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Blue Calhoun

Blue Calhoun

3.5 2
by Reynolds Price

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"A powerful novel that magically combines symbolism, lyrical poetry and astonishing insight into the human soul."
Bluford "Blue" Calhoun has been a drunk and unhappy. But he's survived it all with the help of his wife and teenaged daughter. And just when he thought his future was written in stone, Luna, the beautiful sixteen-year-old daugher


"A powerful novel that magically combines symbolism, lyrical poetry and astonishing insight into the human soul."
Bluford "Blue" Calhoun has been a drunk and unhappy. But he's survived it all with the help of his wife and teenaged daughter. And just when he thought his future was written in stone, Luna, the beautiful sixteen-year-old daugher of an old high school friend, walks into his life. Their attraction is instant, and their passion undeniable. But as Blue and Luna find a miraculous love, they fall in danger of hurting the people they care about—and destroying the one extraordinary thing that matters most....

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Having survived several drunken years that nearly wrecked his marriage, Bluford Calhoun has finally settled peacefully into early middle age. He's sober now, and he's got a respectable job as a salesman at the Atkinson Music Company in 1950s Raleigh, North Carolina. Then an old classmate from the wrong side of the tracks walks into the store with her luminous, dark-haired daughter in tow, and Blue's life is changed forever. The enduring passion that young Luna Absher ignites in Blue forces him into moral quandary; ever the Southern gentleman, deeply rooted in the precepts of his time and place, he has to work hard to convince himself--and his elegant mother, Miss Ashlyn--that his wife and daughter have the strength to withstand his defection. Ultimately, Blue's defection is different from what one would expect, and though brief, its implications extend all the way to the granddaughter Blue must eventually wrest from her widowed father. Price is in top form here, forcing us to wrestle with Blue even as he wrestles with himself, portraying his anguish in painfully clear, clean prose that captures perfectly the rhythms of the South and of the human heart. Highly recommended. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/92; an interview with Price appears on p. 123.--Barbara Hoffert, ``Library Journal''
From the Publisher
Chicago Sun Times A powerful novel that magically combines symbolism, lyrical poetry and astonishing insight into the human soul.

Pat Conroy His masterpiece...a spectacular wonderful novel.

The Atlanta Constitution This fine novel...carries along those of us who like richly spoken, well-textured, old-fashioned fiction about people and places, fiction that takes us right to the heart of the mystery.

The Village Voice Blue Calhoun is one of Reynolds Price's finest achievements. Price's novel might best be understood as Southern Gothic transfigured into joy and thanksgiving. It's a remarkable book.

Product Details

Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.42(w) x 9.53(h) x 1.31(d)

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Chapter 1

This starts with the happiest I ever was, though it brought down suffering on everybody near me. Short as it lasted and long ago, I've never laid it all out yet, not start to finish. But if I try and half succeed, you may wind up understanding things, choosing a better road for yourself and maybe not blaming the dead past but living for the here and now, each day a clean page. At least you'll see how certain things in my long life have gone down fast as one of those Japanese domino shows where two million pieces trip each other in hot succession and set off the unexpected jackpot -- an exploding mountain or a rocket blast that hurls men farther than they've yet gone, to Neptune or worse.

The time I'll tell about ran its course when I was thirty five, then thirty six. Till then I'd lived a fairly normal life, if normal includes some badly drunk years -- and I think it does in America still. So honest to God, I doubt you need to know much about me before the latter half of that day when everything started streaking downhill. Of course I'll add the odd event that feels worth knowing or tells a good story. Stories are something I'm better at than life; and that one year was built like a story, whoever built it. It had a low start that stoked up fast to such a heat that hinges on doors were melting away; and pent up people were tearing loose and running for what looked like daylight till, at some weird invisible signal, everything started cooling again.

And everybody slowed to average speed and drew deep breaths to treat their burns and wonder if they could stand the sight of each other's faces from then till death or just for that day. Somesaid Yes; a few said No; and everybody thought I'd caused the wreck, which may have been true. Even my mother, a certified saint, called me out to the country house and said "Now, son, you've ruined two lives -- your own blood child and the girl you claimed to love so strongly. How do you plan on living the rest of the time you've got with that on your mind, that blood on your hands?"

Blood was a figure of speech at the time, and she well knew it. I'd almost certainly killed four Germans in the Second War but nothing since. So I said what I believed was true, "Look, Mother. Nobody's dead." I was technically right.

But her deep blue eyes never flinched, and she said "Far worse than dead -- far worse."

Then I saw that the thing I dreaded had happened. I'd badly harmed three worthwhile souls that trusted me; and I knew no way on Earth to mend them -- not till your and my past months together, thirty years on. Know this first though (it's some of the worst you'll know about me) -- I drove myself back home from Mother's that late spring night in a tardy frost with my face grinning each mile of the way. I could see it in the mirror, dark as it was. My body was still that pleased with the memory; it still is today. Maybe my mind and heart just figured I'd taken enough from God or fate, my family and the U.S. Infantry -- not to mention the Nazis -- to earn me some substantial relief and nourishment. Whatever, I flat-out gorged myself for twelve full months. So here much further on in time, I'm hoping to make my slim amends by telling this history that's all but true.

