Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on Blame.
It all begins one fated night when Patsy MacLemore, a blackout drunk, awakens to find herself incarcerated and accused of killing a mother and daughter - Jehovah’s Witnesses who were crossing her driveway when she returned home. That Patsy can remember nothing only adds to her shame at the horror of taking the lives of two people. On amended charges, Patsy is sentenced to four years in prison, only a portion of the lifetime she will spend making amends for the carelessness of a moment.
In one of the most harrowing parts of the book, Patsy learns the critical distinctions between jail and prison, a nightmare of cacophony and competing odors that she endures by sheer force of will and the AA meetings she attends with other inmates. Patsy doesn’t really want sobriety, but meetings help pass the time and relieve the monotony of her days. A tenured professor at a local Southern California college, Patsy is somewhat of a pariah when she is released, but welcomed home by Brice, a former lover, and his new love, Gilles, a charming, beautiful boy who has applied himself to the refurbishing and painting of Patsy’s new apartment in the same building.
Patsy rebuilds her life grounded in sobriety, all her new friends in the program. But this novel is set in the early 1980s, when the scourge of HIV rages through the lives of gay men. Familiarity with loss is nothing new to Patsy by now, but she has expanded, in her own grief and shame, to embrace those she befriends with an open and nonjudgmental heart. Much of Patsy’s existence post-incarceration is freighted with the need to make amends for what she has done.
Huneven has a wonderful grasp of the complexities of this process, reintegration and long-term sobriety, the painful yielding to a future that may include marriage, even happiness and self-fulfillment. Family dynamics dominate this part of Patsy’s life, but the author keeps her finger firmly on the pulse of a woman awakening after a long sleep. Incredibly moving, this is a portrait of a woman whose life as been defined by tragedy but refuses to be contained in ready phrases or assumptions. Patsy’s life in the sober community does not protect her from the past or the future - but, as they say, it’s all in the journey. And this is a journey well worth taking.