Published: October 31, 2023
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In Saigon in 1963, two young American wives form a wary alliance. Tricia is a starry-eyed newlywed, married to a rising oil engineer “on loan” to US Navy Intelligence. Charlene is a practiced corporate spouse and mother of three, a talented hostess and determined altruist, on a mission to relieve the “wretchedness” she sees all around her.
When Tricia miscarries, Charlene sweeps her into a cabal of well-dressed do-gooder American wives. Armed with baskets filled with candy and toys, they descend on hospitals, orphanages, and a leper colony on the coast, determined to relieve suffering, no matter the cost.
Sixty years later, Charlene’s daughter reaches out to Tricia, now widowed and living in Washington. As the two relive their shared experience in Saigon, they are forced to come to terms with the ways their own lives have been shaped and stunted by Charlene’s pursuit of “inconsequential good.”
With a narrative impact that recalls Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, Alice McDermott confronts the unresolved mysteries and ironies of America’s tragic interference in Southeast Asia.
Alice McDermott is the author of eight novels, including The Ninth Hour, Someone, After This, At Weddings and Wakes,and That Night—all published by FSG. That Night, At Weddings and Wakes, and After This 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, and other publications. For more than two decades she was the Richard A. Macksey Professor for Distinguished Teaching in the Humanities at Johns Hopkins University and a member of the faculty at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. McDermott lives with her family outside Washington, DC.