108 of 113 people found the following review helpful
Brief summary and review, no spoilers:
Patsy MacLemoore is a professor of history at a small college near Pasadena. She is also an alcoholic, who has suffered several blackouts. One morning she wakes up in jail with a bad hangover and having no idea what happened to get her there. She thinks it's probably something minor since she's woke up in jail like this before. But this time it's much more serious - 2 people, a young mother and her daughter were run over and killed.
This book is divided into sections by year. We start off in 1980 just one year before this accident, and this novel moves us forward over two decades. During this time we follow Patsy as her life takes this sudden plunge, and as she tries to make amends for what she did.
There were many things to love about this novel. I thought the dialogue and characterization were spot on, and I was completely pulled into the story. The locale is mainly Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, and I am very familiar with both places and thought their descriptions were accurate and I could just picture them all.
There was also an epic feel to it as we travel the years with Patsy. We age along with her and we share in her traumas. When I turned the last page of this story I felt like I had been through an experience - I needed to think about this book before I could pick up anything else.
I think this book would appeal to a lot of people. We relive the AIDS crisis and we learn about the criminal justice system, AA, and what it's like to be in prison. We see (and experience) how life can turn on a dime, and how our lives can take strange trajectories away from our best laid plans. This book is about forgiving and atonement, in the truest sense of both those words.
And for those who like this sort of thing (and I do), there is a twist of sorts, towards the end.
I highly recommend this book. It was an absolute page-turner for me, and I can easily see this novel being made into a movie. I also recommend it for book clubs as there is a lot to think about and discuss.
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on October 21, 2009
This is the first novel I have read from Huneven and I loved it. Her beautiful and poetic description of both places and feelings made me long for her talent. I loved the way she portrayed the passage of time. Yes, the book is broken down into sections marked by dates but instead of this feeling like some big announcement of the next part of the story, it did not interfere at all. Time going by felt the same as it would in life. Early on in the story we meet the main character Patsy as a young woman with a serious problem. If this was to be the last time she appeared, I doubt she would have been liked by many readers even though her addictions were apparent. The Patsy we get to know over the course of the book is one of the finest characters I have ever read. We learn how decent a person she really is and just how insidious a monster her addiction was.
There is a twist at the end and like many readers, I had it figured out beforehand. There is a scene that takes place at the end in a Shell station bathroom that was the perfect metaphor for what it really means to be imprisioned and how we choose to handle the way our lives turn out. Patsy learns this over and over again throughout the story. It seems imprisonment ends up meaning far more than time served in jail. The final scene also caught my eye because of the 3 people present. It was as if Patsy had come full circle in a sense.
This one is definitely worth the time.
51 of 58 people found the following review helpful
It's another morning in the county drunk tank for Patsy, who is sadly inured to this ritual. She wakes up in her vomit and her filth, with no recall of last night--she experiences frequent blackouts when she drinks. A young, talented, comely, and statuesque college professor, Patsy is nevertheless on a grease skid to oblivion due to untreated alcoholism. This time she is accused of running down and killing a mother and daughter in her driveway, and her life subsequently takes a turn to prison.
The first part of Patsy's story reflects the jacket blurb and marketing for Blame--bracing, taut, suspenseful. The book description even contains an unnecessary, thoughtless spoiler, which doesn't affect my rating of the author's work but does illustrate that the publishers are intent to mislead readers into thinking that it is one kind of book when it is entirely another. The author is a superbly talented writer, i.e. her use of language, the written word, is obviously what earned a sterling endorsement from Richard Russo. Her metaphors and turns of phrase are verdant, fragrant, lyrical. Her characters are sympathetic and genuine. There were no false notes there. Her erudition is in the contemplative, the characterizations.
I adjusted to the temperament of the story, which often meanders and slows down to a staid portraiture of a collection of people. The narration actually reads like a 19th century novel at times, even though 20th century issues were involved. Now, that was unexpected. The author seemed to forgo what she started out to do and then changed course. The fuel-injected thriller morphed into a balmy sea. I went with it, but I want to warn readers--if you are looking for a tight, twisting, adrenaline-pumping thriller, look elsewhere. This is a cerebral look at rehabilitation and redemption. AA plays a vital role in this story, and the author does a stellar job of capturing the impact and life-altering possibilities of its sobering influences on existence.
