Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Review: Blame by Michelle Huneven

I had seen this one around a few blogs but I was not looking forward to reading it at all when it arrived on my doorstep. I am the grandchild of an alcoholic and even went to an Al-Anon meeting as a teenager (perhaps this one time visit is the source of my long term distrust of anything that smacks of self-help or psychiatry). So the whole premise of the book was a little close to home. That said, I ended up quite enjoying it.

Opening with Joey's confused summer the summer her mother died of cancer, the novel introduces Joey's appealing uncle Brice and his good-time girlfriend Patsy, both of whom are so out of their league watching Joey and self-absorbed that they mistakenly allow her to get high. Cut to Book Two and Patsy, a college professor, is coming to with a nasty hangover. She's in the local drunk tank, a place she's been in before, but this time her drunken misdeeds are not being treated as lightly as usual. Apparently, during her blackout, in her own driveway, she hit and killed a mother and young daughter, Jehovah's Witnesses who were just leaving her house after dropping off some leaflets. Patsy does her time in prison and comes back to regular life having resisted and then finally surrendered to AA, filled with remorse and regret. She builds her life around the truth of her actions and the results of what she did that night still so troublingly missing from memory. Ultimately, Patsy meets and marries Cal, the local AA superstar, sponsor extraordinaire, and widower with children. She changes who she was in spirit and finds forgiveness even if her life still centers around her guilt and atonement.

The novel jumps in time from each situation in Patsy's life but the missing pieces are easily inferred and reasonable as the reader watches Patsy build a whole new life for herself. The secondary characters are well-fleshed out and realistic. Starting with the section on Joey is perhaps a mistake as she is mostly absent from the book, which she should be since the story is really Patsy's, but what Joey witnesses when she is stoned out of her little mind does come full circle in the end, neatly tying the book's beginning and ending together.

The revelation about Patsy's drunken accident, near the end of the book, is certainly cataclysmic but it is somehow not entirely unexpected by that time either. And the way it forces Patsy to reevaluate her life again, as the immediate aftermath of the accident did once before, lends a balance to the plotting. The book was a bit unrealistic and shiny, happy in its portrayal of recovering alcoholics but it was fascinating to see the way that Cal shifted his addiction to the rush of AA meetings and that Patsy never called him on it because she was so busy with her own repentance, feeling that she had to be perfect and non-confrontational. This is much more a character study, with Patsy examining her life and coming to grips with who she is, rather than the thriller hinted at in marketing blurbs. It is a rather quiet but thoughtful and well-written book that happens to hinge on an horrific accident. This book will stay with you long after you close the back cover so don't be scared off by less than appealing jacket copy or the idea that this is full of suspense. Rather it is an engrossing and compelling read.

Thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy of this book.


  1. I was surprised by the sheer number of issues this books tackled. There was addiction, death, life after prison, AIDS, step family relationships and so much more. I was really frustrated the the blurb on the book jacket gave away so much of the story. I felt like alluding to a "big twist" detracted from the real purpose of the story.

  2. I'm glad to hear you enjoyed this book. I've been wanting to read it for quite some time.

  3. It sounds like this novel juggles an incredible number of issues. Great review!


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