Blame

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Overview

Michelle Huneven, Richard Russo once wrote, is “a writer of extraordinary and thrilling talent.” That talent explodes with her third book, Blame, a spellbinding novel of guilt and love, family and shame, sobriety and the lack of it, and the moral ambiguities that ensnare us all.

The story: Patsy MacLemoore, a history professor in her late twenties with a brand-new Ph.D. from Berkeley and a wild streak, wakes up in jail—yet again—after another epic alcoholic blackout. “Okay, ...

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Blame

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Overview

Michelle Huneven, Richard Russo once wrote, is “a writer of extraordinary and thrilling talent.” That talent explodes with her third book, Blame, a spellbinding novel of guilt and love, family and shame, sobriety and the lack of it, and the moral ambiguities that ensnare us all.

The story: Patsy MacLemoore, a history professor in her late twenties with a brand-new Ph.D. from Berkeley and a wild streak, wakes up in jail—yet again—after another epic alcoholic blackout. “Okay, what’d I do?” she asks her lawyer and jailers. “I really don’t remember.” She adds, jokingly: “Did I kill someone?”

In fact, two Jehovah’s Witnesses, a mother and daughter, are dead, run over in Patsy’s driveway. Patsy, who was driving with a revoked license, will spend the rest of her life—in prison, getting sober, finding a new community (and a husband) in AA—trying to atone for this unpardonable act.

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. What does it mean that her life has been based on wrong assumptions? What can she cleave to? What must be relinquished?

When Huneven’s first novel, Round Rock, was published, Valerie Miner, in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, celebrated Huneven’s “moral nerve, sharp wit and uncommon generosity.” The same spirit electrifies Blame. The novel crackles with life—and, like life, can leave you breathless.

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Editorial Reviews

Maria Russo
Huneven makes Patsy's story unfold like a thriller, creating a sense of urgency and mystery even about everyday matters…Huneven's prose moves like a hummingbird, in small bursts that are improbably fast and graceful.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

In this gripping tale, Huneven charts the parameters of guilt and how a young, wisecracking intellectual becomes a shadow of her former self. Patsy MacLemoore, a boozy history professor, is helping her boyfriend, Brice, take care of his niece, Joey, whose mother is undergoing cancer treatment. But when Patsy goes on a bender and emerges from a drunken blackout in jail, she learns she's accused of having run down a mother and daughter in her driveway. After her conviction, Patsy transforms from free spirit into a convict, and Huneven deftly underscores the bizarre trajectory Patsy's life has taken. In a prison AA group, Patsy seeks redemption and meaning; she also develops a relationship with the man whose wife and daughter she killed and helps put his son through school, stays the course after her release and maintains a friendship with Brice and Joey. 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. (Sept.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Library Journal
In 1981, Patsy MacLemoore is a smart, functioning alcoholic. A professor at Hallen College in Altadena, CA, she is known for loud and lascivious behavior at faculty parties and for missing the occasional class after a night of drinking and taking pills. When Patsy, who has a suspended license, is arrested and jailed for hitting and killing a mother and daughter—both Jehovah's Witnesses—in her driveway, she doesn't remember the accident. After two years in prison, Patsy quits drinking, eventually returning to her old job but not her old ways. Patsy's sober life is carefully unfurled—new connections forged, old relationships changed, a constant background of remorse and shame—but the book's promotional copy somewhat spoils this talented author's (Jamesland) carefully nuanced, sharply focused narrative by trumpeting a plot twist that isn't even hinted at before page 220. VERDICT Recommended to readers who enjoy literary novels like Sue Miller's Lost in the Forest and Laura Moriarty's The Rest of Her Life that examine how a tragic accident irrevocably changes life's course. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/09.]—Laurie A. Cavanaugh, Brockton P.L., MA
Kirkus Reviews
Huneven (Jamesland, 2003, etc.) tracks a 20-year-old burden of guilt with supple technique. Alcoholism and integrity drive her novel, which is narrated with flashes of irony, appealing warmth and dry judgment. Patsy MacLemoore plays only a bit part in the opening scene, during which 12-year-old Joey, whose mother is dying in the hospital, spends a bizarre night in the care of her attractive, wastrel Uncle Brice and his girlfriend Patsy, an alcoholic history professor who gets drunk, gives Joey pills and beer and pierces her ears unevenly. The story proper begins a year later, in May 1981, and Patsy takes center-stage. During her latest blackout, she drives into and kills two Jehovah's Witnesses, mother and daughter. Prison follows, two harsh years from which Patsy emerges stripped to the emotional bone. She rebuilds her life assisted by Brice, his boyfriend Gilles (Patsy's not too surprised by that revelation) and the forgiveness of the husband and father of her victims. Seeking "a way to be good," she finds it caring for AIDS patients, starting with Gilles. She takes sanctuary in marriage to Cal, an older, richer man with a long history of helping the troubled. Patsy's resolution to be a better person means that she chooses not to act on her powerful attraction to a fellow academic. Twenty years after the killings, a stunning revelation forces her to recast her identity and her relationships. Grace, insight and seemingly effortless narration distract from the odd pacing and sometimes meandering progress of this empathetic tale.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374114305
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 9/1/2009
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.48 (w) x 9.32 (h) x 0.98 (d)

