extended holiday where they could, if they were so inclined, “do good”.
I really enjoyed the writing in this book, the tropical setting is so vividly described that at times it felt more like watching a film in colour than reading print. And that’s certainly what kept me reading as I’m not sure I grasped all the themes. Some things seemed far too subtle for me to put together and therefore there were parts of the story I struggled to connect in significance with others.
That said, I still enjoyed this book and it’s a good choice for those who, like me, want a stronger emphasis on characters than history in your historical fiction.
Thank you, NetGalley and FSG for this ARC.
there is a lot to want to look away from in this book—white saviorism, privilege, treatment of those with disabilities, the culturally palatable forms of racism, colonization—but most all of it is deftly and wisely handled, commenting on itself even in the moments in which the characters embodying it seem unaware. at some points it gets a little ahead or behind of itself in this attempt, but most of the time it's impressive in its rendition of both it and what it is to be a woman and mother.
Delighted to include this title in the October edition of Novel Encounters, my column highlighting the month’s most anticipated fiction for the Books section of Zoomer, Canada’s national culture magazine. (see column and mini-review at link)
This utterly compelling novel tells the story of American women living in Saigon in the early 1960s. Seemingly without power, these corporate wives have a pecking order and support system that is as dangerous as any minefield to navigate. Their lives may appear simple and charmed on the surface but behind all of the cocktails and dinner parties are the untold stories of loss, heartbreak, repressed feelings, and drama. McDermott reveals the story layer by layer, stripping away the glamour and altruism to reveal a world that is full of poverty and disease in which powerless women tried to do some good despite the consequences. Highly recommended.
I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
I heard about Absolution from Ann Patchett, who predicted that it would win the Pulitzer. While I agree that it was well-written, I can’t say that I enjoyed it. Mostly I felt uncomfortable at the cringeworthy way that the Americans behaved throughout the book.
Absolution is told as a series of present-day letters between Patricia, an elderly woman living in a nursing home, and Rainey, the daughter of Patricia’s friend, Charlene. Patricia and Charlene were young wives living in Vietnam in the early 60s who considered it their mission to do good works for the people of Vietnam.
While there is one mention of white saviorism, Alice McDermott mostly tells the story without much commentary, leaving the reader to judge the women and their actions and behaviors with modern eyes. I felt uncomfortable at the women’s attempts to help while disregarding the Vietnamese people and culture at every turn, which I feel certain is McDermott’s goal. Her ability to resist the urge to editorialize added to the discomfort for me. I kept wanting her to verbalize what I was thinking about how messed up it all was, but I felt on my own as a reader.
Overall, I’m not sorry I read it despite the ickiness. It wasn’t a perfect book (the coincidence toward the end of the book felt eye-rolly to me), but the writing was great and I would try another book by Alice McDermott in the future.
Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the review copy.
When a very interesting book, however, went back-and-forth in time. And it was a really interesting story about Vietnam and how this woman named Caroline.
It was very industrial in her ways. This woman named Tr ICI a just arrived from the states with her husband. And this was an eye opener for her because she came from a working class background. She went to a very good school in New York new york and she had some good friends there. And they talked about the C I v I e l rights. She had a really good friend there who was from the south background. Then she got married and then she moved to Vietnam for a while. And this is where she met caroline and who was running a barbie doll to make money. Then it goes into the future. Tr ICI a could not have children. Her friend caroline had a daughter and married a man named doug. Her daughter was very rebellious and just like her mother. They talk about saigon and when they had to leave. It was really interesting to get perspective. And how caroline used to sell the babies for money. There's a lot of different things in this book. You really had to look at and it was really well written and tied together. Her daughter bought a farmhouse and this is where she met a Vietnam vet with his down syndrome sun and she became friends with them.. When people died and this book things came out but it was really good read
Absolution by Alice McDermott
This is a story mainly of two American women who's husbands have been stationed in Saigon, Vietnam it the early 60's
Tricia is a newly wed, and married to an oil engineer,is not sure of her roll in the country, but quickly gets into a group of woman that draw her in to a whole different world than she is used to.
Charlene is a seasoned corporate wife, mother of 3 and a go getter that ropes Tricia into things she is not always comfortable with.
These two could not be more different, but they end up making a good team when they need to.
Quite a bit happens when they are in Vietnam, some ending up in scary or uncomfortable situations.
The later part of the story takes places 60 or so years later, when Charlene's daughter sets out to find Tricia, and relive what their views of their time in Vietnam were like, and how Charlene's mother affected them both.
A good read. I would like to thank NetGalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for a copy of this book.