The Blue Hour by Laura Pritchett (2017)

blue-moon-mountain-map-laura-pritchett

“And during this time you will simply decide to tell the truth. You are thinking clearly tonight. Clear as the stars. You love the sky at this time of night. You are in the l’huere bleue of your life, the blue hour, the hour of dusk, the hour when everything changes.” 7

Laura Pritchett’s gorgeous novel, The Blue Hour, tells the story of twenty-four men, women and children living on Blue Moon Mountain in Colorado. Together they form a community that is, at times, more like a family: intricately linked to one another for better or worse, their lives on the mountain made possible by their collectivism. Blue Moon Mountain gives it residents a life that is both sides of the coin: a place of solitude but also loneliness; freedom to live independently but also utterly dependent; surrounded by nature but also at its mercy. When one of the most prominent members of the town, Sy, commits suicide, it throws the entire mountain into a tail-spin, all suddenly questioning the meaning of life and waking up to the fact that they may not be making the most of the time they have.

Despite the complex challenges the characters face in their everyday lives on the mountain, and especially in the wake of Sy’s suicide, it is love that seems to preoccupy them all. Love — the thrill of discovering it, the ache of its absence, the devastation as it evaporates, and, for the lucky, the nourishment it brings to one’s entire existence. Through her stunning prose, Pritchett brings these stories to life, giving each member of the mountain community a unique voice and a chance to tell their story: to give their very personal reflections on love or love lost or love’s absence. All of the characters seem to instinctively understand that love makes the burdens of life easier to bear.

At its first stirrings, love seems so stunning and impossible and magical. Pritchett gives us several Blue Moon residents who are in the flush of new love. These characters are alight with the possibility of love, of what it could offer them: loneliness cured, stories shared, pain eased. “The only thing grand enough for a human life is love, this is where the wild and the gentle get sewn together.” 11

Alongside those stories of new love are those of fading love: couples who have grown tired or who have stepped out and away from love, either in reality or at least in practice. The stories of endings are filled with a sense of profound frustration that these characters seem to be letting go and disengaging and denying love the chance of re-blooming. “Meanwhile, you forget how ice-thin the space between love and not-love, fondness and irritation…you realize that the most popular story on earth is falling in love, the next most popular is falling out. Love most often dies by ice not fire.” 1-2

Finally, there are the Blue Moon residents who are aching for love and feel empty without it. These men and women are all battling — to varying degrees — with loneliness, depression, and anger at how much they long for what they do not have. Ranging in age and circumstances, these characters are bereft with what is missing from their lives and with the possibility that they may go forever without ever finding someone to share it. These characters tell stories that are simultaneously familiar and terrifying, because all readers are unaware of how it feels (or can imagine how it might feel) to live without love. Pritchett gives beautiful voice to the fears of those searching for love and the desperate hope they hold, always on the look for “a moment that contains the potential for love.”

The stories in the novel also offer reflections on the myriad of ways a person can choose to approach life. Will they choose engagement or detachment? Will they coax love out of something simple? Will they offer more, rather than less, to their lover? Will they stay on the mountain to see if love grows or move away in hope of lessening the pain of love unrequited? Pritchett brings to light all of the ways a person can make a million small decisions to retract from life, and consequently, from love.

“This pain was not as bad as the pain of being alone night after night, realizing the depth of untruthfulness of that mistaken belief, and that she’d let too much time slip by, been too picky, too selfish, too lazy, too indecisive, had let herself go smoke’s way, drifting along. It seemed unbelievable. It has simply taken her too long to realize that the door of love and family wouldn’t just open, that she was supposed to bang on that particular door more loudly. She hadn’t and now it was too late.” 158

Laura Prittchett’s prose is spare and precise, but somehow it always manages to convey so very, very much to readers. Simple but never easy. Although the stories of the characters are brief, they are also extremely intense: each one delving in to the person’s most vulnerable, painful parts…but doing so with the slimmest hope that by exposing these secrets they will not lose but win, by way of welcoming someone deeper into their hearts. Although these stories are solemn, the book never becomes heartbreaking. Pritchett pulls back just enough so readers still see a glimmer of hope, even in the darkest circumstances. The stories of sadness are interspersed with gorgeous love stories and those are filled with such hope that buoy up the rest. And the beauty with which she writes these stories is just too rich and lush to contain only sadness.

This book is a masterpiece and not to be missed!

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