Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Different World

Fortunately, most of us will have no reason to go anywhere near the inside of a women’s prison. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have an appreciation of what it is like for those inside. A very vivid picture can be found in Michelle Huneven‘s novel Blame.

Blame is the story of a woman alcoholic Patsy MacLemoore who is sent to prison for two years for causing the death of a mother and daughter through her reckless driving. In fact, she has no memory of the incident. And you may well wonder why 2 deaths merited only a 2 year sentence. Actually, the prison sequence takes up only the first third of the book but that section will probably stay in my mind the longest. I heard the author speak at a local bookstore. In response to a question from the audience, she admitted that in researching the novel she had never personally visited a prison but had spoken with several former inmates. That is all the more credit to Huneven’s writing because it feels so real. It's not a place you want to go.

The rest of the story recounts the next twenty years of Patsy’s life as she tries to reestablish her academic career and find and keep some meaningful relationships. We meet her parole officer, her psychiatrist, her former boyfriend's new boyfriend, the husband/father of the victims in well-drawn portraits. Readers with no experience of Alcoholics Anonymous will be interested in the descriptions of their meetings and its effect on different lives. There is the continuing tension as Patsy meets certain challenges between her resolve and her addiction. It takes several tries before she can settle into a romantic relationship only to have it tested by step-children and age differences.

I'm not sure that I ever came to feel Patsy's sense of guilt and blame of the title but I did learn a lot from Patsy about resolve and determination.

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