New York Times Reviews “Absolution”

A Friendship Forged in Wartime Casts a Long Shadow

What happens when two American women attempt to help the people of Saigon? In Alice McDermott’s new novel, the answer is complicated.

By Jennifer Egan

Alice McDermott is rightly celebrated for her granular, nuanced portraits of mid-20th-century life, with a particular focus on Irish Americans. Her fans may be startled, then, to find themselves plunged into 1963 Saigon at the start of her enveloping new novel, “Absolution,” whose lofty title belies its sensory, gritty humanity.

McDermott’s contextual leap is not as great as it might seem. The primary narrator of “Absolution,” Patricia Kelly, and her husband, Peter, a Navy intelligence officer, are Irish American New Yorkers who might easily be part of the same family tree as Billy Lynch from McDermott’s 1998 National Book Award winner, “Charming Billy”; Marie from “Someone”; the Daileys from “At Weddings and Wakes”; or the Keanes from “After This,” my personal favorite. Indeed, Peter Kelly’s sense of mission in Vietnam is bound up with his Catholicism; President Kennedy, a Catholic, initially supported the Catholic president of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem, in part through the efforts of a Central Intelligence Agency that was jokingly referred to as the “Catholic Intelligence Agency.” Read the full review at the New York Times.

© Literary Affairs, 2005-2024. All Rights Reserved.