By Michelle Huneven
(Sarah Crichton Books, Hardcover, 9780374114305, 304pp.)
Publication Date: September 1, 2009
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Michelle Huneven, Richard Russo once wrote, is “a writer of extraordinary and thrilling talent.” That talent explodes with her third book, Blame, a spellbinding novel of guilt and love, family and shame, sobriety and the lack of it, and the moral ambiguities that ensnare us all.
The story: Patsy MacLemoore, a history professor in her late twenties with a brand-new Ph.D. from Berkeley and a wild streak, wakes up in jail—yet again—after another epic alcoholic blackout. “Okay, what’d I do?” she asks her lawyer and jailers. “I really don’t remember.” She adds, jokingly: “Did I kill someone?”
In fact, two Jehovah’s Witnesses, a mother and daughter, are dead, run over in Patsy’s driveway. Patsy, who was driving with a revoked license, will spend the rest of her life—in prison, getting sober, finding a new community (and a husband) in AA—trying to atone for this unpardonable act.
Then, decades later, another unimaginable piece of information turns up.
For the reader, it is an electrifying moment, a joyous, fall-off-the-couch-with-surprise moment. For Patsy, it is more complicated. Blame must be reapportioned, her life reassessed. What does it mean that her life has been based on wrong assumptions? What can she cleave to? What must be relinquished?
When Huneven’s first novel, Round Rock, was published, Valerie Miner, in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, celebrated Huneven’s “moral nerve, sharp wit and uncommon generosity.” The same spirit electrifies Blame. The novel crackles with life—and, like life, can leave you breathless.
Michelle Huneven is the author of two previous novels, Round Rock and Jamesland. She has received a General Electric Foundation Award for Younger Writers and a Whiting Writers’ Award for fiction. She lives in Altadena, California.
Correspondent Susan Stamberg gathers recommendations for the season's best books from booksellers Rona Brinlee, Daniel Goldin and Lucia Silva. Their selections include comics about philosophy, novels about building families, and a box set that dives into the process of writing. More at NPR.org
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- How were you affected by the shift from Joey’s world to Patsy’s? What does the closing line of part one (capturing Joey’s belief that her mother had not died but was alive and well at the Bellwood Hotel) say about the nature of hope, illusion, and grief?
Praise for Michelle Huneven
“Michelle Huneven’s new novel, Blame, is a lovely, shimmering tour de force, full of an astonishing sense of the beauty of the world, the inestimable complexity of moral consequences, and the bright pleasures of Huneven’s prose. Read it.”—Roxana Robinson, author of Cost
“In Blame, a guilty protagonist strives for the good and achieves the beautiful—and, eventually, the truth. Huneven’s supple, world-loving prose elevates small gestures into redemptive acts and everyday objects into restorative gifts, rewarding the reader on every page.”—Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander and Paint It Black
“Huneven turns complicated moral issues into utterly riveting reading in this beautifully written story of remorse and redemption.”—Joanne Wilkinson, Booklist (starred review)
“This book is a pleasure, on every level.”—Sue Miler, Bookforum
“Michelle Huneven is a writer of extraordinary and thrilling talent, and Jamesland is a marvel.”—Richard Russo
“Like that other West Coast chronicler of struggling Americans, Raymond Carver . . . [Huneven] is not interested in literary pretension or postmodern razzle-dazzle, but in achieving a measure of truth—and her generous, engaging novel does just that.”—Valerie Sayers , The New York Times Book Review