Monday, February 28, 2011

Blame: A Novel, by Michelle Huneven

Patsy MacLemoore is a young history professor and an alcoholic. One morning she wakes up in jail to learn that she has run over and killed two Jehovah's Witnesses in her own driveway. Because the accident occurred on her property, the charges are less severe than they might have been, and she serves a relatively short (though still difficult) prison sentence. The husband and father of her victims forgives her, and the two enter an awkward friendship.

Patsy gets out of prison, sober and determined to create a new life for herself. She returns to teaching, becomes friends with the young male lover of her former boyfriend, and meets and eventually marries his charismatic uncle Cal--despite Cal's sister Audrey warning Patsy that the May-December nature of their relationship will end up causing problems. Cal is already an AA star, and as his wife, Patsy is also frequently asked to speak at meetings around California and submit to interviews, sometimes with the husband/father of her victims.

Years pass, and it turns out Audrey had a point. Still, Patsy is committed to staying on the path she created for herself when she first left prison. Then something extraordinary happens that releases Patsy from the guilt she has carried; Cal's inability to respond enthusiastically to this event frees Patsy to create another way of living her life, one that offers her more satisfaction.

Blame is an interesting read, offering insight into the workings of AA and the potential downside of being the younger wife of a man approaching 80. Given the centrality of Patsy's guilt to the story, I expected a depthier exploration of guilt, shame, and blame--but it is not until Patsy's guilt is lifted that we begin to understand its effects--and perhaps that's the point.

Favorite passage:
Cal's kids always mattered in ways that she--the third, childless wife--could never hope to eclipse. she'd known her status when she married him. It was the sham of her marriage, really, the don't-look-too-close fine print of their agreement. A healthier, more self-respecting woman--Audrey, for example, would never have signed on.

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