If you go
What: Colorado author Laura Pritchett reads from and signs her new novel, "The Blue
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 2
Where: Boulder Book Store, 1107 Pearl St.
Cost: Vouchers to attend are $5 and are good for $5 off the author's featured book or
any purchase the day of the event.
More info: 303-447- 2074 or boulderbookstore.net
The Blue Hour
By: Laura Pritchett
Publisher: Counterpoint Press
More info: laurapritchett.com
Unlike Faulkner's Old Ben, the most famous bear in American literature, the black bear sow who makes several appearances in Laura Pritchett's new novel-in-stories, "The Blue Hour," has no name. But both personify the wilderness.
Yet where Faulkner inveighs against assaults upon "that doomed wilderness whose edges were constantly and punily gnawed at by men with their plows and axes who feared it," the inhabitants of Pritchett's Blue Mountain leaven their fear with respect, living in accord with their local avatar of the wild.
Their struggles are rather with those other, more complicated beasts, sex and passion, or lack thereof. Written over nearly two decades, each chapter (many of them were previously published as short stories) is told from a different character's perspective, in literally every point of view, from first- to third-person. But this is a real novel, more so, in fact, than Faulkner's brilliant "Go Down, Moses," of which "The Bear" is the centerpiece. It's also excellent.
Pritchett doesn't identify the location of Blue Mountain, but it seems to lie just above the foothills somewhere between the Cache la Poudre River and St. Vrain Creek in northern Boulder County. But the mountain and its ensemble of beautifully drawn, first-name-only, warmly entwined characters are so self-contained that the novel feels something like a literary snow globe.
The opening chapter, written in second-person, puts the reader into the troubled mind of Sy, the much-beloved veterinarian. His death, following a terrible blizzard, forms an almost translucent connective tissue for the rest of the novel, which explores love and loss among the denizens of the mountain, chapter-by-chapter, character-by-character.
Trapped by the loss of her husband to a cruel illness, Sy's wife Anya has been having an affair with wildlife biologist Sergio for two years. Gretchen, Anya's friend and neighbor, seems to have found love and sexual satisfaction at last in Joe, a horseshoer who lives up the mountain. Dandelion lives in a rented cabin with her abusive boyfriend, Luce, who has gotten mixed up in bad business. Violet, the town grocer, loves her husband and daughter but ventures outside the snow globe in search of something more. That's just a small sampling of what's going on up the mountain.
Pritchett has referred to "The Blue Hour" as her "sex novel," and for all its awe of nature, heartbreak, tragedy, and warm sense of connectedness, it's a fair label. Her characters' love lives include not just infidelity or the erotic need of a new partner but also the scarlet letter of a sexually-transmitted disease, swinging, teenage masturbation, outdoor sex, sleeping together for companionship (no sex), and more. But this is no blue book: Pritchett's eroticism is typically subtle and frequently leads to insight.
Having broken her marriage vows, Violet thinks of what she would say if her husband, Ollie, were to ask her about what she was doing in town: "I am greedy for something new. And I felt guilty because of that greed, because I love you. But I don't have time for guilt any more, I'm sorry."
Wyn, who loathes what she sees in the mirror, wonders what's become of passion: "I wonder if we've lost it, somehow. This safe and rational approach to love. All this caution ... I was always talking myself out of love, listing reasons why some particular man wasn't right for me. And maybe they weren't. Now I find myself alone. I'm nearly fifty and I've never been in love."
In delicately balancing concerns about love and sex with the real life — sick animals, dying brothers, work, children, the annual community bird count — Pritchett paints a remarkably realistic portrait of how the erotic and the ordinary constantly intertwine in most human lives.
As in her previous work (fans will enjoy cameos by characters from other novels and stories), she also balances the human struggles with nature's astounding, abundant beauty, so powerful, yet so needful of protection.
"There are largescale reasons we all love this meadow," observes Lillie. "How for example, in the mornings, sun takes up mist, light sucks up vapor, and how that process reminds you that there is great power in one particular moment, which an age of prudence can never retract ... But to refrain from waxing poetic, and to stick with the facts: the coyote, the bald eagles, the owls, the willow, which turn redder as the winter goes on."
Sex and passion, mental illness and mourning, birds and bears, a couple dozen viewpoint characters — it's a lot to weave into a smooth, compelling tapestry, but Pritchett pulls it off beautifully. During the darkest days of the year, the snow-globe community on Blue Mountain can still pull together; people, like bears, have the potential to cause great harm, but to live in fear is to retreat from wonder.
"What did you say recently about Sy's death making us all braver? That his death would teach us to reach out more?" Zach, the old man who organizes the bird count, standing in the beloved meadow, now stained with tragedy, asks Anya. "... Surely we all are. Otherwise, the grief of standing in this meadow is too great to bear."
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