Laurie Foos writes surreal novels. At least that is what literary critics say. I have read two of her novels–this one and her debut, Ex Utero, and I can say that both left my head spinning.
While Ex Utero was wickedly funny, The Blue Girl is drenched with sadness. I was not surprised to read that Foos wrote the novel in the wake of losing her father and mother. Those are huge losses that make most people question everything.
The blue girl is a rumor among the summer people (and locals) in an unnamed lake town. Her skin is blue and becomes more blue as the tale progresses, but Foos never tells us exactly what sort of blue. We are left to insert our interpretations.
Three middle-aged friends struggle as their relationships with their husbands change and they recognize their own dissatisfaction. Their oldest children are teenagers, a time that is challenging for nearly all parents and that can cause parents to question the job they have done and whether they should ever have become parents. Irene’s husband has suffered a nervous breakdown and spends nights playing Nerf basketball in the living room and fears the television will explode if turned on. Libby’s husband stays at work until the early morning hours and, although the big box store he works at does not stay open that long, Libby does not question him. Their oldest son suffers from fragile x syndrome, attends a special school, and has to be locked in his room at night. Magda’s life seems the most normal, but she grieves for her dead mother and converses with her as she ponders her children, her son full of hormones and not very bright and her daughter smart, but with her mother’s thick waist.
Each of them resents the summer people for different reasons. Magda was a summer person who became trapped in the town through the excitement of hormones and scantily-clad bathing suited bodies. The moms and children visit the lake after the summer people have left for the season, but it is only Audrey, Irene’s teenage daughter, who has wits enough to dive in and give CPR to a girl who is drowning–the blue girl. From that moment everything does not change, but it accelerates. Audrey can no longer sleep. Neither can her younger brother, Buck, who asks over and over to hear the story of how she saved the blue girl and who dreams of her every night. Audrey cannot escape how wonderful and complete she felt as she closed her lips over those of the blue girls, but her inability to sleep leaves her scattered and thin. Greg cannot stop cursing the “fucking blue girl.”
The mothers bake moon pies and, after everyone else is asleep, drive out to the blue girl’s house, seek admission from the old woman she lives with, and one by one enter her room and feed her the moon pies into which they whispered their secrets. They leave lighter than they left and convinced they have done a good deed.
But as Audrey becomes thinner and Caroline’s grades begin to slip and Greg and Rebecca begin sneaking out together and Magda becomes concerned that her son will be trapped the same way she was, the trips to the blue girl become less satisfying and the children begin asking too many questions. The mothers stop asking questions they should be asking and when Libby’s and Irene’s sons turn up missing one night, everyone goes together to find the blue girl and the secrets are released.
I read through this book feverishly. I wanted to know what the blue girl was and whether or not she was real. Why was Irene’s husband mentally ill? Why did Libby’s husband stop coming home and why was Magda’s husband so unaware of his family’s turmoil? I wish I could say Foos answered these questions, but she did not. These are the questions she leaves us with and perhaps the questions to which there is no real answer. What causes a person to snap? Why do marriages fall apart? And is the marriage in which the husband does not come home until the early morning more apart than the one in which the husband is present, but disconnected from everyone’s emotions?
What a lovely idea that there is somewhere a repository that is waiting to receive our griefs, our miseries, our shames. But what happens to that repository when it is filled, as it must eventually be? I don’t know if I would recommend Foos to most of my friends, but I will keep her books on my shelf, which is something I do with few books the older I become. Maybe someday they will give me the answers I missed the first time.