Conscience

Conscience

by Alice Mattison

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Overview

Decades ago in Brooklyn, three girls demonstrated against the Vietnam War, and each followed a distinct path into adulthood. Helen became a violent revolutionary. Val wrote a controversial book, essentially a novelization of Helen’s all-too-short but vibrant life. And Olive became an editor and writer, now comfortably settled with her husband, Griff, in New Haven. When Olive is asked to write an essay about Val’s book, doing so brings back to the forefront Olive and Griff’s tangled histories and their complicated reflections on that tumultuous time in their young lives.Conscience, the dazzling new novel from award-winning author Alice Mattison, paints the nuanced relationships between characters with her signature wit and precision. And as Mattison explores the ways in which women make a difference—for good or ill—in the world, she elegantly weaves together the past and the present, and the political and the personal.

Editorial Reviews

Washington Post

A novel that’s a lot like life: jumbled and challenging and wonderfully real. Conscience will please those who complain that so much literary fiction is a little too neat, ironical or even adolescent. Indeed, Mattison never hesitates to let her characters worry away at what’s troubling them, cycling back over their own shame and others’ slights in a way that seems wholly, sometimes maddeningly, realistic. But the real triumph of this ruminative novel is that it transports us back to a period when exercising one’s conscience was a national emergency. And then Mattison slyly insists that we acknowledge the moral complexity of our own era with its own equally urgent demands.

New York Journal of Books

Conscience will be a bittersweet read for many who remember the Vietnam War era. Using two narrative strands, related by three richly complex narrators, the book explores a half century in emotional and political depth.

New York Times Book Review

Alice Mattison’s novels often revolve around an intense friendship between women in a leftish milieu. So does her latest, which offers many of the pleasures of those earlier works. A careful observer of gesture and language, Mattison writes warmly about her characters. The inhabitants of this novel all struggle to live ethical lives.

Booklist (starred)

Friendship tested in the crucible of political upheaval fascinates Mattison, a writer of extraordinary psychological acuity and crisp wit. It shaped her previous novel, When We Argued All Night, and comes to even stronger fruition in this riveting tale. Mattison’s engrossing exploration of diverse matters of conscience is dynamic, precise, many-layered, funny, ambushing, and provocative.

Los Angeles Review of Books

Mattison tells several stories in Conscience, and watching them grow and intersect is one of the greatest pleasures of the book. The shifting perspective works well, as a chorus of “I”s helps build a collective sense of the collateral damage of the war and the noisy overlap of friends, family, and lovers that make up a community. The female characters in Conscience are part of a long line of women — working women, sexual women, family women, thinking women — whose lives Mattison has lovingly captured and explored. Mattison gives us an intimate portrait of the struggles and sacrifices of the men and women who protested against the war in Vietnam. She also reminds us of what it is to have, and act on, a conscience, what it is to make a choice and accept the consequences.

Lilith

A complex, challenging, riveting new Alice Mattison novel.

Washington Post

A novel that’s a lot like life: jumbled and challenging and wonderfully real. Conscience will please those who complain that so much literary fiction is a little too neat, ironical or even adolescent. Indeed, Mattison never hesitates to let her characters worry away at what’s troubling them, cycling back over their own shame and others’ slights in a way that seems wholly, sometimes maddeningly, realistic. But the real triumph of this ruminative novel is that it transports us back to a period when exercising one’s conscience was a national emergency. And then Mattison slyly insists that we acknowledge the moral complexity of our own era with its own equally urgent demands.

Booklist

"Friendship tested in the crucible of political upheaval fascinates Mattison, a writer of extraordinary psychological acuity and crisp wit. It shaped her previous novel, When We Argued All Night, and comes to even stronger fruition in this riveting tale. Mattison’s engrossing exploration of diverse matters of conscience is dynamic, precise, many-layered, funny, ambushing, and provocative."

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel [praise for Alice Mattison]

Mattison is a master of human relationships, capturing their complexities and nuances with wit and precision.

The New Yorker [praise for Alice Mattison]

Mattison's observations are so minutely compelling that each one feels like a shiny object, once lost but found unexpectedly.

The New York Times Book Review [praise for Alice Mattison]

Alice Mattison is a charmer. She's one of those uncommon writers who are genuinely tickled by the ids and egos they commit to paper, and her characters bask—rather than squint—in the sunshine of her affectionate scrutiny.

Library Journal

06/15/2018
A novel about choices made following one's conscience during the Vietnam War era and afterward could be dramatic and riveting, yet the latest from Mattison (The Book Borrower) is neither. Instead, it's ruminative and anticlimactic, more an exploration of adult friendships, marriage, and how people and their consciences evolve. The story is told from multiple viewpoints. Olive Grossman, an editor, is writing an essay about a high school classmate's best-selling novel that is a thinly veiled biography of Olive's dear friend Helen, who was killed during a violent antiwar protest. Olive's estranged husband, Griff, believes he shares responsibility for Helen's death and has never read the book, until now. He accidentally leaves a copy at a nonprofit where he serves on the board, where it is found by the nonprofit's director Jean Argos, who is challenged with providing respite and privacy to homeless people. All three seem unhappy and a little stuck in their midlives. There is no big denouement or rousing conclusion, but the novel instead shows three humans tiptoeing toward a deeper understanding of their lives and their relationships. VERDICT Recommend for readers who enjoy slow, contemplative novels and deeply drawn middle-aged characters.—Christine Perkins, Whatcom Cty. Lib. Syst., Bellingham, WA

Kirkus Reviews

2018-05-15
While exploring the deeply flawed yet enduring marriage of two Vietnam War-era activists now leading comfortable bourgeois lives in New Haven, Connecticut, Mattison (Nothing is Quite Forgotten in Brooklyn, 2008, etc.) also tackles broader issues, including the value of risk versus caution in the name of idealism.After falling in love as zealous student anti-war protestors, editor and literary biographer Olive—who's white and an "intermittently and selectively observant" Jew—married African-American school principal Griff, a nonpracticing Christian. Their long marriage was interrupted by several years of separation, and while their relationship has more or less recovered, Olive chafes at Griff's irritating presence while resenting his frequent absence. Now a new marital crisis arises when Olive is assigned to write an essay concerning a novel written years earlier by her sort-of friend Val, a bestseller Val openly based on a romanticized version of the life of Olive's close friend Helen, whose radicalism led to violent tragedy. Meanwhile, Griff is elected president of the board of a local community service center and finds himself in conflict with Jean, who runs the center. Risk-averse Griff considers Jean too "casual about trouble" while she considers him "controlling" and overcautious—and both are right. Then Jean, with whom Olive has forged a friendship, reads Val's novel, which Griff has long avoided finishing, and notices Griff's resemblance to a late-appearing character who influences the Helen character's decisions. Ironically, Olive considers Griff's self-blame for the real harm he may or may not have caused an overweening intrusion into her grief over Helen. Olive and Griff's struggles as youthful activists balancing the limits of liberalism against the excesses of radicalism as a cure for social ills interlace with Olive's and Jean's current efforts to define themselves emotionally within an ethical context (Griff having done so long ago). Not to mention the question they raise about whether fiction must be accurate.Not easy but rewarding and certainly timely; Mattison's complex prose matches the multidimensional moral arguments raging inside her prickly, multidimensional characters.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781643132501
Publisher: Pegasus Books
Publication date: 12/10/2019
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 368
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.10(d)

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