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Absolution: A Novel by Alice McDermott

Fiction suggested by Barbara

From Barbara – 1963 Saigon: shy newlywed happy young woman meets another ex-pat wife who is “helping” Viet poor or sick children by giving them gifts including Barbie dolls and some adult things, all behind their husband’s backs. Cross-cultural themes.

1963 Saigon, Vietnam, the complicated lives and morality of two American women, “helpmeets” to their husbands and trying to “do good” for the Vietnamese people. (Not a war book.)

From Amazon: 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.

Note: one of the Amazon customer reviews includes the statement “Be prepared for some graphic horrors — children orphaned and maimed by war, a miscarriage, told graphically.”