Blame (Paperback)

By Michelle Huneven

Picador USA, 9780312429850, 291pp.

Publication Date: May 25, 2010

Winter 2011 Reading Group List

“Blame is another wonderful story from Huneven, with characters and relationships so real you hate to say goodbye when the book ends. A history professor comes out of an alcoholic blackout in jail for running over two Jehovah's Witnesses in her driveway. The story follows her through years of punishment, remorse, and atonement. She eventually rebuilds her life and relationships, finds community in unlikely places, and comes to terms with herself. Richard Russo calls Huneven 'a writer of extraordinary and thrilling talent' and I think you'll agree.”
— Carla, Inkwood Books, Tampa, FL
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Patsy MacLemoore, a twenty-eight-year-old history professor with a brand-new Ph.D. and a wild streak, wakes up in jail "yet again" after another epic alcoholic blackout. This time, though, a mother and daughter are dead, run over in Patsy's driveway. Patsy will the next decades of her life atoning for this unpardonable act. She goes to prison, sobers up, marries a much older man she meets in AA, and makes ongoing amends to her victims' family. Then, another piece of news turns up, casting her crime, and her life, in a different and unexpected light. Brilliant, morally complex, and often funny, "Blame" is a breathtaking story of contrition and what it takes to rebuild a life from the bottom up.

About the Author

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.

Praise For Blame

“Michelle Huneven’s novel Blame [is] one of the most thought-provoking books I’ve read in years.”Jennifer Weiner, CBS’s Sunday Morning

“A novel that combines the compulsive pleasures of a page-turner and the deeper satisfaction of true, thoughtful literature.”—Entertainment Weekly

“Unfolds like a thriller, creating a sense of urgency and mystery even about everyday matters. . . . Huneven's prose moves like a hummingbird, in small bursts that are improbably fast and graceful.”—The New York Times Book Review

“Smart, deep, addictive . . . Huneven's language hums, her dialogue jumps. . . . There are so many eye-popping scenes I would need to take my shoes off to count them.”—GQ

“Wonderful . . . How do you build lasting relationships when the world insists on crumbling around you? That's Huneven's theme here, and she does a lovely job with it.”—The Washington Post

“An elegant, hair-raising novel . . . Huneven's prose is flawless.”—The New Yorker

“The satisfactions Blame offers readers are elegant prose and, deeper than that aesthetic pleasure, the intelligence and compassion Huneven brings to her characters. She holds them all with the utmost tenderness.”—Los Angeles Times

“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

Praise for Jamesland

“Michelle Huneven is a writer of extraordinary and thrilling talent, and Jamesland is a marvel.”—Richard Russo

Praise for Round Rock

“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

Conversation Starters from

  1. 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? 
  2. How did your impressions of Patsy change throughout Blame? What cultural shifts does she experience over the novel’s two decades? 
  3. Were you surprised that Patsy was a high achiever in academia? What makes history an appropriately ironic field for her? 
  4. When you first read about Patsy’s sentencing, did you think it was just? Did prison seem like an appropriate consequence? Given today’s drunk driving laws and treatment options, does her sentence seem light or extreme? 
  5. Behind bars, what version of a family does Patsy find? How do her tenuous friendships there compare to her relationships with her mother, father, and brother? 
  6. Why is it noteworthy that Jane and Jessica Parnham were Jehovah’s Witnesses? How does Mark seem to feel about their faith? 
  7. What is Mark Parnham’s motivation in visiting Patsy? How are they affected by each other? 
  8. How do Patsy’s days with the firefighting crew serve as a metaphor for her life? What does Martin’s crayon drawing of a stick figure dousing burning trees (described near the end of part two) indicate about his understanding of Patsy? 
  9. What is ideal about the support provided by Brice and Gilles? How do Gilles and Patsy bond, and why do they become such good friends? What is the role of Alcoholics Anonymous in Patsy’s life? 
  10. Discuss the other approaches to sobriety Patsy experiences, including deprivation in prison; accountability to her parole officer, Jeffrey Goldstone; and sessions with Mrs. Silver. Why does she succeed in staying sober? 
  11. How is Patsy influenced by her ESL students? What common ground does she share with them? 
  12. How does Patsy’s marriage to Cal compare to her earlier relationship with Ian? What does she want in a relationship? How does her understanding of love change throughout the novel? 
  13. At the end of chapter 26, Cal tells Patsy that no matter what the truth is about the Parnham deaths, “what happened got you to where you needed to be.” Ultimately, what did it take for her to get sober? 
  14. Much of Patsy’s adult life has been spent in atoning for the deaths of Jane and Jessica Parnham. What were the various aspects of her atonement? Were any aspects regrettable or unnecessary? 
  15. How did the revelations about Bill Hogue transform your understanding of the novel? What does his crime indicate about the way society handles retribution and other morality-based “debts”? 
  16. Discuss the novel’s title. Why was Patsy so willing to accept the blame for the accident? How much blame is she willing to relinquish? Where should the blame for the Parnham deaths lie? 
  17. How does Blame amplify the themes explored in Michelle Huneven’s previous novels? What are the hallmarks of her storytelling style?