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Blame, Michelle Huneven, Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2009, 291 pp
Because I live in the Los Angeles area, Michelle Huneven, who lives in the suburb of Altadena, is a local author, beloved by the LA Times and friendly to our local bookstores. I've been meaning to read Blame ever since it was published. One of my reading groups picked this title from among my suggestions and thanks to them, I have finally gotten to it.
Often I read as an armchair traveler, visiting locations I will never go to physically. But there is a special pleasure derived from a book set in my own city. No matter how proficiently an author creates a sense of place, I never feel as much "there" as when I have actually been there myself, driven or walked the streets, experienced the weather and the sunsets.
Patsy MacLemoore, history professor and functioning alcoholic, is a character I might have met in Altadena or Pasadena. Her friends, lovers, associate professors, and her eventual husband are all familiar to me. Patsy's downfall and gradual rebirth as a sober, mature and self-confident woman resonated with me and made her a more sympathetic character.
Truthfully, Patsy is not a wholly admirable person. She specializes in bad decisions, she survives at the expense of others, and she does not like people that much, including herself. Thanks to the tragedy which took her down and thanks to Alcoholics Anonymous, she does straighten out her life and acquire some likable traits.
Blame has a twist. It is a good one, along the lines of the view that life is neither predestined nor driven by one's choices but is essentially random. Unfortunately I had read some reviews with spoilers, so I knew what was coming. Knowing this and waiting for it did spoil some of my reading experience.
Michelle Huneven has written a novel that covers the human condition, that addresses crime and punishment, and most of all she delves into the female psyche as well as any of my favorite female authors. Without sentimentality or heart-warming conclusions, Patsy's story is not what I would call hopeful but it is true to life and uplifting. She is a survivor because she is intelligent. Intelligence can be a burden and in the end Patsy willingly shoulders it.
(Blame is available in paperback and audio-book by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)