October 8, 2009 by Reader's Connection
I raved about Michelle Huneven when I learned that she would be in town on October 28th as a participant in Butler´s Visiting Authors Series. I’m still excited. My ravings, though, were based on only one of her novels, Jamesland, and since that blogpost I’ve read the other two.
Round Rock, her first novel, and Blame, her recently published third, both deal with recovering alcoholics–but breathe easy, they don’t read like fiction-trimmed social studies. The characters are much too alive for that. Both novels are set in California, somewhere not too far from Los Angeles, and a few Round Rock characters play supporting roles in Blame.
Let’s get shallow for a moment and allow ourselves to judge these books by their covers. Round Rock, though it deals with some painful themes, has a sunnier feel. Red Ray is an alcoholic lawyer who, after his divorce, decides to turn his estate into a “drunk farm,” a recovery site for alcoholics. He has been operating Round Rock for some years when two other major characters, Lewis and Libby, come into his orbit and change his life.
Blame, like its cover, is darker. Patsy MacLemoore, a professor in her late twenties, awakens after one of her black-out drunks and learns that while driving illegally she has killed a mother and daughter. She spends time in prison and then a long period of redemption–if that’s what we’re going to call it–in the free world.
Despite the darkness, the novel isn’t depressing. Its characters are too full of surprises, its prose too ready to turn corners and display wry humor.
[Patsy] might have a genetic propensity for alcoholism, but she’d always stayed on track, accumulating degrees and honors and publications despite a concomitant taste for liquor, pharmaceuticals and rich boy wastrels. She’d been valedictorian and Party Hardiest in high school, the first in her family to matriculate into a University of California grad school and a California correctional institution. She, at least, had range.
When I say these characters come alive for me, I mean that if I were in the market for a shrink, I’d look up Patsy’s–if I didn’t know Eileen Silver was retired and fictional. The thought of Patsy’s sometime boyfriend Ian makes me twitch inwardly and look the other way. My feelings about Cal Sharp, an Alcoholics Anonymous saint, are complicated and resist summary.
So I’m too busy being fascinated, amused, startled, engaged, to find the book depressing. My only dissatisfaction has to do with that cover. Given the novel’s subject matter, I am saddened by the knowledge that someone at Farrar, Straus & Giroux was hitting the bottle while writing the liner notes. Apologies for descending into upper case, but more users will glance down here than actually read this far. IF YOU’RE THINKING OF READING THIS BOOK, DON’T READ THE LINER NOTES. THEY TELL YOU WAY TOO MUCH.
I hope you enjoy Huneven’s books, if you read them, and I hope to see her at Butler on the 28th.