Blameless is Lisa Reardon’s second novel and finishing it means that I have now read all three of her novels. (She is also the author of several plays, short stories and some nonfiction.) I discovered her years ago when I read Billy Dead, a book that has stayed with me ever since. I also read and enjoyed her novel The Mercy Killers. She would definitely be an auto buy for me if she wrote another novel.
Mary Culpepper is in her 30s. She lives alone in rural Michigan, the oldest of three sisters. She drives a school bus, plays softball, lives alone and drinks too much. She’s a solitary character, although she is friends with 12-year-old Julianna. Mary is currently waiting to testify at the trial of Patricia Colby, a mother accused of killing her six-year-old daughter Jen. The anxiety of the trial manifests itself as the Night Visitor, a huge stone monster that visits her at night.
Mary’s life has been one of trauma. Her father was a philanderer and her parents’ toxic marriage pitted Mary between them. Her mother cautions her: “Don’t you ever trust a man […] Men are selfish sons of bitches. […] And women are worse. You scratch the surface on any one of ’em and you get a whore.”
It’s hard for Mary to escape the legacy of her mother’s thoughts about marriage and relationships, especially when her own marriage fails. That betrayal is added to the list of reasons Mary has, in many respects, removed herself from the world. Yes, she still goes to Sunday dinner at her mother’s and, yes, she has friends, but just after the discovery of Jen Colby’s body, Mary had a breakdown which required hospitalization.
The she meets Number 34.
I concentrated on the players in the field. Looked for that particular width of Number 34’s shoulders, how the muscles tapered down to the small of his back. There he was in left field, where he’d been all summer. He snagged a fly ball for the second out. Jesus, I wanted to sink my teeth into those shoulders.
Blameless is a quiet novel where nothing much happens. Mary is often her own worst enemy, but as her story is pulled back layer by layer and you come to understand all the ways life has kicked her in the teeth, you just want something, anything, good to happen for her. Reardon has a particular gift when it comes to writing broken characters and I really enjoyed my time with Mary, even though, like her previous novels, the story is pretty grim.