A Novel by Alice Mattison

Decades ago in Brooklyn, three girls demonstrated against the Vietnam War. Helen became a violent revolutionary. Val wrote a controversial book, Bright Morning of Pain, about Helen. And Olive became an editor and writer, and is now 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. Things only become more fraught when Griff borrows Olive’s treasured first edition of the novel ― and loses it. Then Griff’s quirky and audacious new colleague, Jean Argos, finds the book and begins reading it, setting off a series of events that will introduce new conflicts, tragedies, and friendships into the precarious balance of Olive and Griff’s lives.

“While exploring the deeply flawed yet enduring marriage of two Vietnam War-era activists now leading comfortable bourgeois lives in New Haven, Connecticut, Mattison also tackles broader issues. Rewarding and certainly timely; Mattison’s complex prose matches the multidimensional moral arguments raging inside her prickly, multidimensional characters.”
— Kirkus Reviews, 6/1/18


“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.”
— Booklist (starred), 6/1/18


“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 Journal of Books, 7/9/18


“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.”
Washington Post, 7/31/18


Publisher: Pegasus Books
Pub date: August 7, 2018
Hardcover 368 pages, $25.
ISBN: 978-1681777894
Available: wherever good and great books are sold – don’t be afraid to ask.


Alice Mattison is the author of The Kite and the String: How to Write with Spontaneity and Control — and Live to Tell the Tale, as well as eleven previous novels and story collections, including The Book Borrower and In Case We’re Separated. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Ploughshares, and The Threepenny Review. She teaches in the MFA program at Bennington College. Her website is

Photo: Sigrid Estrada



    • 9/13 reading at McNally Jackson in Williamsburg
    • 9/17 reading and signing 6:30-8pm Mitchell Library, New Haven
    • 9/27 Community Bookstore, Brooklyn conversation with Rebecca Chace
    • 10/2 Best Video, Hamden, CT reading with Sandi Kahn Shelton 7PM
    • 10/3 talk at SUNY New Paltz “Old Lefty Jews and their Complicated Children”
    • 10/17 reading Newtonville Books, Newton, MA
    • 10/24 Book Culture, NY (112th St) conversation with Rebecca Chace, 7PM


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