Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Huneven's Blame on Agenda for Book Discussion

I'm taking advantage of a couple of days at home - no sunlight for 48 hours is no easy restriction to adhere to when one lives in the Sunshine Capital in springtime - to be a layabout and actually relax and read an entire book in one sitting. I chose Michelle Huneven's NBCC nominee, Blame, a year ago for our May book discussion at the library. I never read the books ahead of time. I like to come to them fresh, the same way our customers do, when they show up on discussion day.

Deciding on books for discussion group so far ahead of time is no easy task. Normally I'll have 10 or 15 choices and have to narrow them down to 5 or 6 in time for a June press date. This spring, though, I'm having trouble. Nothing is screaming my name. Best sellers lists look, well,  listless to me and suggestions from friends have been considered and discarded. My tendency is to revert to the classics and I may tackle The Jungle in the fall. Meanwhile, I'm a woman on a quest.

Blame has turned out to be a fantastic choice for discussion. In fact, it's a much more nuanced, complicated book than I had expected. I began to make a snap judgement early on in my reading, wondering how I could devote 300 pages of time to such an unlikeable protagonist but I held back, opened my heart and mind to Patsy MacLemoore, and am anxiously hoping she'll prove worthy of my trust.

Patsy, you see, is a recovering alcoholic, twenty years sober and still trying to make amends for an action she has no memory of. The police told her that she drove her car, unlicensed as the result of a previous DUI, into her own driveway, running down a mother and her young daughter. The prison sentence that followed, gritty and realistically portrayed, probably saved her life, but it's after her release that living becomes even more complicated.

Patsy's psychiatrist aptly compares her re-entry to that of a soldier returning from war. The move from such a regimented environment to a smorgasbord of options can seem overwhelming and the author writes with such conviction about this difficulty that I wondered for a time if there was some biographical truth in there. An every day existence is no easy thing for the addictive personality, the world is often too much with us.

In fact, for all the millions of folks that AA has saved, criticism has been leveled that they simply exchange one addiction for another, albeit, a healthier one. How does a person manage a balanced life, not too heavily dependent on religion, sex, money, booze or drugs? This is the dilemma that Patsy faces as she tries to assuage guilt, seek redemption, repair relationships, and find fulfillment.

Though Huneven peoples her novel with a marvelously eclectic supporting cast of characters, readers understand that only Patsy can arrive at her true North intact. This reader has knots in her stomach as she heads to the couch for the denouement.

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