Remembering Blue: A Novel

( 9 )

Overview

Emotionally neglected by her mother, abandoned by her father, Mattie O’Rourke spent her childhood starved for the one thing she thought she’d never find: love. When her mother dies and, at twenty-two, she finds herself completely without ties of any kind, Mattie takes a chance at ending her loneliness and moves to a tiny coastal Florida town. At the Suwannee Swifty convenience store, a sea change envelops her. Mattie O’Rourke sees Proteus ...
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Overview

Emotionally neglected by her mother, abandoned by her father, Mattie O’Rourke spent her childhood starved for the one thing she thought she’d never find: love. When her mother dies and, at twenty-two, she finds herself completely without ties of any kind, Mattie takes a chance at ending her loneliness and moves to a tiny coastal Florida town. At the Suwannee Swifty convenience store, a sea change envelops her. Mattie O’Rourke sees Proteus Nicholas Blue and their fate is sealed after only a few shy, stolen glances.

Nick walks into Mattie’s life having fled his own. A lifelong fisherman from a remote island off the coast, Nick is haunted by the certain knowledge that the sea will be the death of him (as it has been for all the Blue men) and he has resolved to leave it behind. But as Nick and Mattie settle into an intimacy that both comforts and surprises them, Nick feels the inextricable pull of the waxing moon’s tide and the siren’s call of the dolphins that, Blue legend has it, are his brethren.

And so it is that Mattie, who only months before felt that happiness would never find her, returns with Nick to the island home that nurtured him and finds herself embraced by a large and loving family and an alluring and sensual landscape. Life on Lethe is transforming for Mattie. But Nick always knew that the sea would claim him, and all of Mattie’s love cannot prevent the tragedy that is their destiny.

Moving and enchanting, Remembering Blue is a lush story of love, loss, and the mythic power of the ocean, told in an elegant and passionate voice that could only come from Connie May Fowler.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
When starry-eyed Matilda Fiona O'Roarke (Mattie) meets burly, romantic Proteus Nicholas Blue (Nick), she's a clerk at a Tallahassee convenience store and he's working for a logging firm. He tells her he comes from a long line of rugged Greek-American fishermen who believe they're descended from dolphins and, as such, are destined to die at sea. Nick hopes to thwart fate, but when a fellow logger is killed on the job, Nick realizes that land is just as dangerous as water and returns with Mattie to his home on Lethe, the Florida coastal island his forebears settled. Initially, Mattie finds the extroverted Blue clan overwhelming, but her shyness disappears when Nick's widowed mother takes her under her wing. Soon Mattie is a fishmonger like Nick, and she learns more about the Blue family's heritage and their belief in myth--Nick is named for Poseidon's son, and the island recalls the mythological river of forgetfulness. Domestic traumas unfold, with Nick's black-sheep brother, Zeke, abandoning his teenage son to Mattie's care, while another brother, Demetrius, struggles with his infant son after his wife's desertion. Nick is strong and sensitive, a loving husband to Mattie, a man who cries when she reads him Hemingway and who saves the lives of stranded baby turtles and butterflies. Mattie is haunted by her own sad history of paternal abandonment and maternal neglect. She tries hard to be perfect, tending house, earning an accounting degree, harvesting vegetables and culling shrimp. When the inevitable Blue curse claims Nick, newly pregnant Mattie remains with the family she has come to love. Though much of the narrative is awash in nostalgia, and the allusions to Greek mythology are forced, Fowler writes lyrically of the Florida coast. The love story carries strong appeal, and Fowler's tender portrayal of Nick and Mattie's idyllic relationship will please romantics everywhere. BOMC selection; national author tour. (Feb.) FYI: Fowler's previous novel, Before Women Had Wings, was made into an Oprah Winfrey Presents TV movie and won the 1996 Southern Book Critics Circle Award. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
The story of a Greek American family living on an island in the Florida panhandle is told through the journals of Mattie, who has become a member through marriage. Nick Blue, her husband, had left the family business but returns again to take out his shrimp trawler. Mattie, who has come from a broken home without much love and affection, is gradually integrated into this closely knit group. Her chronicles convey the century-long family history in America, beginning with the arrival of Nick s great-great-grandfather. Mattie makes astute observations concerning each member and their interactions with one another, seeing how important these ties are in good times and bad. She recalls her developing relationship with Nick and how it has changed her. The author has created a realistic atmosphere of life dominated by the sea, with its ever-changing face from extreme calm to furious storminess. As reader, Fowler aptly portrays the variety of colorful characters she has developed. Highly recommended. Catherine Swenson, Norwich Univ., Northfield, VT Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher
Praise for Remembering Blue and Connie May Fowler:

