BLUE CALHOUN by Reynolds Price


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Written in the almost buttery style that Price has favored since Kate Vaiden (1986), this melodrama concerns an ex-alcoholic music salesman, Blue Calhoun, living in Raleigh, North Carolina, in the 1950's. Having sorely tried his wife and daughter and old mother by his drinking (he's sober now), Blue at last seems level. But then into the downtown music store where he works comes an old acquaintance from high school and her 16-year-old daughter, Luna. Blue is tempted and again falls; Luna (an incest victim) is a taste of freedom and possible redemption. He tries giving her up once, and is taken back by his family, but the leukemia death of an old bachelor friend re-involves Blue with Luna (in a not terribly credible plot-thickening). This second lapse is more serious, and, in sorrow, his long-suffering wife, daughter, and mother send him away. Blue will get still another chance (the story is boned with second and third chances), but his flaw has affected three--and ultimately four--generations of Calhoun women permanently. Only their patience and grace-in-pain reconstitute him. Price, in his recent books, has been assembling a kind of humane moral iconography: variously posed portraits of the utterly human sinner, no better and no worse than people can be; and strong versions of the Blessed Woman. Here, though, in the soapy re-curlings of the style (""I understood I'd failed completely, now today if never before in my long mess. I knew I was locked in the trough of it too, out here lost on a girl's hot tether, awaiting her will""), the icon seems merely air-filled. The characters speak to each other in conspicuously sad/wise parables; themes are paired too smoothly; and a certain gooey smugness--in the classical self-condemnatory/self-congratulatory mode--lurks everywhere.

Pub Date: May 11th, 1992
ISBN: 0684867826
Page count: 364pp
Publisher: Atheneum