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Publisher's Summary

In this novel of lifelong reckoning between two women by the award-winning Mary Gordon, we meet Quin Archer, the revenge-loving queen of the reality-TV show Payback. Unbeknownst to her many fans, Quin was once an angry teen named Heidi, whose true story may be known only to Agnes, her art teacher at a private New England girls’ school in the 1970s. Then a young woman herself, Agnes saw a spark of originality in the brooding Heidi. But when she suggested Heidi visit the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the girl returned with a disastrous account of having been picked up at the museum by an older man. Agnes’ stunned response will haunt both women for decades. 

Gordon narrates this tale of #MeToo misunderstanding, from a time before there was language to contain it, with a sharp sense of life’s changing tempo. She takes us through Heidi’s disappearance and reinvention as Quin and Agnes’ escape into career and family in Italy, exploring their choices and potential for happiness until, inevitably, they meet again. Payback is a remarkable book about the precise weight of our words and deeds from a writer whose moral vision is deeply rewarding in its subtlety. 

©2020 Mary Gordon (P)2020 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“Nuanced ... Explores how one moment can completely change the trajectory of two women’s lives forever ... Gordon’s understated and beautiful prose reveals the murkiness of victimhood, forgiveness, and redemption.” (Carolyn Quimby, Chronogram)

“Gordon creates finely nuanced moral quandaries and explores the deep toxicity of sexism with scintillating energy and piercing inquisitiveness ... Every facet of this psychologically and sensuously lush novel about damage and nurture, altruism and selfishness, disorder and art, privacy and meaningful work, sexual violence and blame, hate and forgiveness poses profound questions about womanhood, how one lives one’s life, what truly matters, and what we owe others.” (Donna Seaman, Booklist [starred review])

“Excellent ... Contrasts the 1970s world of upper-class women’s education with the #MeToo era ... Gordon nails period details and vividly describes her characters’ worlds, whether they are restoring a work of art or raising a daughter. This mesmerizing novel hits hard.” (Publishers Weekly, starred review)

What listeners say about Payback

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repetitive and dumb ending

Boo Boo and Blah Blah, you will literally hear the same story of guilt over and over. The plot had so much promise, I was hoping the ending would be a psychological twist, wherein the "victim" of all this hate somehow exposed Quin for all her skeletons. So much emphasis on details, I'm wondering if the writer realizes that listeners hang onto details filing them away to be retrieved later. The autistic brother, the parental dynamics etc. Why spoon feed us details if you aren't going to us them in any significant way?