Wednesday, September 2, 2009

I Love, Love, Love "Blame", the New Michelle Huneven Novel, but I'm Afraid to Look at the Jacket

I've been so excited and so nervous about reading Michelle Huneven's Blame. I've had just about everyone who knows me well read her previous novel Jamesland. In fact, I secret divide the world into two categories--those who've read Jamesland and loved it, and those who either didn't love it or...didn't read it.

Of course, one category only has a teeny tiny number of people in it, and the other category has a toilet paper shortage. (Editor's note: this comment has absolutely no meaning whatsoever. I'm not sure where it came from. I would joke that I must have been on a drunken bender when I wrote this, which is something that Patsy could have said.)

So Blame arrives. I don't read it right away, thought I can't say what I'm waiting for. I miss the Indie Next deadline (sorry Spenser, but I don't think my vote would have made the difference, do you?)

I decide to read it blind (I trust Huneven that much), but fifty pages into it, I glance at the back jacket and...a secret is very obviously revealed. I'm not happy. My reading experience is destroyed.

Or is it? It turns out I'm as happy as ever. The characters are as glorious as ever and her writing style is a dream. Only now do I realize how well she can write about addiction and recovery (I didn't even think of this as a theme in Jamesland, but it's clearer after reading both books that Huneven understands this and can speak to folks going through it.

I'm still tense, even though I know what's going on. How's it going to happen? What's Patsy going to do?

Maybe, in retrospect, it didn't matter. And really, I don't even know if they gave as much away on the finish copy. If they did, I'm thinking of wrapping the books in home-made dust jackets. I have a lot of grocery bags in the back room, after all. Now there's a cover treatment publishers haven't considered to save money!

I think I would have preferred the publisher marketing strategy of Chris Cleave's Little Bee or Katrina Kittle's The Kindess of Strangers. But in the end, maybe it doesn't even matter. Or maybe it's better to know. If I could gather together a few hundred readers who were willing to shell out twenty something dollars, I could get some nice data. Please sign up at our front desk.

That said, here are my thoughts:

"Know that Huneven’s third novel is about a woman with terrible alcohol abuse problems who hits bottom, and winds up in prison for hitting two women with her car. The story starts from someone else’s perspective (her boyfriend’s niece), and totally flips it out (a popular gimmick at the moment, but I’m still enjoying the “prelude changeup” as I call it. Then it’s all Patsy MacLemoore, and we go down (way down) and back up with one of the most real and glorious characters I’ve read in a long time. But how can I feel otherwise from the author of Jamesland? Like that wonderful novel, she brings such warmth to the story and its inhabitants. They are quirky and real and fully alive, and even the most unpleasant (and there are a few) have sparks of sympathy. I’m jealous of Vroman’s, for having such a wonderful story set in their backyard of Pasadena and Altadena. Now that I’ve read a few of her books, it’s clear that Huneven writes about addiction and recovery like few others. Above all, Blame is suffused with humor and grace, making this the kind of book I didn’t want to let go."


Later in the day. The book arrived. What happened to the dust jacket. The publisher was a little more circumspect about exactly what happened, but does announce a twist.

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