Public apology, private apocalypse: deconstructed by Jonathan Dee
Jonathan Dee’s new novel asks whether the big apology by a disgraced public figure is genuinely therapeutic, or just an empty ritual
If A Thousand Pardons sounds suspiciously close to commercial fiction, that’s because it is.
But while Dee flirts with several of the most beloved tropes of that genre – spurned wife who makes good; father and daughter who make friends – his gift for forensic detail and tart observation saves the day. Or does it? “This book has certain unities,” he admits. “It has a certain neatness to it, in the way that certain tropes of public relations might have a certain neatness to them.
“It’s a comedy, in some ways, in that everyone winds up sort of reunited. Sort of – more or less – happy ever after.” Happily for his readers, Dee is far more interested in the “sort of” and the “more or less” than the “happy ever after”.
This summer, he’s on tour with A Thousand Pardons – when we meet, he is in Irelandfor a reading at the Dalkey Book Festival. He says he enjoys this public aspect of being a writer. But then, he has learned from the masters.
As an aspiring young writer who moved to New York at the age of 22, he says he made a point of attending as many readings as he could. “They’re a bit like weddings,” he says, “in that they’re so much the same that the ones you remember most are the ones where something went wrong.”
Just such an event took place in a tiny basement space with a six-foot ceiling. On that memorable occasion, the first reader was the late David Foster Wallace. “He announced before he started reading,” Dee recalls, “that he had crippling stage fright, and that we would notice it when he started – that his hands would shake and his voice would shake and he would sweat a lot. He said, ‘You’re going to want to do something, so I’m just gonna tell you right now, it’s okay. I know I’m doing it.’ ”
Wallace was followed by William Vollmann “who, among other things, pulled out a starter pistol and fired it three times”. Now there’s a reading we all want to go to.
A Thousand Pardons is published by Corsair.