"Remembering Blue is a hymn of praise to the breathtaking beauty of the Gulf Coast of Florida and the men and women who love that coast with every cell of their bodies. Nick Blue is an extraordinary creation, so life-affirming and vibrant that he makes you shiver with the pleasure of his maleness. The love story of Nick and Mattie Blue centers this novel and makes it soar, the way all great love stories are supposed to do."
—Pat Conroy, author of The Prince of Tides and Beach Music

"Mattie and Nick's thrilling story is about communion as well as communication; it's about a woman maintaining her own identity within a relationship of blissful intimacy...Connie May Fowler's language sings a sea-song we need to hear."
—Sena Jeter Naslund, author of Ahab's Wife

"There is no denying the depth of Connie May Fowler's talent and the breadth of her imagination."
New York Times Book Review

"If writing is a gift, then Connie May Fowler must have been bestowed with the gifts of ten muses."
—Amy Tan, author of The Joy Luck Club

A Featured Selection of The Book-of-the-Month Club

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345439246
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/29/2001
  • Series: Reader's Circle Series
  • Edition description: 1ST TRADE
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 973,481
  • Product dimensions: 5.46 (w) x 8.17 (h) x 0.71 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Mattie, Mattie, sweetheart, I love you.

It's all so surprising. Here we are, staring into the jaws of a new century and I at twenty-five years of age am left to ponder the world as if I were a woman of eighty. My remembrance, my meditation on Nick Blue--who he was and why his life was important--is a simple act by a grieving wife, yet his story cannot be told to the exclusion of mine.

For twenty-two years, I existed as that murky shadow at the far edge of your peripheral vision, a faint reminder that there are those among the living who are exceptional at no level. My head down, my shoulders slumped, my manner of dress benign and colorless, I drifted through life with singular purpose: never to draw attention to myself. Fearing both judgment and recognition, I scuttled along the fringes, noiselessly.

Today, if you pressed me to come up with something nice to say about the old Mattie I suppose it would be this: I was dully efficient. Bookish without being brilliant. Quiet without an ounce of presence. Unflagging in my devotion to sensible shoes.

Enter Nick Blue, a man who didn't have a dull bone in his body. Nick was a dreamer, a pure-hearted shrimper who could hear the wind creak through the bent wing of a roosting heron and who would whisper into that same wind, "Bring me a good haul, tonight, sweet bird."

Despite my reticent nature, Nick's charms were not wasted. The very moment he held me in his gaze, my denial of myself as a sexual being began to crumble. This isn't to say that before meeting Nick passion escaped me. I had desires, dreams, carnal fantasies. But there were problems. One, the episodes occurred at embarrassingly infrequent intervals. And two, they invariably involved extreme flights of fancy during which for a few minutes, an hour, perhaps several weeks, I stoked the flames of a private crush on someone with whom I could never, never, never really have an affair. I was mad for old movies, you see. And I spent a rather unhealthy amount of time daydreaming about the likes of Cary Grant, Sir Laurence Olivier, Robert Mitchum, Richard Burton, and Paul Newman. The pitfalls, I believe, are obvious.

Nevertheless, these secret one-sided romances got me through some rough spots, perhaps even saved my life, at least kept my libido in some semblance of working order because when it came to real flesh and blood passion, I'm afraid that more often than not I possessed an extreme case of cold feet. In fact, mine were frozen to the bone.

I blame my sexual stage fright on my mother. She was a withholding woman when it came to loving me. But she had other priorities. Such as the fact that Daddy was a booze hound who wandered out of our lives when I was seven.