I'm Blue Calhoun as you well know; and wild as I've been, I still like the sound. The full name's Bluford and the middle name's August, but there can't be more than ten people left who know that much about me still -- to the world I'm Blue and have always been. Except for the war and the times I was wild -- and our hard time overseas just now -- I've mostly stayed near my birthplace: a capital city, Raleigh, N.C. When I was a child, Raleigh called itself "The City of Oaks." But don't try to find an oak these days in the criminal mess that money and the chloroformed City Council have made from innocent fertile dirt and what grew in it.

I'm drifting already but here's the start. As I said, I'd climbed the sizable hill of my thirty fifth birthday -- a rough time for men, the downhill side. I think I was sane; people from all walks of life assured me I was not bad to see. I'd been stone sober for nineteen months -- the longest ever up to that point -- and as it turned out, I've stayed sober the rest of my life to this night now. I worked the best job I'd had in years; and to my knowledge, no part of my life was starved or frozen. I didn't stare off at sunsets and grieve. I thought I cherished my only spouse, born Myra Burns, a friend since childhood and your grandmother that you'd have prized.

We'd been married for fifteen years, and Myra had tried her absolute best. As you well know we had a daughter that I near worshiped named Madelyn (called Mattie or Matt from the day of her birth, according to how we felt at the moment). Matt was the finest influence on me of anybody yet. I owed her the world and was aiming to give it, minute by minute from here on out -- upright kindness and every decent thought and act I could see she needed. But then that one day fell down on me from a clear spring sky, no word of warning. It tore the ground from under my feet, and everything round me shook the way a mad dog shakes a howling child.

April 28th, 1956 was an early scorcher; and I met my fate when a girl turned up in the midst of my job. The place I worked was on Fayetteville Street near the Capitol building -- Atkinson Music Company, a long narrow store with high old ceilings, gentle light and air that smelled antique and soothing. Up front was the sheet music department, then the phonograph records and concert tickets. From there on back it was musical hardware of every description. First the small things -- fiddles, accordions, ukuleles, flutes. Then you worked your way through banjos and mandolins, the big band instruments, tall gold harps and sets of drums you prayed your neighbors would never buy. Then you finished up with Steinway grands, Hammond organs and one enormous church size console with pipes enough to sweep back the roof and blow you skyward if a person that knew how to play it lit in.

I truly liked the actual job. For a man with no enormous mind and what he thought were normal ambitions, it offered a peaceful eight hour day, a respectable paycheck every two weeks and music around him, dawn to dusk -- real music made by live human beings, not piped-in syrup. As for making music I myself never got that far past whistling, despite my mother's early dream that I wind up as what she called "a poet of the keyboard." I took piano from the fourth grade on into early high school when baseball got me, but I seldom practiced and learned next to nothing except what music really is -- far and away man's best creation -- and how it can help when nothing else will.

When I flunked out of college at nineteen, and hadn't begun to lean on liquor, I and my thumb made numerous tours of the U.S. east of the Mississippi. In those free years I'd often end up wet or cold in the night with nobody near but a small harmonica that my dad gave me when I first pushed off. However gruesome or lonesome I got, there were very few times when even a talentless boy like me couldn't improvise a song or hymn and wind up glad to be on Earth plus ready to sleep. But I quit that too when I came back and grounded myself.

To this day now I regret that laziness. Even more often after I got married, I'd sink very near the floor of this world -- the black sub basement -- and every one of those desperate times, I'd hear some mangled piece of my mind start begging for music -- any music on Earth from nursery rhymes to opera on the radio that all but etches the window glass. If only I'd learned some lapsize instrument like the guitar, I might well have spent less time in Hell than I've since done.

Speaking of Hell, on the day in question, the whole world still wasn't air condit

Meet the Author

Reynolds Price (1933-2011) was born in Macon, North Carolina. Educated at Duke University and, as a Rhodes Scholar, at Merton College, Oxford University, he taught at Duke beginning in 1958 and was the James B. Duke Professor of English at the time of his death. His first short stories, and many later ones, are published in his Collected Stories. A Long and Happy Life was published in 1962 and won the William Faulkner Award for a best first novel. Kate Vaiden was published in 1986 and won the National Book Critics Circle Award. The Good Priest's Son in 2005 was his fourteenth novel. Among his thirty-seven volumes are further collections of fiction, poetry, plays, essays, and translations. Price is a member of both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and his work has been translated into seventeen languages.

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Blue Calhoun 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Its a strange feeling when you can't think of a word to describe the writer, the text, the plot nor the characters! This book is SO different but if nothing else it is -- well it grips you and won't let you go. It seemed to drag in a few places but you HAD to read on to see what happens. It was deprressing in some places but realistic in others -- not so realistic in places too. Worth a try if you want something REALLY different than your ordinary fiction!! I believe Price to be a talented writer who could do great justice to some Christian fiction.