A Novel

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Pub Date Oct 31 2023 | Archive Date Nov 30 2023

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Named a Best Book of the Year by Time, Esquire, Good Housekeeping, Kirkus Reviews, Los Angeles Times, NPR, Oprah Daily, Real Simple, and Vogue

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 Best Book of the Year by Time, Esquire, Good Housekeeping, Kirkus Reviews, Los Angeles Times, NPR, Oprah Daily, Real Simple, and Vogue

A riveting account of...

A Note From the Publisher

Alice McDermott is the author of several novels, including The Ninth Hour; Someone; After This; Child of My Heart; Charming Billy, winner of the 1998 National Book Award; and At Weddings and Wakes—all published by FSG. That Night, At Weddings and Wakes, and After This were all finalists for the Pulitzer Prize. Her stories and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, and elsewhere. For more than two decades she was the Richard A. Macksey Professor of the Humanities at Johns Hopkins University and a member of the faculty at the Sewanee Writers Conference. McDermott lives with her family outside Washington, D.C.

Alice McDermott is the author of several novels, including The Ninth Hour; Someone; After This; Child of My Heart; Charming Billy, winner of the 1998 National Book Award; and At Weddings and...

Advance Praise

"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)

"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

"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...

Available Editions

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ISBN 9780374610487
PRICE $28.00 (USD)

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Average rating from 131 members

Featured Reviews

Alice McDermott is one of my favorite authors, so I was eager to have the opportunity to read an advance copy of her newest novel, Absolution. As usual, McDermott hits it out of the park! Absolution is quietly compelling with exquisite writing and characters that leap from the page – all in a completely unexpected and surprising setting. Told in a backward-looking format, the story unfolds in two long, letter-writing sequences – an often unnecessary gimmick that works so well here, in the hands of McDermott. The pacing is excellent.

While it is easy to condense the “helping” in this novel to just that of one, specific character, it’s really much broader than that. Absolution is, at its heart, a story of altruism, of “doing good” – in all its many and varied forms. So often, acts of altruism are performed to assuage the “guilt” or obligation of the giver, rather than to match the true needs and desires of the recipient – and Absolution demonstrates that . . . masterfully.

Highly recommended.

Thank you to Farrar, Straus, and Giroux and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on August 8th, 2023.

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I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to NetGalley for providing me an advanced copy of Alice McDermott's latest masterpiece, "Absolution." This rare opportunity to experience the book ahead of its public release is truly treasured.

Being a devoted fan of Alice McDermott, my expectations were high, and yet "Absolution" has not merely lived up to those expectations - it has surpassed them. McDermott once again demonstrates her profound talent for weaving narratives that are as intricate as they are beautiful.

"Absolution" ventures into a period in history delving deep into the nuanced, often overlooked female perspective. The authentic portrayal of this era is testament to McDermott's skillful research and commitment to bringing to life a time distant from our own.

At the heart of the story lies the complex, dynamic relationship between two women. McDermott explores their bond with an unrivaled depth and subtlety that kept me utterly engrossed from the first page to the last. The characters are layered and compelling, their interactions are gripping, and the emotional journey they embark on is one that will remain with readers long after they close the book.

"Absolution" is a richly textured tapestry of historical events, compelling characters, and absorbing human drama. It is a testament to McDermott's storytelling prowess that she can craft a narrative that is both anchored in the realities of a bygone era and yet resonates powerfully in the present.

I wholeheartedly recommend "Absolution" to both long-time fans of Alice McDermott and newcomers alike. Whether you're familiar with her previous works or not, this book offers a stunningly portrayed narrative and characters that truly come alive, leaving an indelible mark on the reader. It is a novel to be savored and remembered, a worthy addition to the canon of Alice McDermott's unforgettable works.

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I just finished Absolution last night, and wow. I am left wondering how McDermott fits so much heart into such small packages. It is gorgeously written and moving, understanding, filled with compassion and love — from the beginning cost-of-a-run to the heart-wrenching ending that leaves us thinking about the cost of the “good” we do sometimes. I feel this is the best of McDermott’s books except maybe Charming Billy. And it feels perhaps more important. It says so much about belonging and not (to people we love, and to place too, and to the roles we are put in).

So yes, amazing. It is the best book I have read in ages.

Read closely. There are some wonderful nuggets here.

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This may be my favorite Alice McDermott novel yet. Compelling, exquisitely conjured, with careful, precise language and McDermott's gentle yet searing wisdom, Absolution tells the story of American women in Saigon during the Vietnam War. The primary protagonist is shy, a woman of her time, a "helpmeet" to her husband, but is so intelligent and perceptive and keenly aware of her limitations though not yet conscious of her power. This is what I consider a "sideways" look at a war we've read so much about, but from an overlooked perspective. It's a deeply probing inquiry into altruism and good intentions and the ease with which we can look away from what troubles us and the fallout of meeting it straight on. I loved this book and pre-ordered it as soon as i finished my e-galley. I will read it again and highly recommend it!

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This book is hands down my favorite read of this year. Masterfully written, Alice McDermott wielded a story from long ago that most of us try to forget. Based off of seemingly true accounts from Vietnam the story follows “Tricia” and Charlene— wives of prominent government men. They’re trails and tribulations of marriage, motherhood and expat-hood.. It was heartbreaking and beautiful. A true gem of work. I would absolutely recommend this book to any book lover.

A huge thank you to NetGalley for the ARC.
I just reviewed Absolution by Alice McDermott. #Absolution #NetGalley

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After hearing Ann Patchett rave about this book, I knew I had to read it. She did not steer me wrong.

It’s 1963 and the timid Tricia is in Saigon, a helpmeet to her U.S. government-contracted husband. She is swept up into the frenzy of charities and projects of another American wife, Charlene. Tricia recounts her experience during this year from the present day to Charlene’s grown daughter, who has crossed paths with a man from their time in Vietnam, and they each reflect on their lives and the people they knew.

This story is enthralling, beautifully written, and at times unbelievably heartwrenching. Set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, the focus on the women from America and the Vietnamese women they encounter,
in a context that is domestic rather than militaristic, is extraordinary and novel. I could not put it down!

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.

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Alice McDermott is one of my favorite authors and this new titles does not disappoint. Triscia, rechristens from Patsy by her new friend Charlene, is the wife of an engineering advisor in South Vietnam as war is eminent. While
Triscia is less than adventurous, Charlene brings her along on missions to help the people of Vietnam. Most historical fiction of this period center on the male experience. I LOVED this book!

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