Minutes before he disappeared into the mosquito- and gnat-infested Jacksonville Beach night, he staggered into my purple bedroom with its white eyelet curtains that smelled of bleach and dust, shook me awake, and mumbled in a Jim Beam haze, "Matilda Fiona O'Rourke, sweetheart, I'm leaving. I'm joining the circus. Make sure your mama brings you to see me next time we roll into town."

He kissed my cheek. His day-old beard scratched my face. I looked up at him, blankly, intrigued that my daddy had aspirations beyond his job as a shipyard welder yet also confused at his intentions. I'm leaving. Two spare words tossed into the close air of my bedroom as if they held no weight. As if they wouldn't claw at my heart for the rest of my days. As if his presence in our lives didn't matter, had never mattered. I stared into his bloodshot pale eyes. They shone with tears. Or was it excitement? I reached up and touched his stubbled beard. I was Daddy's girl. His little angel. Cupcake.

"Don't go."

"Got to, Cupcake. Time to see the world."

He tipped his finger at me in a drunken salute. Signaling his resolve, he folded in his dry, full lips and squeezed shut his eyes. "You close your eyes, too, sweetheart," he said in a slow singsong voice. "That's it. Keep 'em closed."

I heard him pick up the jewelry box he'd given me just that Christmas. When you opened the lid a ballerina popped up and spun in a perpetual pirouette to the tinny strains of Swan Lake. I loved that shiny black lacquer box and its pretty music. But on that night the song sounded warped, too slow. The little gear needed to be rewound.

Daddy said, "Gooood girl. Doooon't peeeek." His heavy footsteps glommed across the pine floor. "Just listen to the music, baby. That's right. Sweet dreeeams."

The door creaked open and he was gone. The music stopped in mid-note and I knew the ballerina was no longer dancing. I kept my eyes closed but hung on to the only thing I had left of my daddy: a sour, thin gust of Jim Beam.

I do not know if he said goodbye to my mother or not. She didn't volunteer the information. And I did not ask. In fact, she behaved as if he had never happened. After that night, the words your father, your daddy, my husband never crossed her lips.

One afternoon I came home from school and found that all physical traces of him were gone, as well. His clothes. His greasy tools. His ashtray shaped like a bass. Even his collection of sweat-rancid baseball caps. All evidence of him kaput, except for me--that part of him she couldn't erase. My presence was a constant, painful annoyance, the rock in the shoe that wouldn't let her forget.

But she tried. By God, did she ever.

Other than to criticize or browbeat, she rarely spoke to me. I suppose that could be chalked up to her hysteria over being a single mother. But being a single parent doesn't explain her refusal to look me in the eyes or hug me or attempt a normal conversation. Maybe that's what I regret most about my unconventional upbringing. My mother and I never simply chatted. Not once. Maybe she kissed me when I was a baby. But I have searched my memory backward and forward, and for the life of me, I cannot recall one single instance of even the most summary peck on the cheek.

Her relations with men stood in night-and-day contrast to her at-arm's-length handling of me. After Daddy left, Mother spent the rest of her days becoming her own three-ring circus as she chased, entertained, and made a fool of herself over an uninterrupted series of no-good prospects who kept her ceaselessly brokenhearted. She danced for them. She cooked for them. She even shined their shoes. But none of them stuck. It was as though her vulnerability awakened their basest instincts. She was a woman cut from the same gossamer cloth as Blanche DuBois--her desperate need for a man led even the kind ones to use her.

I once saw her shimmy for a man. Through my cracked-open bedroom door, I watched--a mixture of shame, revulsion, and fascination keeping me pegged. He sat on our natty brown couch, his legs spread wide, stroking himself as my mother--with an ear-to-ear cheerleader's grin plastered on and panic filming her eyes--shook for all she was worth.

He laughed and said, "God, you're stupid." Then he grabbed her arm, tore off her panties, and shoved her down on him. She grunted and her eyes winced with pain but she kept that smile intact, even when he smashed his lips into hers.

The more judgmental among you might say that she suffered from some sort of sexual pathology. Being her daughter, I can't accept that Pearl Monita O'Rourke's problems boiled down to loose morals, physiologically driven or otherwise. I prefer to think that her aberrant behavior was spurred by a relentless, profound, and yet rather boring bent toward self-destruction.