Blame opens in 1981 and spans twenty years. The weakest area of this story is its architecture and structure. Some characters are introduced as poignant, but elusive. And then they recede or disappear awkwardly (which is too bad, since she creates compelling characters). Direction is lacking, uneven; it is as if the author had several books or story ideas and then labored strenuously to fuse them together. It came off as choppy and indistinct. She kept my interest up because of her beautiful passages; the warm and dusky tone; and the characters of Patsy and her gay friend, Gilles, whose brio is scene-stealing.
The concocted denouement was prosaic, tipping toward bathetic. As if the author decided to get back to writing a thriller again. I sighed. And the anticlimax was dour. Events felt cobbled together, the story was circumvented--and yet I read every word. And I would read her next book, too. She is a classy wordsmith, a sensuous writer, a fathomless thinker. Another draft or two would have helped this story to coalesce.
20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on January 9, 2010
I had high hopes for this book and bought it because it was chosen as a top ten in a list I read about. I thouroughly enjoyed the beginning and found myself engaged. It is strongly written for about the first two-thirds. However, towards the end, when the "twist" was revealed, I felt jipped and unsatisfied. The author sold out and made a good book bad. Blame should be a great book about redemption and forgiveness. However, Patsy is not likeable and I found her gay friend, Gilles, completely unbelievable in his actions and words. Her husband, Cal, bored me as did his family. The more I write about it, I realize I did not like this book and would not recommend it. The ridiculous end just made me feel like I had wasted my time and disengaged me from all the characters because I no longer respected the plot. Don't buy this one. Don't even get it from your local library.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Huneven has written an extraordinary novel, a paean to guilt and repentance that begins on one harrowing night when a drunken Patsy Mc Lemore wakes up from a blackout to find herself incarcerated for killing a mother and daughter, Jehovah's Witnesses, crossing her driveway as she pulled in. A victim of blackout drinking binges, the ever-ebullient Patsy can remember nothing and considers herself fortunate to receive only four years on an amended charge. In possibly the most disturbing part of the book, this tenured professor at a local college has fallen into the deep, cold well of the California penal system (she makes the distinction: prison is not jail, and the reader will soon understand the permutations of these differences). In prose that is consistent and fluid, Patsy endures, wracked by the guilt of what she has done, her life trajectory forever altered in very specific ways.
If redemption is possible, at least in some small measure, Patsy does her best to address the angry fates, getting sober while incarcerated, rebuilding a bizarrely shattered life outside the cement walls of prison. Patsy's time post-prison is spent on the altar of amends, the deed haunting her days and expectations. Yet the author has created such a compelling character that is impossible not to want Patsy to triumph over her flawed past. Deeper than a sobriety memoir, Huneven scales the interior walls of Patsy's secret self, her dreams, motivations and urgency to make peace with the world. The result is a revelatory, deeply moving novel that will stay in your mind long after it is finished, a brilliant character study of the human capacity for endurance, self-forgiveness and humility. Luan Gaines/2010.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
I thoroughly enjoyed Michelle Huneven's novel "Blame"; I've never read anything quite like it. I never knew what was going to happen next, which was a delight. I also appreciated the thoughtful description and analysis of a marital crush; so common and yet not often so well portrayed. Great novel...BUT:
But what's the heck's wrong with quotation marks? They are such nifty little punctuation devices to let the reader know who is talking and to differentiate between what's being SAID and what's being THOUGHT! I really really hope this trend of eschewing quotation marks is just some editing fad. GET OVER IT AND:
BRING BACK QUOTATION MARKS!
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on August 17, 2010
I was drawn to read this book by the description, but ended up being disappointed overall. The plot was great and definitely had potential, but I felt like the story was over just before the halfway point. After that, the author's description of the protagonist's new life was trite and boring. She could've ended it at page 120, but continued to drag the story on and on.
I truly did like where she was trying to go with it, but frustrated that she fell awfully short. I was also led to believe that the book's centralized theme was, in fact, blame. But what I really got out of it was "trying to forgive yourself even after everyone else has forgiven you." Yawn.
