Book details


A Novel

Author: Alice McDermott



About This Book


Named a Best Book of the Year by Time, Esquire, Good Housekeeping, Kirkus Reviews,...

Page Count
On Sale

Book Details


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.

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.

Imprint Publisher

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Reading Guide

In The News


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

"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

Enveloping . . . Retrospect amplifies McDermott’s narrative approach; her work lives in its shimmering details . . . The debacle of America’s involvement in Vietnam might easily have overdetermined McDermott’s story, and it is a measure of her skill that Absolution maintains an oblique relationship to the war . . . What difference might it have made, for everyone, if those wives had been given a choice in the decision-making? Without posing this question directly, Absolution leaves the reader in its provocative shadow.” —Jennifer Egan, The New York Times

"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

"[McDermott] has taken the worn tapestry of the war novel and turned it inside out, exposing the original colors and throwing the battles and bivouacs into stark relief." —Bethanne Patrick, Los Angeles Times

"Crystalline, searching . . . McDermott spins gold from sensuous details . . . Beautifully conceived and executed, Absolution stares down the assumptions and loyalties that cage us all." —Hamilton Cain, The Washington Post

"It's futile to predict where a great writer's boundless imagination will take us and, as Absolution affirms, McDermott is a great writer . . . McDermott possesses the rare ability to evoke and enter bygone worlds—pre-Vatican II Catholicism, pre-feminist-movement marriages—without condescending to them. She understands that the powerhouses can dominate the helpmeets. She also understands that playing God is the role of a lifetime—and every human actor should turn it down." —Maureen Corrigan, NPR

"For four decades now, McDermott has written one exquisite novel after another, but her latest, a poignant tale of women and girls living on the periphery of the Vietnam War, may just be her masterpiece . . . In this richly imagined novel, packed with unforgettable characters, McDermott soars in a profound quest of moral inquiry." —Adrienne Westenfeld, Esquire

"Powerful . . . Sharp-eyed . . . [Absolution] addresses the question of forgiveness on both a personal and political level. Few writers have written about moral qualms with such sensitivity." —Heller McAlpin, The Christian Science Monitor

"Evocative and masterly . . . McDermott captures the convolutions of social dynamics and the mutability of memory with brilliant aplomb and attention to detail." —Sharlene Teo, The Guardian

A work of consistently beautiful prose . . . McDermott, who can easily build dramatic urgency out of even the most mundane tasks, evokes an eerie sense of instability and future implosion . . . The question of how to help others—and how much it costs to do so . . . is ever-present for Charlene and Patricia, who maintain, in the brief time when their lives overlap, a bizarre, conflicted, co-dependent friendship that is utterly fascinating.” —Jackie Thomas-Kennedy, Minneapolis Star-Tribune

"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

About the Creators