Fiction: “Blue Lonesome” by Bill Pronzini

blue lonesomeAnother rainy day, another day of database entry; another day of surreptitiously writing reviews longhand.

So Blue Lonesome — this is a weird book for me.  Well, not that the book is weird — the book itself is fairly straightforward. My relationship with the book is weird, and rich with Alaina-History.

I first borrowed Blue Lonesome from my hometown library when I was in high school. I don’t know exactly which year it was, but I know it was the year that the library was housed in the old high school while the library was being renovated and expanded. It was awesome, because the old high school was just around the corner from where I lived at the time and I was walking there like, every other day. That summer was the same summer wherein I first read And One to Die On by Jane Haddam and The Venus Throw by Steven Saylor, and a couple of authors that have made it into my rotation.

Do you guys ever experience that type of visceral memory? I mean, when it comes to memories of reading – entire scenes seared in my brain, almost like an out of body experience, where I can see myself either reading the book or first picking up the book – I am lucky enough to have a few. I can see myself in the library picking up The Venus Throw and And One to Die On – it was a sunny, summer afternoon. It was in the second row from the windows, because that’s where the “new and notable” recommendations were, and right in front of the windows were the computers that we had to use because it was the nineties and no one had computers except rich kids and libraries, and no one had EVER heard of Wi-Fi. I guess I haven’t mentioned my memory of reading The Pelican Brief for the first time, but I was in my eighth grade Maine Educational Assessment test and I had just finished the section on reading comprehension, I think? Anyway, I couldn’t leave because it was eighth grade and teachers are practically prison wardens in that age group, so I finished reading And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, put that into my backpack, and pulled out The Pelican Brief. I can still see myself sitting in my car in the drive-through at the Starbucks near my old apartment, nose-deep into The Beekeeper’s Apprentice for the first time. And at least three Harry Potter-related memories (but here’s one for the road).

Anyway. It amazes me that I can see myself so clearly on that summer day, *mumblemumble* years ago, checking Blue Lonesome out of the library for the first time, but I can never remember any of the details of the plot.

No, for reals. This is the third? fourth? at least the third time I’ve read this book, and every time I pick it up, I remember that the impetus for the mystery is a character nicknamed Ms. Lonesome, that the bulk of the story takes place in authentic-Western Nevada, and that the entire novel is fairly bleak. I don’t remember Ms. Lonesome’s real name, I don’t remember the name of the narrator, the town he goes to, I can’t remember whodunit — nothing. The entire book is a blank. I know I liked it, so I pick it up again. I’ve done so three times in the past ten years but never remember any details. But I still know every goddamned word to the theme song to Ducktales. Granted, the latter is set to (very catchy) music, so I’m sure that helps, BUT STILL.

Oh great. Now I’m going to have that stuck in my head for the rest of the day.

Okay, and before I get into actually discussing the book like I’m supposed to, please take note that the book could contain the following triggers: aftermath of sexual abuse / molestation; semi-graphic imagery of suicide; and snakes.

Blue Lonesome is both the story of Jim Messenger and his obsession with Ms. Lonesome, but also a meditation on the state of being lonesome. Jim is a CPA – a middleman in his firm in San Francisco, divorced in college and never remarried; his life has become rather routine and stagnant. Until one day, when he sees a woman in his diner who strikes him as being even more alone than he is. Jim feels … solitary, I guess; not lonely, but alone. He has friends – at work, and he dates a bit, but at the end of the day he goes back to his apartment and listens to his jazz albums and generally feels okay with his life; okay, but not necessarily content.

This woman at the diner, however – she gets to him. She eats the same meal night after night, never speaks to anyone but the waitress; doesn’t even look up from her plate. She not only exudes loneliness, but also physically and emotionally repels others away from her. And Jim becomes preoccupied with her – he sees her as a kindred spirit and wants to get to know her. But the only conversation is one-sided and slightly hostile.

And then one night, she stops coming to the diner. Jim tries to stop worrying about her, but finally gives into his curiosity. Having already followed her one night to find out where she lived (but not in a stalkery way, if that’s even possible?), he visits her landlord only to find out that his Ms. Lonesome had committed suicide the week before.

Still determined to learn more about this mystery woman, he pays the landlord $20 to view Ms. Lonesome’s personal belongings. Among them, he finds a book stamped as belonging to the Beulah, Nevada Library. He knows it’s a wild goose chase, but his compulsion makes him take his annual two-week vacation early and before he knows it, he’s driving into the town of Beulah.

Ms. Lonesome does not turn out to be the beloved missing person that Jim thought she’d be. Instead, she turns out to be – oh, shit. Jesus Christ, I only returned it to the library five weeks ago, how I have I forgotten that character’s name already?! GODDAMMIT. *Googles aggressively* ANYWAY. Ms. Lonesome turns out to be Anna Burgess Roebuck, the daughter-in-law of the town patriarch. Anna was run out of town after she was accused of murdering her husband and young daughter.

Yeah – she’s not so nice now, huh?

Jim gets involved in Anna’s sister, Dacy, and he tries to solve the mystery. He’s totally that One Guy who comes into town and Stirs Up Shit in the name of Clearing Someone’s Name, but it works here. Not just as a trope, but as a true way for Jim to overcome his own solitariness. By pushing himself so far out of his comfort zone in the name of clearing Anna’s name – because he is convinced that there is no way in hell that she would have murdered her daughter; her husband, maybe, he was kind of a shitheel, apparently, but her daughter? no way – he finds himself.

Also, Anna totally didn’t do it, because that’s how things roll.

There. Hopefully, the next time I pick it up from the library, I’ll remember what the book’s about. Or, at least, I’ll know I have a handy reference to remind me.

Grade for Blue Lonesome: 3.5 stars


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