Alice McDermott and Lisa Gornick
Absolution / Ana Turns
Free Online Event
Tues., December 5th • 1:00pm PT
Absolution is 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 as they do 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.
Nine years have passed since Ana Koehl had sex with her pot-addicted anesthesiologist husband, seven since she began an affair with a gonzo journalist. She's gratified by her work as a book doula, but burdened by her belief that she need always be on call. Her elderly mother's birthday greeting is an inflation-adjusted calculation of the cost of raising Ana in a mice-infested house, her brother has hijacked the will of their recently deceased starchitect father, her adult child is changing rapidly before her eyes, and her best friend advocates for "the truth in lies." Gazing out at the dark moat of Central Park from behind her desk, Ana sees that she can no longer postpone making peace with her past or confronting her present.Narrated by Ana and the key figures in her life--her husband, her brother, her lover's wife, to name a few--Ana Turns spirals through issues from capital punishment to the dynamiting of the Bamiyan Buddhas, culminating in a watershed dinner party, with Ana's family members' true colors on full display. By day's end, the bounds of her own collaboration and forgiveness illuminated, Ana turns towards a vision of what she wants next in this blink of a life.
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.
Lisa Gornick has been hailed by NPR as "one of the most perceptive, compassionate writers of fiction in America...immensely talented and brave." She is the author of an upcoming novel, ANA TURNS (Keylight Books, November 7), as well as THE PEACOCK FEAST (FSG), LOUISA MEETS BEAR (FSG), TINDERBOX (FSG), and A PRIVATE SORCERY (Algonquin). Her stories and essays have appeared widely, including in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Paris Review, Real Simple, and Slate. A graduate of the Yale clinical psychology program and the psychoanalytic training program at Columbia, where she is on the faculty, she was for many years a practicing psychotherapist and psychoanalyst. She lives in New York City with her family. You can learn more about Lisa and her work at lisagornickauthor.com.
Alice McDermott photo courtesy of the publisher. Lisa Gornick photo courtesy of Sigrid Estrada.