Norrie Blume, the protagonist of Patricia Traxler’s debut novel, Blood, is a thirty-five-year-old painter who has taken a leave of absence from her job as a graphic artist to focus on her art. To do that, she has accepted a Larkin fellowship at Radcliffe in Boston and has moved into one of the residences. It is there that she meets two other Larkin fellows, Clara, a journalist from Chile and Devi, a poet from London. Norrie doesn’t make friends easily and she is used to a certain degree of isolation – partly because of her vocation and partly because of her relationship with Michael Sullivan, a best-selling novelist who just happens to be married. It’s not like they can hang out in public. Nevertheless, she likes Devi immediately and sees all Clara’s character flaws just as quickly.
I have mixed feelings about Blood. Generally speaking, I liked it. The writing was decent and the story moved along. My problem had to do with a certain degree of uneveness.
Norrie tells the reader, “Though it’s true there’s a killing in my story, its principal violence is, I think I’d have to say, the violence of love.”
True enough: Norrie and Michael can’t keep their hands off each other and in one respect, Blood is a relatively explicit examination of infidelity. Of course, while there’s no real honour in adultery, Michael does genuinely seem to love Norrie and wants a future with her. On the other hand, he can’t quite seem to get his shit together enough to leave his wife of 25 years. And why should he when he can have his cake and eat it, too.
Much of Blood is given over to the push/pull of Norrie’s top-secret relationship with Michael (no one, not even her best friend Liz, knows about him even though they’ve been together for two years.) And that might have been quite enough for one novel, but Traxler also delves into the mysterious world of female relationships and that’s where Clara and Devi come in.
Clara is clearly passive-aggressive and Norrie alternates between feeling sorry for and irritated by her. When she meets Devi, however, her feelings are immediately of the warm and fuzzy variety. This strangely dysfunctional threesome makes up the other third of the novel’s narrative. It’s also what, apparently, drives the book’s suspense – not to say that I didn’t turn the pages, but towards the end it did get a little, um, silly.
Not content with all those relationships, Traxler also dips a brush into the whole world of creativity. Traxler herself is an award-winning poet and so she likely knows a thing or two about the creative process, I’m just not sure that as it was written here is added any value to this story.
I guess that’s why when I came to the end of Blood I couldn’t really say I loved the book. I might have liked it a whole lot better if it had been about just Norrie and Michael, or just Norrie and Clara and Devi or even just about Norrie and her struggles to create art. As it was, the canvas was just a little too crowded for me.