Patsy MacLemoore, a history professor in her late 20s, has a brand-new Ph.D. 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.Blame is a spellbinding novel of guilt and love, family and shame, sobriety and the lack of it, and the moral ambiguities that ensnare us all.More
Blame begins in 1980, when 29-year-old Patsy MacLemoore, a history professor with a long, buttery spill of hair, hints at an urgency for tea cups brimming with bourbon, poured neat, "the first mouthful, as big and sweet and hot as gasoline". Patsy is a blackout drunk. Nine months later, and for the third time, she lands in county jail, her hangover a "metallic gargle" souring her breath, and no memory of the previous 24 hours. Her attorney clues her in: while backing out of her driveway, Patsy, her license already revoked, has struck and killed a mother and daughter, Jehovah's Witnesses, both plowed down by her plastered disrepair. She pleads guilty, is convicted and sentenced to four years in state prison where she commits to sobriety and self-revulsion, even bleeding on her socks, "wearing and washing them in rotation" when refused a simple request for sanitary napkins.Blame by Michelle Huneven is risky, prickly, and astonishingly lovely. Patsy's redemption is anchored by being good, not staying clean, even though she never relapses. Huneven approaches addiction as a messy, elemental impulse that crushes some with liquor and pills, while collapsing others, like Cal Sharp Patsy's three-decades-older husband, a pillar of AA with the compulsion to save as many lost souls as can be crammed into their ranch home. Hillary Huber narrates Blame and her hypnotic storyteller's voice coaxes a rich, rhythmic word flow out of Huneven's droll language. There is empathy as well as a sneaky, subversive acidity to Huber's logic-driven Patsy; a deliberate, academic pacing. Patsy's rakish ex-boyfriend, Brice, is also humanized by Huber, who registers Brice's grief over losing his lover, Gilles, by curdling his surfer drawl with a gritty skim of impatience. Blame is a masterpiece, and when Huber, as Patsy, observes, "Guilt was like the check on a table. Somebody had to pick it up", it clicks that yes, finally, this is the meaning of recovery. Nita Rao
"Brilliant observations, excellent characters, spiffy dialogue and a clever plot keep readers hooked, and the final twist turns Patsy's new life on its ear. Huneven's exploration of misdeeds real and imagined is humane, insightful and beautiful." (Publishers Weekly)
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Amazing character study!
- Pamela Harvey