Bound By Blue
by Meg Tuite
2013, Sententia Books
“I stared into faces that interacted with me and saw terror and pity bleeding from their eyes, but not saying what we both knew was transpiring before us.”
Meg Tuite’s third book is a collection of stories that quickly slips into dark places. Sometimes that happens in the very beginning, other times the darkness enters later, but it’s pretty much always there. What do I mean by “darkness”?
Bound By Blue revealed a theme of terrible parents early on. While not all of them had bad intentions, they all affected their children negatively. I started making a list of who these people were. For mothers, there were three with mental illnesses, an alcoholic who sleeps in her twenty-five-year-old daughter’s bed, and an incestuous rapist. For fathers, there was an incestuous rapist, a man with dementia, an alcoholic “psycho,” a pervert and alcoholic, a man who abandons his children and whose brother rapes the daughter, and a rage-filled dad. Not happy stuff! Even parents who are described as “normal” don’t get a warm portrayal: “The parents were tired after work and muscled through a house full of whining kids they basically ignored. We were fed every night. Meat, potato, and vegetables of differing colors and smells. Then they opened beers, lit cigarettes, and waved us on our way.”
There are moments when Tuite slips in humor, but it’s often an unsettling humor. When Wanda goes to the grocery store, she buys food for dogs long dead, but Wanda’s daughter appears to respond with an attitude of “Here goes my mom again,” as if Wanda is normal according to Wanda’s world. In “The Creep,” a man bonds with his kin when she makes fart jokes, though their relationship and why she still talks to him is painful. When an alcoholic mother examines her daughter, who has gotten heavy from new medication, she says, “You’re every woman’s fantasy of a volcano. Look at you, baby….You’ve got the makings of a science project.” The lightest story, and the last, is “The Healer.” On a plane ride to Brazil, the narrator sits next to a widow who feels the narrator reminds him of his deceased wife. His pitiful attempts to hit on her–and his crying–are more funny than sad. He describes the wife: “‘Her aura radiated colors and she could see people’s auras. She could tell what internal organs inside them were sick.’ He continued to ramble on about her light and radiation and I had been responding with ‘uh huh’ and ‘really’ until I realized he didn’t care if I said anything or not, so I finally drifted off to sleep with the drone of his voice in my head.”
Despite brief amusing moments that may or may not have been intended to amuse, Tuite’s collection is incredibly heavy. The final story, “The Healer,” is the only one with a positive vibe, and even then it’s not very strong–which is okay! I’m definitely not a big believer in happy endings or stories full of warm-and-fuzzies. The narrator in “The Healer” is filled with disappointment and is pretty sure she’s been tricked, but having faith–even a tiny bit–does change the tone of Bound by Blue. Life doesn’t have to be happy or good, and there will be lots of horrible moments between the brief passages of calm sailing. Tuite wisely knew that ending the collection on a bit of an up-note would be good for readers. I only wish she had made the book more of a progression, a development of sorts, in the emotional states across the collection. What happens to the narrator after she goes on her healer retreat? Does it get worse? Better? Could there be a suggestion of what happens next by including a story of someone at a different stage in their process? Because the collection is so heavy with the emotions of abused characters, at times it felt like a list of horrible moments in unfathomable lives.