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Absolution Bets On...

About the Author


December 2023

When we think about Vietnam, what comes to mind are soldiers, battles, napalm and a war that no one wants to talk about. With ABSOLUTION, Alice McDermott delivers a book with beautiful prose that I just inhaled, and it gave me a different perspective on the place before it really erupted.

But first, the setup. The story takes place before we formally entered the war in 1965. Trouble is brewing, but the US is not deeply involved. We are there more as advisors to the South Vietnamese. Alice explores these days through the story of the wives of those who accompanied their husbands to Vietnam in 1963.

Tricia is a young newlywed whose husband is an attorney on loan to the Navy. She barely is used to being married when she is thrust into a world where women dressed stylishly, hosted and went to parties, and were to be helpmates to their husbands. Shortly after arriving, Tricia meets Charlene, who definitely has the marriage and corporate spouse role under control. She is assertive, which is a kind way to describe her as she also is something of a rulebreaker and a bully. Both women see the needs of the people of Vietnam whose lives are so much tougher than they are used to seeing. And they reach out to help. What they do is just as interesting: their cottage business with Barbie dolls.

By telling just pieces of this book, I am not doing it justice. It’s powerful the way Alice has constructed it.

I loved the storytelling. Most of the book is written from the point of view of Tricia, who is sharing her thoughts when she is much older with Charlene’s daughter, Rainey, who she met when they were in Vietnam. Tricia now has some distance from that time and can write about it with perspective, which becomes such a compelling way to tell a story. Rainey later responds with her own thoughts about her mother; she reached out to Tricia after seeing an aging Vietnam vet and swapping stories.

I feel like I know these ladies. The details have you seeing the characters and their challenges. To think of them set against what women can do and are doing today is very powerful. This would make for a terrific book group discussion.

by Alice McDermott

  • Publication Date: October 31, 2023
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • ISBN-10: 0374610487
  • ISBN-13: 9780374610487