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
  • EXECUTIVE ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT
    Job Announcement: Executive Administrative Assistant (Part-Time) Announcement date: October 27, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: November...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Job purpose The Executive Director is a proven leader with demonstrated and sustained experience managing people, budgets, fundraising, and contract compliance who guides a well-established...
  • COMMUNICATIONS ASSOCIATE
    The Greater Yellowstone Coalition seeks a Communications Associate to support the advancement of GYC's mission by working closely with the Communications Coordinator and program staff...
  • MONTANA DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    YOUR POSITION WITH TNC The Director of Development (DoD) is responsible for directing all aspects of one or more development functions, which will secure significant...
  • DEVELOPMENT AND OPERATIONS COORDINATOR
    Development & Operations Coordinator Terms: 1.0 FTE (full-time), Salary DOE ($45,000 - $55,000) Benefits: Paid Time Off (12-24 days/year depending on tenure), Paid Holidays (10/year),...
  • GUIDE TO WESTERN NATIONAL MONUMENTS
    NEW BOOK showcases 70 national monuments across the western United States. Use "Guide10" for 10% off at cmcpress.org
  • CARBON RANCH PLANNER
    The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education,...
  • EDUCATION AND OUTREACH DIRECTOR
    Education and Outreach Program Director The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic,...
  • WESTERN DIVISION DIRECTOR OF FIELD PROGRAMS
    DEADLINE TO APPLY: October 29, 2021 LOCATION FLEXIBLE (WESTERN HUB CITY PREFERRED) Overview The Land Trust Alliance is the voice of the land trust community....
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Communications and Outreach Associate Position Opening: www.westernlaw.org/communications-outreach-associate ************************************************* Location: Western U.S., ideally in one of WELC's existing office locations (Santa Fe or Taos, NM, Helena,...
  • FREELANCE GRAPHIC DESIGNER & PROJECT COORDINATOR (REMOTE)
    High Country News (HCN) is seeking a contract Graphic Designer & Project Coordinator to design promotional, marketing and fund-raising assets and campaigns, and project-manage them...
  • FILM AND DIGITAL MEDIA: ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF INDIGENOUS MEDIA, CULTURAL SOVEREIGNTY AND DECOLONIZATION (INITIAL REVIEW 12.1.21)
    Film and Digital Media: Assistant Professor of Indigenous Media, Cultural Sovereignty and Decolonization (Initial Review 12.1.21) Position overview Position title: Assistant Professor - tenure-track Salary...
  • REAL ESTATE SPECIALIST
    To learn more about this position and to apply please go to the following URL.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • CENTRAL PARK CULTURAL RESOURCE SPECIALIST
    Agency: Oregon Parks and Recreation Department Salary Range: $5,203 - $7,996 Position Title: Central Park Cultural Resource Specialist Do you have a background in Archaeology...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    Come live and work in one of the most beautiful places in the world! As our Staff Attorney you will play a key role in...
  • ARIZONA GRAZING CLEARINGHOUSE
    Dedicated to preventing the ecological degradation caused by livestock grazing on Arizona's public lands, and exposing the government subsidies that support it.
  • OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo (friendsoftheinyo.org) is seeking a new Operations Manager. The Operations Manager position is a full-time permanent position that reports directly...
  • WATER RIGHTS BUREAU CHIEF
    Water Rights Bureau Chief, State of Montana, DNRC, Water Resources Division, Helena, MT Working to support and implement the Department's mission to help ensure that...