For much of the book, So Much Blue reads like an abstract painting, the type our main character Kevin paints.
Discordant swirls of color and lines live on one canvas, not making sense, seeming to coexist with no reason. It’s almost frustrating to look at. Are we supposed to accept the art as it is: a meaningless confluence of colors and shapes?
And then it all comes together and hits the viewer with a punch of awareness. The lines and shapes and swirls suddenly make sense only with each other, each stroke vital to the formation of the next.
The beautifully-written So Much Blue does the same. I’ll end the book as painting metaphor and catch you up on the plot.
Kevin is an artist of some note. While he possesses the pathos, malaise, and misanthropy that seems to inhabit every artist stereotype, it’s tempered with reality, as he is also a family man. The dark and disconnected feelings and tendencies are still there, he just hides them. Not only from his family, but from himself. And not always successfully.
We follow Kevin through three times in his life. One is in El Salvador, when he travels with his best friend to find his friend’s wayward brother. Another storyline follows Kevin to Paris and his extramarital affair with a much younger woman. The third is his present life with his wife and two children.
Though the book shows different periods in life and time, the three storylines are presented concurrently in flashes. One moment, we see Kevin dealing with his daughter’s big secret. In another, he is meeting with his lady friend in Paris. And in another flash, he’s helping a stranger dig a makeshift grave.
This is where the discordance comes in. These storylines seem to have no connection or even meaning. The reader meanders through the stories, not quite understanding why they’re even here. While mildly interesting, it’s also mildly frustrating.
And then it all snaps together. Kevin is the canvas, and every word, every memory is integral to the painting.
It makes me think of Picasso’s Blue Period. For Picasso, it only lasted 3 years. For Kevin, it’s lasted 30.