What really killed the book for me were the continuous run-on sentences that turned into paragraphs and the complete lack of quotation marks in dialogue. I could never tell who was talking and when and often had to go back and reread entire passages before they made sense.
Not reccommended unless you're into that sort of thing.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
I enjoyed reading Blame by Michelle Huneven. For the most part, it's well written and the characters are memorable. It's a book about alcoholism, life-altering events, women's prison, AA, AIDS, friends, marriage, wealthy families and decorating your home well via garage sales. Looking back, it's like a glimpse into someone else's life - believable and real.
There are, however, several issues that I have with the writing that I feel need mentioning.
Chapter 1 starts off by giving the wrong impression about who is the main character in the story. The author clearly was establishing the back-story, but it seems strange to do so with a character that plays a very minimal part for the rest of the book. I found it to be quite disorienting.
I also have a problem with the following description on the back:
...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. What does it mean that her life has been based on wrong assumptions? What can she cleave to? What must be relinquished?
Firstly, I feel that too much is given away with these statements. I would have rather not known that the surprise was coming. Because I did know, it felt less electrifying, joyous, etc.
Secondly, the above statement gave me the impression that most of the book is about the main character and her adjustments to this electrifying moment. It's not. In fact, the electrifying moment comes at the end and then the book seems to peter out without too much depth. The book may have been more moving if the event came at nearer to the middle. I really wanted to learn more about the main character and her reapportioning and reassessing.
Ultimately, I have fond memories of the characters and of reading the book.
Recommended with reservations.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on July 28, 2012
From the reviews I read this was to be a soul searching read on how the main character dealt with guilt after killing two people in a blackout. She spent two years in jail, was released to the open arms of her family, and was taken are of by her new husband an AA guru. She wanted for nothing. Her therapist was mentioned in only a few places, never showing any indication of real psychological work done. Then, the most ridiculous turn of events negates the whole book. I could not find one speck of insight that this character gained other than settling for a life that did not sound all that bad. People in recovery have real hard work to do to make amends. They have real struggles with self forgiveness, this book shows no depth of understanding into what really goes into recovery from addiction.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on October 20, 2011
So my review of this novel is kind of like reviewing an old friend because I've been reading this book over the course of the last couple months for my Novel Writing class. Reading something over a couple months span I've realized has its pros. I feel like I have a really firm grasp on this novel and the characters because I've spent so much time with it. For my class, I had to break down the novel and really spend an adequate amount of time with the chapters analyzing plot, character, pacing etc. Normally I don't spend that much time with a novel so I feel like this might just be one of the most well informed reviews I'll ever have up here.
The Good: Michelle Huneven really knows how to develop memorable characters. Joey, Brice, Patsy and Gilles are brilliant characters. Huneven takes her time developing them and by the end of the novel, Patsy pretty much jumps off the pages. I love the concept of Blame because it's based on a situation that could (and probably has) happened. A woman gets black out drunk and runs over two people killing them. It's not an overly abnormal situation, it's happened and it's not too hard to imagine a situation like that happening to someone today. Huneven takes this reality and really delves into the consequences with Patsy. We get a real sense of what prison is like for someone like Patsy and we learn how someone might handle their guilt and transition into society after their prison term has ended. We learn that Patsy settles for things in life that she normally wouldn't have just because she feels it's all she deserves. It's a way to punish herself, to remind herself of the crime she committed. I love the slight but powerful nod to the gay community and the start of the HIV virus that Huneven slides into the story. She also throws an enormous wrench in the plot towards the end that is crazy awesome and makes the story that much more deep and meaningful. I also thought Huneven did well adding comic relief to the parts that were a little depressing. It's not a book I felt utterly sad about when I was done. I felt a sense of accomplishment when it was over. I also thought the ending was very well done. It wraps up the loose ends but not in the "everything-ends-so-perfectly" way.
The Bad: Nothing really negative to say about the novel except that I HATE IT when authors don't put dialogue in quotations. I don't know why it irritates me as much as it does, but really.... That's why the quotations were made. What is the reasoning behind not using them? It bugs the crap out of me. But that really is just a nit-picky detail. I really don't have anything else negative to say about it.
Overall, I really thought this was a great book. It was well written, the plot and characters were fully and wonderfully developed and it was really a polished piece of literature. I give it an A!