In the male-dominated landscape of wartorn 1963 Saigon, Vietnam, Tricia and Charlene are two American wives striving to be the best possible “helpmeets” to their military husbands: sociable, graceful, obedient, obliging. Through author Alice McDermott’s precise, lingering prose, these women otherwise relegated to the margins bloom with agency and empathy. Charlene’s immense business acumen flares along the line between altruism and absurdity. Tricia struggles to become a mother and to be a good Samaritan, but finds herself held back by the limits of her body and the expectations imposed on a woman of her upper-class status.
Rachel Kenney’s warm, heartfelt narration is a complement to Tricia’s fading naiveté and the strength of her moral compass. Jesse Vilinsky, who voices Charlene’s daughter, Rainey, when she reconnects with Tricia 60 years later, lends a bright, gentle tone to a woman seeking closure. Absolution (10 hours) is not a story about remarkable events, but a story that teases out the remarkableness in everyday people—in neighbors, servants, childhood friends, spouses. It is a breath of fresh air amongst war novels devoted to the machinations of war, speaking instead to war’s ripple effect off the battlefield and years down the line.