My Year in Books: Blame

by Patrick on December 17, 2009

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t read this book, stop reading this post and go read it.  Do not read the flap of the book, just start at the beginning and go.  Seriously.  Then you can come back here and tell me what you thought.  Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s proceed.

Michelle Huneven’s Blame is an excellent novel that takes place largely in the Pasadena/Altadena/La Canada-Flintridge area.  The story of Patsy McLamore is one of pain and redemption.  After killing a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses in a blacked out drunk driving accident, Patsy lands in state prison.  A white collar academic, she’s not prepared for the realities of prison life upon arrival, but soon finds herself adapting and surviving.  In prison, she gets sober, gets transferred to a work camp, and fights wildfires in the Malibu hills.  Upon release, Patsy finds comfort in the local AA scene (and it is a scene), where she meets the elder statesman of  San Gabriel Valley alcoholics, Cal.  Eventually, they fall in love and marry.

And then, years later, her sobriety more or less a given, her life back together and thriving, Patsy discovers that she may not have killed anybody after all.  There was another person in the car with her that night, a person she could never have known about.  How does this change things for Patsy?  Does it change things?  These are the central questions of the book, and I have considered them long after finishing the novel.

I have only one complain about the book.  It isn’t with Huneven, either, but with her publishing company.  When I was reading the book, I was enthralled with the early sections of the book, with Patsy’s prison time and her early years of sobriety, but then I felt the book went into a bit of a lull.  It was less focused on Patsy’s recovery and its relationship to the accident and more to do with her marriage and its inevitable ups and downs.  This is fine; novels can change midstream and still succeed.  But then the revelation of Patsy’s innocence happens, and the entire novel takes on a whole new dimension.  That “lull” seems incredibly necessary.  In short, the ending makes the novel.  But FSG went and revealed that a big twist ending was coming up (That’s why I suggested that people skip the flap copy and just read the book).  Why would they do that?  Did they worry that a novel about an alcoholic who goes to prison and gets sober wouldn’t be enough for some people?   I never read the flap of a book before reading it, but I realize that I’m in the minority.  The question remains, though:  how much is too much to give away in jacket copy?