Though Mother tended to ignore me in favor of her beau of the week, she occasionally tossed me blemished pearls of queenly wisdom which she fitfully conjured during the many hours she spent on that love-stained couch smoking cigarettes and staring into space.

Sometimes her advice ran contrary to her own actions: "Don't ever believe anything a man tells you. They just want their pants washed."

I was never sure whether this was a sexual euphemism or a laundry tip.

On other occasions her words ran true to form: "Don't set your sights too high, Matilda. Don't try to be a doctor when you can marry one. And whatever you do, don't major in English."

Mother viewed anything remotely associated with the English language as a mortal sin--grammar, spelling, literature, punctuation. That's because in the arms of a good book, I could be lost to the world for days. And while Mother didn't want to be involved in my moment-to-moment existence, she believed anything that could keep a child occupied from dawn to dusk and beyond was cause for alarm.

"Books!" she'd say. "They're rotting your brain! Why can't you just go outside and play like other children?"

When I was old enough to know about both bras and sanitary napkins, she decided it was high time for me to leave the nest. "Don't you have any prospects?" she would nag. "When I was your age I was hanging out with my friends, flirting with the boys. You're never going to get married at this rate!"

I would pause from my reading and say, "Mother, I'm only fourteen. This isn't Kuwait."

She'd look over her shoulder, her cigarette poised in the air and her eyebrow angled haughtily--an homage to Dietrich, I suppose--and she'd snap, "Don't you use those big words with me, young lady. You think you're so high and mighty. Well, you're not. You're nothing. You're no better than I am."



Excerpted from Remenbering Blue by Connie May Fowler. Copyright 2000 by Connie May Fowler. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Introduction

Connie May Fowler established herself as a successful, passionate storyteller when she published Before Women Had Wings, which became a bestseller, won the 1996 Southern Book Critics Circle Award, and became an "Oprah Winfrey Presents" television movie. Now Fowler presents her readers with another gift of a story in Remembering Blue. After her husband, Nick Blue, disappears at sea while working one night, Mattie looks back on Nick's life and recalls how he taught her that life and the joys it holds are priceless.
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Reading Group Guide

1. Why did the author choose to tell us in the very first paragraph that Mattie is a widow? How would the story have been different if she had told it in real time, instead of as a remembrance? How does her choice heighten the drama?

2. Talk about the mothers and the fathers in this novel, the ones who disappear and the ones who stay. Can you see a pattern? Is disappearing ever a valid choice for a parent?

3. Books save Mattie's life at different points in the novel. Talk about theses times and about how books are important to Mattie. From what you have seen of life, do people who experience books as escape or as salvation become more ferocious readers than people who experience books as entertainment?

4. In a sense, Nick and Mattie are in opposite evolutionary cycles. He is going back to what legend says he was. She is moving forward to become the fully integrated person she has it in her to be. Talk about the place where they meet, the moment in time when their cycles intersect.

5. One of the limits of first-person point of view is that the narrator is usually not reliable. How does the author work around this? Discuss some of the other point-of-view choices that the author makes. For instance, when she has Mattie shape-shift into Lillian and into Nick, telling their stories from an intimate, close angle; or when Mattie shifts to a distant third-person point of view to describe her own wed-ding. 6. Talk about the importance of myth and legend (Lethe, Proteus, the Sirens, Delphinus, Poseidon) in this novel.

7. Discuss the role and importance of nature in this novel.

8. For all of his humor, vitality, and pragmatism, Nick has a sadnessabout him from the start. Talk about instances where he displays this side of himself and how it foreshadows his coming death.

9. When they are in Tallahassee, Mattie tells Nick, ''If you left Lethe because you were scared of dying at sea, that's one thing. But if you left because you believed the legend just a tiny, tiny bit? Well, that's a whole different reason for leaving'' (63). Talk about the distinction she makes.

10. Mattie gets to Lethe and begins making a life for herself, with Nick, and on her own. She makes friends, she establishes comforting routines, and she takes on physical and intellectual challenges. Discuss the difference between this and when she was in Tallahassee on her own and went from studio apartment to convenience store and back again. Why does she blossom on Lethe?

11. Discuss Rhea and Charon Blue's relationship and Mattie's connection with Charon.

12. Mattie dreams of dolphins; Captain Johnny dreams of ships. Talk about the importance of specific dreams in this novel.

