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Alice McDermott was born in Brooklyn, New York. She is the author of eight previous novels, including Charming Billy, winner of the National Book Award, and That Night, At Weddings and Wakes, and After This, which were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize. She is also the author of the essay collection What About the Baby? Some Thoughts on the Art of Fiction. Her stories and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, Mademoiselle and Seventeen. She has taught at UCSD and American University and she is currently the Richard A. Macksey professor of the Humanities at John Hopkins University.

McDermott lives outside Washington, D.C. with her husband, a retired neuroscientist, and has three adult children.

Watch "Alice McDermott: Writing beyond fear, with a whiff of Catholicism"


Absolution by Alice McDermott

American women – American wives – have been mostly minor characters in the literature of the Vietnam War, but in Absolution they take center stage. Set mostly in Saigon in 1963 it traces an unlikely friendship between two young Americans whose husbands are either supporting the war effort or profiting from it. One is a shy newlywed whose husband is on loan to navy intelligence. The other is a practiced corporate spouse and mother, a beauty and a bully.

As they balance the era’s mandate to be “helpmates” to their ambitious husbands, they try to “do good” for hospitalized children with baskets of candy and toys. One of their projects raised money from marketing “Saigon Barbies” outfitted in Vietnamese attire. Their charitable schemes take them far outside the gated confines of their neighborhood where they reckon with a part of Vietnam mostly unknown to the men.

Sixty years later, in letters, there is a look back that is both wistful and judgmental of the altruistic machinations and reflections on their own lives as women on the periphery of politics, history, and war.

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