Remembering Blue: A Novelby Connie May Fowler
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.
"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
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.
"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.
Meet the Author
Connie May Fowler is an essayist and screenwriter, as well as the author of three previous novels, including Sugar Cage and River of Hidden Dreams. In 1996, she published Before Women Had Wings, later a successful "Oprah Winfrey Presents" TV movie, winner of the 1996 Southern Book Critics Circle Award, and paperback bestseller. She lives in Florida with her husband.
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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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!!!
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.
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.