13. Talk about Mattie's reaction to her mother's death and then to her father's. She won't accept her parent's money (in the form of the house). And yet, she places the photo of her family alongside those of the Blue family. How do all these conflicting emotions and actions fit together? How are they justified?

14. Talk about the hurricane and the buildup to it. At this point in the novel, we're expecting Nick's death at any moment. How does our expectation add to the intensity of the hurricane? How does the hurricane add to the intensity of Nick's death?

15. Mattie imagines two versions of Nick's death, but discards one. Talk about how the author prepares us to accept one scenario over the other by having Mattie posit reasonable theories for unknowable events earlier in the novel.

16. Would the novel have been as satisfying if Nick's body had been found? Or did his body have to remain in the sea to make this story read true?

17. Do you think Mattie will stay on Lethe? Raise her child there? Remarry eventually?

Questions and Topics for Discussion are courtesy of Doubleday Publishing.

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Customer Reviews

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( 9 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 18, 2012

    Connie May Fowler weaves yet another wonderful story. Subtly ble

    Connie May Fowler weaves yet another wonderful story. Subtly blending emotion and environ with ease while coaxing the reader further into the multi-level descriptive tugging upon the heart strings and threads of thought throughout. Must Read!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 18, 2007

    Excellent

    A wonderful journey with a woman in love. This is my first Book by Fowler.I plan to read all her other novels. I loved her vivid descriptions of the beautiful Florida coast and life on the Island. The characters are so likeable. This story is touching and realistic. Everyone should experience a love like Mattie and Nick.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 4, 2004

    I will 'remember ' this one FOREVER!

    Once I picked up this book I couldn't put it down! I don't usually read romance novels, but I am an ocean person and that is what attracted me to this book. I fell in love with Mattie & Nick. This is a beautiful book with characters you can understand and you feel as though you yourself are experiencing their ups & downs. They have such a lovely romance & a great family which is just what Mattie needs. It made me smile and eventually cry. This is such a wonderful book. Please read it!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 2, 2004

    Ring of Endless Light for 'grownups'

    This book reminded me of L'Engle's story which I had to re-read every summer as a teen. A beautiful and interesting story dealing with the difficulties and joys of loving and learning to let go. Fowler's prose transports you to the gulf.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 29, 2003

    An Epic tale of love, life, and loss

    Fowler's grasp of the art of prose is richly divine. She is deeply rooted in the natural world, especially Florida, and that shines through her writing with great clarity. Here's a quote from the book to get you pondering: 'I know what the Bible meant when it said God cast Adam and Eve out of paradise. God didn't send them anywhere; he took something away. Their animal eyes, all that under the surface stuff that lets us know we're part and parcel with the beasts and fish and snakes. He turned us into fools in our own land.' An added bonus to her writing is this: it richly details the Florida this middle-aged reader knew while growing up. I can honestly feel the sand between my toes and the salt spray drying on my skin. Fowler is a very sensual (NOT sexual) writer. We who delve into her novels are the fortunate ones.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 19, 2002

    Beautiful story of letting in and letting go

    You'll never forget this tale of care of family, the love of life, the dangerous inheritance of the sea, and the new bride who follows her husband into this foreign world. It is a beautifully written tale of learning to let in and then of letting go.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 12, 2002

    one of my favorites

    I read this book last summer and already would like to read it again. Her characters were so vividly written,you wish you knew them. Especially great to read in the summer as it takes place near the water. A real treat!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 10, 2001

    My review

    I could not put this book down. The mythology behind Nick's life was incredibly interesting and his love for Mattie is unbeatable. I found the family loyalty heartwarming and admired the courage of all involved.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 10, 2001

    A Real Gem of a Book

    This novel starts out very slow. Honestly, while reading the first few chapters, I debated on doing away with this one entirely. BUT...the novel's pace quickened into about the 3rd or 4th chapter, and before I knew it, I could not put it down. A definite page turner. Mattie and Nick's love for one another is absolutely incredible and heartwarming. With every turn of a page, I could feel the ocean breeze at my doorstep. When reading this novel, be prepared to be swept off your feet.

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