A life unwound

 

Blame
By Michelle Huneven
304 pages, hardcover: $25.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009.

Patsy MacLemoore is a hard-partying 28-year-old who managed to earn a Ph.D. from Berkeley but drank herself out of the running for the most prestigious jobs, landing at a middling college in Pasadena, Calif. It's the spring of 1981 in Michelle Huneven's latest novel, Blame, when Patsy comes to in a jail cell. It's happened before, but this time is frighteningly different: She's charged with hitting and killing a mother and daughter in her own steep driveway, in the 1963 Mercedes she wasn't supposed to be driving even while sober. Horrified by the damage she's caused, the lives ruined, Patsy pleads guilty and is sentenced to four years in prison.

Sober and released early for good behavior -- she worked on a prison crew, battling wildfires -- Patsy settles into a replica of her former life: same location, same job, same friends, but all experienced through a prism of guilt and the puritanical self-discipline she's determined to maintain. Patsy's guilt remains the driving force behind everything she does. How could she ever have children, for example, when she killed someone else's child? She tiptoes through life, trying above all to do no more harm.

Huneven, a journalist and James Beard Award-winning food critic, is a nimble writer. Her characters are the sort that haunt you weeks later. In fact, some of the book's other characters are more vividly drawn than Patsy herself: There's Gilles, the young lover of Patsy's ex-boyfriend, Brice, who looks after her post-prison and provides a glimpse into gay life at the dawn of the AIDS era; Cal, Patsy's husband, who copes with his own losses by helping heal others; and Joey, Brice's niece, who delivers the news that upends Patsy's carefully rebuilt life.

And therein lies Blame's only real flaw. The big plot twist, the news the jacket copy calls a "fall-off-the-couch-with-surprise moment," seems at least somewhat obvious from the beginning. Still, Huneven lets events play out with just the right balance of melodrama and stoicism as Patsy sets about coping with a new reality. Blame is ultimately about the way choices stack on top of one another, each shaping the next until they become an entire life.

High Country News Classifieds
  • DISTRICT MANAGER
    The San Juan Islands Conservation District is seeking applicants for the District Manager position. The position is open until filled and application plus cover letter...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Mountain Time Arts, a Bozeman-based nonprofit, is seeking an Executive Director. MTA advocates for and produces public artworks that advance social & environmental justice in...
  • BEND AREA HOME WITH AMAZING CASCADE PEAKS VIEW
    Enjoy rural peacefulness and privacy with one of the most magnificent Cascade Mountain views in sunny Central Oregon! Convenient location only eight miles from Bend's...
  • MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Marketing Communications Manager to join our...
  • EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks an Editor-In-Chief to join our senior team...
  • RESEARCH FELLOW (SOUTHWESTERN U.S. ENERGY TRANSITION)
    The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) in partnership with the Grand Canyon Trust is seeking a full-time Fellow to conduct topical research...
  • LENDER OWNED FIX & FLIP
    2 houses on 37+ acres. Gated subdivision, Penrose Colorado. $400k. Possible lender financing. Bob Kunkler Brokers Welcome.
  • ONCE OR TWICE
    A short historical novel set in central Oregon based on the the WWII Japanese high altitude ballon that exploded causing civilian casualties. A riveting look...
  • HISTORIC LODGE AND RESTAURANT - FULLY EQUIPPED
    Built in 1901, The Crazy Mountain Inn has 11 guest rooms in a town-center building on 7 city lots (.58 acres). The inn and restaurant...
  • HOUSE FOR SALE
    Rare mountain property, borders National Forest, stream nearby. Pumicecrete, solar net metering, radiant heat, fine cabinets, attic space to expand, patio, garden, wildlife, insulated garage,...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER- NORTHERN PLAINS RESOURCE COUNCIL
    Want to organize people to protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, & unique quality of life with Northern Plains Resource Council? Apply now-...
  • CONSERVATION MANAGER
    The Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT) is hiring an energetic and motivated Conservation Manager to develop and complete new conservation projects and work within...
  • POLLINATOR OASIS
    Seeking an experienced, hardworking partner to help restore a desert watershed/wetland while also creating a pollinator oasis at the mouth of an upland canyon. Compensation:...
  • ELLIE SAYS IT'S SAFE! A GUIDE DOG'S JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE
    by Don Hagedorn. A story of how lives of the visually impaired are improved through the love and courage of guide dogs. Available on Amazon.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY
    All positions available: Sales Representative, Accountant and Administrative Assistant. As part of our expansion program, our University is looking for part time work from home...
  • RUBY, ARIZONA CARETAKER
    S. Az ghost town seeking full-time caretaker. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Powder River Basin Resource Council, a progressive non-profit conservation organization based in Sheridan, Wyoming, seeks an Executive Director, preferably with grassroots organizing experience, excellent communication...
  • ADOBE HOME
    Passive solar adobe home in high desert of central New Mexico. Located on a 10,000 acre cattle ranch.
  • STEVE HARRIS, EXPERIENCED PUBLIC LANDS/ENVIRONMENTAL ATTORNEY
    Comment Letters - Admin Appeals - Federal & State Litigation - FOIA -