No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Monday, March 05, 2012

2012/03: Blue Diary -- Alice Hoffman

He has wished on stars and on his child's life, but nothing takes the past away: he knows that now. The past stays with a man, sticking to his heels like glue, invisible and heartbreaking and unavoidable, threaded to the future, just as surely as day is sewn to night. (p. 73)
The Blue Diary tells the story of Ethan Ford and his wife Jorie. It's thirteen years since Ethan drifted into town for a night and simply stayed. He fell in love with Jorie, and married her, and became an integral element -- father, husband, fireman, baseball coach, carpenter -- of the small Massachussetts town in which they live.

Then, one glorious June day, everything changes. Ethan is arrested, under suspicion of a horrific crime that took place before any of his friends and family knew him. What happens after that is told from multiple points of view: Jorie; their son Collie; Collie's best friend Kat (the only first-person narrator in the novel, because she is the impetus behind the story); Jorie's old friend Charlotte, who has cancer; Kat's sister Anne; Ethan's friends Mark and Barney ...

There's a fairytale ambience to Hoffman's prose that adds dimension to this story: Kat's three good deeds by which she hopes to redeem herself; her assertion that Ethan 'could walk past a mirror without casting a reflection' (p.17); the red-winged blackbirds that flock around the house after Kat's sister's birth, after Rachel Morris' death; the empty beauty of Rosarie, like a trap; the way that Jorie, drowning in unresolving emotion, has to reexamine and reassess everything she knows and feels.

The thing is, Ethan (who wasn't Ethan) did commit a crime. He admits it. But is he the same man, after thirteen years of waking up every morning feeling blessed? Can people change? Can you escape your own past? (Can you escape other people's pasts?) Ethan's crisis doesn't only affect Jorie and Collie: all over town, people take their lives and their hopes into their own hands. It's not too late to change. It's not too late to make a move, to bridge a gap, to heal a wound.

There are a couple of plot elements I'm not wholly convinced by: Ethan's flirtation in the jail, the way that nobody comes to check when Rosarie misses an appointment. But Jorie's emotional journey, Kat's pain, Collie's rage -- all those ring honest and true. A beautiful and wrenching novel.

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