Meet the Author

Michelle Huneven is the author of two previous novels, Round Rock and Jamesland. She has received a General Electric Foundation Award for Younger Writers and a Whiting Writers’ Award for fiction. She lives in Altadena, California.

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Reading Group Guide

Questions for Discussion
1. How were you affected by the shift from Joey's world to Patsy's? What does the closing line of part one (capturing Joey's belief that her mother had not died but was alive and well at the Bellwood Hotel) say about the nature of hope, illusion, and grief? 2. How did your impressions of Patsy change throughout Blame? What cultural shifts does she experience over the novel's two decades? 3. Were you surprised that Patsy was a high achiever in academia? What makes history an appropriately ironic field for her? 4. When you first read about Patsy's sentencing, did you think it was just? Did prison seem like an appropriate consequence? Given today's drunk driving laws and treatment options, does her sentence seem light or extreme? 5. Behind bars, what version of a family does Patsy find? How do her tenuous friendships there compare to her relationships with her mother, father, and brother? 6. Why is it noteworthy that Jane and Jessica Parnham were Jehovah's Witnesses? How does Mark seem to feel about their faith? 7. What is Mark Parnham's motivation in visiting Patsy? How are they affected by each other? 8. How do Patsy's days with the firefighting crew serve as a metaphor for her life? What does Martin's crayon drawing of a stick figure dousing burning trees (described near the end of part two) indicate about his understanding of Patsy? 9. What is ideal about the support provided by Brice and Gilles? How do Gilles and Patsy bond, and why do they become such good friends? What is the role of Alcoholics Anonymous in Patsy's life? 10. Discuss the other approaches to sobriety Patsy experiences, including deprivation in prison; accountability to her parole officer, Jeffrey Goldstone; and sessions with Mrs. Silver. Why does she succeed in staying sober? 11. How is Patsy influenced by her ESL students? What common ground does she share with them? 12. How does Patsy's marriage to Cal compare to her earlier relationship with Ian? What does she want in a relationship? How does her understanding of love change throughout the novel? 13. At the end of chapter 26, Cal tells Patsy that no matter what the truth is about the Parnham deaths, "what happened got you to where you needed to be." Ultimately, what did it take for her to get sober? 14. Much of Patsy's adult life has been spent in atoning for the deaths of Jane and Jessica Parnham. What were the various aspects of her atonement? Were any aspects regrettable or unnecessary? 15. How did the revelations about Bill Hogue transform your understanding of the novel? What does his crime indicate about the way society handles retribution and other morality-based "debts"? 16. Discuss the novel's title. Why was Patsy so willing to accept the blame for the accident? How much blame is she willing to relinquish? Where should the blame for the Parnham deaths lie? 17. How does Blame amplify the themes explored in Michelle Huneven's previous novels? What are the hallmarks of her storytelling style?
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 59 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(17)

4 Star

(19)

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(13)

2 Star

(6)

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(4)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 59 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 31, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Disappointing and Predictable

    What a boring snooze, after the first two parts. It was so predictable and all the characters were so one note. They are all beautiful and have endless supplies of money and privilege. Why couldn't Patsy have been relegated to a life of linoleum and public transportation? Why didn't anything really happen? I'm supposed to feel bad for her because she resists an affair when she's married? And then we see that the man, her soulmate! has continued to carry a torch for her, after all these years. All the years she "suffered" with her older, wealthy (amazing good looking and virile) husband, expensive horses, organic garden and huge ranch dubbed the "Ponderosa". But inside she's felt blamed. Horrors! She was a drunk who thought she ran down and killed two people! She couldn't even remember! And aside from a few chapters about a short stint in prison (she gets blisters!), she suffers and struggles -- not at all. Upon her release there's a picturesque apartment, a colorful assortment of educated, wealthy friends, very cheap therapy and a seemingly well-paying job waiting for her. Oh, and I can't forget her thick, long, blonde hair which seems to stay with her even as she hits 50. She does lop it off in a soapy, sappy scene seemingly staged for a screenplay -- Charlize Theron maybe? I'm sure the hack job managed to look elegant, somehow. Couldn't she have any tribulations? A mole? A nasty prison scar? It's set in the 80s, so there are even the over-the-top gay characters, one of whom dies graciously of AIDS. I was stoked to read this book. It got so many good reviews. There were little bits that were brilliant, like a letter an old friend writes to Patsy when she's making her amends. These little sparks kept me going until the end, but it was really an intellectual's fairy tale. Ooh, look at the PhD with the DUI -- she didn't get to reproduce. Waaa, waaa. She'll have to settle for her land (enough to accommodate 2 horses and a barn) in Southern California and a successful career. The children were written by someone who does not have or know any. They were either amazingly wise and beautiful. (The clue is their "curls") or spoiled brats throwing tantrums that are indulged by the caricatured parents of today. This was trying to be Ian McEwan and falling way short. Read him instead. Atonement and On Chesil Beach are honestly touching and romantic and heartbreaking. Wow. I didn't realize how MUCH I didn't like this book until I decided to write this review.

