Huneven (Jamesland, 2003, etc.) tracks a 20-year-old burden of guilt with supple technique.
Alcoholism and integrity drive her novel, which is narrated with flashes of irony, appealing warmth and dry judgment. Patsy MacLemoore plays only a bit part in the opening scene, during which 12-year-old Joey, whose mother is dying in the hospital, spends a bizarre night in the care of her attractive, wastrel Uncle Brice and his girlfriend Patsy, an alcoholic history professor who gets drunk, gives Joey pills and beer and pierces her ears unevenly. The story proper begins a year later, in May 1981, and Patsy takes center-stage. During her latest blackout, she drives into and kills two Jehovah’s Witnesses, mother and daughter. Prison follows, two harsh years from which Patsy emerges stripped to the emotional bone. She rebuilds her life assisted by Brice, his boyfriend Gilles (Patsy’s not too surprised by that revelation) and the forgiveness of the husband and father of her victims. Seeking “a way to be good,” she finds it caring for AIDS patients, starting with Gilles. She takes sanctuary in marriage to Cal, an older, richer man with a long history of helping the troubled. Patsy’s resolution to be a better person means that she chooses not to act on her powerful attraction to a fellow academic. Twenty years after the killings, a stunning revelation forces her to recast her identity and her relationships.
Grace, insight and seemingly effortless narration distract from the odd pacing and sometimes meandering progress of this empathetic tale.