Thursday, February 10, 2011

Blame / by Michelle Huneven

In high school, Patsy MacLemoore was valedictorian. She was also "Party Hardiest", voted the person most likely to have a good time. Always someone who could burn at both ends, she hasn't let two DUI's, a suspended license and numerous broken relationships keep her from attaining a Ph.D. in history and a professorship at a mid-level college all by the age of 29. Patsy lives full-speed ahead, a drink never far from her hand, a party never far away, all the way up until the unspeakable happens. While pulling into her driveway one night, definitely not sober, she hits and kills a middle-aged woman and her teenage daughter. In the following days and weeks, Patsy tries to piece together what happened and then, despite the best efforts of an experienced lawyer, finally accepts her fate--four years in prison.
The county jail, of which Patsy's been in quite a few times previous, is nothing like being incarcerated in the state penitentiary where male guards openly monitor female inmates in the latrine, the food is never fully cooked and violent altercations are always only a side-step away. There's also mandatory sobriety and AA meetings which Patsy must attend and where, to her horror, she finds herself in the same boat with people who claim a few months or years without alcohol as their life's best achievement ("an amazingly pathetic perspective"). With time though, Patsy makes her peace with aspects of her past, reconciling with those she's hurt, even reconnecting with the father/husband of her victims and forging ahead full-fledged with AA until she's sober. By the time she's released after two years on good behavior, the once arrogant, boozy life of the party is a whole new person returning to a whole new life.

Huneven paints a good portrait of a life rehabilitated in this provocative tail of personal injury, guilt, redemption and mercy. The circumstances surrounding Patsy's fall from grace, her exile and suffering are refreshingly down to earth. Patsy is still the same person more or less after her release. She just makes better choices. Her new relationships are different; she's no longer as bossy. Her academic work of teaching, researching and writing is substantially better and her life is generally more productive. What sets this at a level above the rest of the swath of books on abuse, repercussions and rehab is the startling twist near the end which reconceives an entirely new perspective on crime and punishment. Definitely a must-read somewhere down the line. (FIC HUNEVEN)

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