    8 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 30, 2010

    Quiet & fascinating novel

    This book is not a murder mystery or fast-paced. It is the story of a woman who kills two Jehovah Witnesses because she is driving drunk. The book is about her life since that occurred and how she deals with guilt and the choices she makes. This is a totally character-driven story so if you don't like the characters, specifically Patsy, the main character, then you will not like the book or care about her choices. Critics keep mentioning the "twist" in the novel and they should stop because that pretty much gives it away. Plus, it's not all that dramatic. I suspected it almost from the beginning. The choices she made after the "twist" she may have made anyway. This is a very low-key novel, very well-written, interesting. The author made an unusual choice in not using quotation marks for dialogue. I often found that somewhat annoying and confusing because I wasn't sure if someone had said something aloud or if it was a mental comment. However, it did work with book to underscore its muted tone. Patsy is a woman who gave up some of her vivacity and personality when she gave up alcohol. Or is it because she is dealing with her guilt that she feels the need to be tamped down? Good discussion book.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2012

    I am surprised by the people who thought this book was boring, b

    I am surprised by the people who thought this book was boring, but would suggest that one gets out of a book what one brings to the experience. I thought the book was well written, but also echo the sentiments of the reviewer who was annoyed by the lack of punctuation to indicate dialogue.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 14, 2010

    A good read

    I thought this was a great story. Patsy shows us how to live life on life's terms ~ something some folks (like me!) need to be reminded of every day.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2010

    Just Okay

    I enjoy reading memoirs, and thought this would be a good life story although fiction. Overall a good read, but I felt that with this type of story line the remorse was never really explored and the important factor in this woman's life after prison - recovery in AA wasn't quite developed either.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 14, 2012

    Story was more of an "overview" than an in-depth chara

    Story was more of an "overview" than an in-depth character-driven story. Not much detail placed on Patsy's rise and fall and rise again. More character development and detail would have aided this story. I felt absolutely nothing during Patsy's trying times whereas if more depth were added, I could have felt like I was "inside" the story instead of floating on top of it. Wished this would have gone deeper.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 26, 2012

    I was definitely bored by this book. It was slow and and unevent

    I was definitely bored by this book. It was slow and and uneventful. I found the main character unlikable and a disappointent.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 2, 2010

    Blackouts and Guilt

    When Patsy has an accident that kills two Jehovah Witnesses who are solicting her home she does not remember a thing. Even though she is a professor at a nearby college, for years she has spent her free time bingeing on alcohol and pills. How the rest of her life is navigated by her tremendous guilt and the choices she makes because of it is the jist of this novel. There is a twist at the end, but what I loved most about this book was the characters and how each of their lives were impacted by this event. I have recommended this book to so many people and I think it is a wonderful book for book clubs. Interesting how the choices we make reverberate through our whole lives.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2014

    Kiley

    But..i jut wanna be friends

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2014

    Logan

    well u proved u cant when u mention thekid and oliver. Secrets are meant ti b secrets kiley but u obviously cant keep them so sorry but we arent friends. Now bye

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 1, 2014

    Ambeer to josh

    Ok then whatever

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 1, 2014

    Link

    Walks in then walks out.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 1, 2014

    To carriw

    Yiur not dating him ay?

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 1, 2014

    Josh

    -rolls over and slaps amber- I LOVE CARRIE -LEAVES-

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2014

    very well written

    I loved this book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2013

    Tyrellshadow

    Hiya Thunderheart...

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2013

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 14, 2013

    Windstar

    Waits

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 31, 2013

    intelligent look into addiction and denial

    This novel spoke in terms and phrases of someone who understands the disease of drug and alcohol abuse. The characters are well developed, complicated and real. It is a story of healing.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2012

    Recommend for book club

    This book was an easy read. It would be a good book for book club discussion groups. It has several different topics written about in the story line and it is to begin cheerleading for several of the characters in the book. Enjoyable.

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