bluegirl

Reading Laurie Foos’ The Blue Girl is like peering into someone else’s dream. There is a slowness to the story that makes it feel surreal, like wading through water. The story navigates through the obstacles of female interiority—insecurity, motherhood, relationships, care taking, and secrecy.

The narration is shared between the perspectives of three women and their respective daughters. The girls live with their families in a remote beach town where vacationers come and go, though to the mothers, the setting is always painfully the same.

One day while at the beach, one daughter, Audrey, jumps into the lake to save a drowning child— a girl with shockingly blue skin. The women are mesmerized and fearful of the cerulean girl, but conceal their trauma, spurring a ripple of tension that emphasizes the lack of communication between these women and underpins the secrecy that preoccupies each character. After the event, the women find solace from the mediocrity of their lives and from the weight of their secrets by feeding the blue girl recovering in a house in the woods. Together, the mothers begin the tradition of bringing the blue girl creamy moon pies.

“When I stir the chocolate, I imagine each dark brown bubble absorbing my secrets, one at a time” (46). The women store their secrets in these treats, to be eaten by the blue girl who craves their confections with a ravenous hunger.

These mothers desperately want to connect with their daughters and one another, yet are unwilling to share their feelings with anything but their own cakes. So they deflect their increasingly heavy secrets onto the blue girl. However, by using her as an outlet, she becomes a silencer, exacerbating their secrets and insecurities by allowing them to solely rely on her for relief. But the reality is that there are no secrets. The characters understand and perceive one another better than they let on, so they burden themselves by holding onto secrets that their family would empathize with, if only they communicated.

When dropping her daughter off at school, Irene dreams of reaching out to her daughter:

“I want to tell her that I know where she’s been and that I have been there too. […] Before she turns away [ … ] I open my mouth to sing out her name as I watch her move away, but as I do, I feel my throat turn thick with sadness that will not allow me to speak.” (125–126)

And then, in the very next chapter her daughter shares:

“My mother knows. I can see it just by looking at her, the way she stares at me, the way she came in my room last night and stood there like I didn’t know what she wanted. When she said good-bye to me in the car, I think of just saying it to her. I think of telling her…” (129).

Both know what is on the other’s mind; yet, they create their own stress by choosing not to speak to each other.

This novel deeply understands what it is to be a woman struggling with her role as a wife and mother. The characters feel isolated in worrying about raising children, relating to their husbands, and coping with a life that falls short of their dreams, and all share these uncertainties and regrets, yet refuse to communicate them, thus turning them into moon pies.

This novel impresses on its readers the strength that a secret can tangibly and physically carry—enough weight to make up an ingredient in a cake. This burden is passed from generation to generation as the voice of the deceased mothers of Irene, Libby, and Magda, all of whom often plague the thoughts and actions of not only themselves, but their daughters. The weight of it emerges from the fact that the young girls not only hold their own insecurities but those of their mothers and grandmothers, as well. It is more than the blue girl can bear as she physically eats their secrets away. It reveals how impressionable and perceptive children are to the environment created by their parents.

The novel seems to suggest that women shoulder the brunt of this burden. The fathers and sons in the story are hardly addressed. Instead, they remain on the sidelines, and the reader will never really know their turmoil. Arguably, their troubles are made pointedly foreign compared to those of the women, as many of the men in this novel have a physical or mental disability.

Indeed, Laurie Foos skillfully touches on the challenging theme of mental illness and disability. Typically, stories of mental or physical need are a form of the recently pegged “sympathy porn,” in which those with special needs are strategically placed in a position to elicit feelings of awe and admiration, for despite their trials and tribulations, they manage to persevere. Rather, this is a brutally honest account of how mental illness can break a person and a family, and, according to one mother, leaves people a broken form of his or herself. Perhaps this is insensitive, but it’s also honest.

“… I used to imagine myself fixing his brain from the inside.” (178)

What remains puzzling at the story’s end is what the blue girl really represents. It is difficult to pinpoint why the women are inspired to reveal their burdens to an alien-like creature in the woods. How is she more relatable than the other women in their community, and why is the blue girl compliant in sustaining herself off of their secrets? Foos’ dreamlike writing style allows for these uncertainties by creating an entrancing experience. This story is not about what’s said, but about reading into the inner workings of each woman’s mind. The daughters are perceptive and thought-provoking, and the mothers are frustratingly relatable.

Laurie Foos
The Blue Girl
July 2015
Minneapolis, MN
Coffee House Press
220 pages
$15.95
ISBN-13: 9781566893992

posted on: Nomadic Press

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