Just started reading Michelle Huneven’s Blame (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) – and I’m struck by how immediately she takes the reader into the fictional world and how her characters spring to life. Here’s the opening paragraph:
The first thing Millicent Hawthorne did after scheduling her surgery was to enroll her daughter, Joey, in a summer typing class at the local high school. Joey was twelve and had never set foot in a public school, but she’d refused to go to camp that year, and Millicent wanted her occupied.
Gently, without any major drama, even although the plot is dramatic, we follow Joey from typing class to the local cinema, her carefully chaperoned life quietly unravelling.
Huneven’s writing style is restrained – she doesn’t give too much detail or back story but starts the novel twice (‘July 1980’, pp. 1-18 forms part one; part two begins in ‘May 1981’ ) so that you know the first part’s important but so far (p. 56) not yet how it connects to the whole.
Huneven is excellent at building characters, especially in the way she builds sympathy for the unlovely Patsy – educated and fun-loving, whose ‘drink-problem’ leads to the death of two strangers.
Here’s the publisher’s blurb:
Patsy MacLemoore, a history professor in her late twenties, has a brand-new PhD from Berkeley and a wild streak. She wakes up in jail after an epic alcoholic blackout. “Okay, what’d I do?” she asks her lawyer and jailers.
In fact, two Jehovah’s Witnesses, a mother and daughter, are dead, run over in Patsy’s driveway, and Patsy will spend the rest of her life trying to atone. She goes to prison, gets sober, and upon her release finds a new community (and a husband) in AA. She resists temptations, strives for goodness, and becomes a selfless teacher, friend, and wife.
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.
Enjoying it so far – hope it lives up to expectations…