By turns funny, shocking and heartbreaking, it's one of his best books to date. And with a career as distinguished as Everett's, that's saying something ... So Much Blue is essentially three books in one. The sections covering the present day read like a remarkably honest work of domestic fiction, while the chapters set in Paris are more of a haunting love story. The parts of the book set in El Salvador, as the country's long civil war is breaking out, are more like a thriller than anything. The only things the three parts have in common is Kevin, and Everett's masterful writing ... a generous, thrilling book by a man who might well be America's most under-recognized literary master, and readers will be thinking about it long after the last page.
Three stories, scattered across time, fuse into one stunning tale in Percival Everett’s latest novel. Each individual strand of So Much Blue has a page-turning urgency of its own — but taken together they add up to a masterpiece ... The pleasures of the novel stem in part from the way Kevin second guesses his own actions every step of the way. They also derive from his dry wit ... The book is steeped with violent encounters and violations of trust. What unifies it is Kevin’s painterly eye, which comes into play at the most unexpected moments ... As its narrative threads combine, So Much Blue becomes a taut meditation on the costs of keeping vital or traumatic experiences to yourself. In the process, the book serves up a brilliant portrait of a contradiction-filled character whose artwork is both his retreat and his attempt to reach out.
Pace’s storytelling is more like a three-suit deck of cards shuffled so that a card from each suit appears alternately, each card its own short story ... Writing in straightforward, seemingly effortless prose, Everett puts these secrets in conversation. He creates suspense by subtly withholding information ... So Much Blue presents Everett, one of our culture’s preeminent novelists, a nonpareil ironist-satirist, turning away from the familiar terrain of his recent fictions. On this new turf, however, a problem arises for the author: Though ironic art may not lead the protagonist home, irony is a basic component of the kind of self-critique that will. Yet this crucial element — necessary to the character’s development and his realizations about secrets and art — is lost in the shuffle somewhat. Nonetheless, captivating and pleasurable, especially those pages devoted to El Salvador, So Much Blue is a 'coming of middle-age' story worth gazing into.
It might be said that Everett’s novel suggests that marriage is built on closely guarded secrets — which is not quite the same thing as saying it is built on lies or deception, but rather, in a D. H. Lawrence kind of way, it suggests that marriage makes a certain contradictory impulse plain and even necessary: Marriage is about trying to sustain one’s inviolate self against the encroachment of the familial maw ... The familiarity of these characters and their desires, all a concoction of Kevin’s perspective, is, ironically, what makes the novel absorbing in its simplicity about bourgeois banality and the quest for expression. The book is also quite funny at times. So Much Blue is never quite what you expect, only close.
There are echoes in So Much Blue of Don DeLillo’s The Names, with the shadowy doings mingling with the story of a failed marriage, and of Alberto Moravia’s Boredom and its jaded painter-narrator. Americans dabbling in politics, drugs, bloodsport south of the border; an American indulging in faithless love in Paris; class posturing among Americans in Rhode Island — Everett has blended these disparate strands of an imagined life into a quietly beguiling novel. That he’s constructed it on an edifice of clichés, sanded down and transformed into combustive elements, is a sign of his mastery of the form.
Proceeding at a steady, entrancing pace, Mr. Everett pays out the lines of his story until he reaches the twin traumatic secrets at the core of Pace’s personality. Thus So Much Blue potently explores the Faustian bargain by which artists fertilize their guilt and estrangement for the sake of their creations ... So Much Blue is a comparatively accessible work yet still displays his narrative prowess, erudition and sense of enigma. It is, in short, an ideal place to start with this great but neglected novelist.
Kevin's artistic eye will wander many more times over the course of the book's interlocking narratives, as will his faithfulness to his wife and children. As he has done in previous novels, Everett explores the nature of artistic creation and the many effects an obsession can have on life and family … Parts of So Much Blue read like a detective thriller, but the novel is far more philosophical than a run-of-the-mill mystery. The many philosophical asides – Kevin discourses about the difference between good sense and common sense and refers to Hume and transubstantiation – are among the book's many distinguishing touches … The focus of So Much Blue is on an artist trying to communicate the vagaries of existence and wondering whether the quest for posterity is worth the struggle.
...[a] tough and tender novel ... Everett has a reputation as an experimentalist and a trickster, but if So Much Blue is subverting genres, that’s another one of its secrets. It’s as if Everett had set himself the task of writing a plain old novel with all the plain old novel-y stuff. The ingredients are the same as in Kehlmann: an artist-narrator, an extramarital affair, a haunted house. But Kehlmann gave me the heebie-jeebies, and Everett broke my heart.
Everett’s new novel, So Much Blue, has dashes of his signature quirky comedy, but it’s not one of his roaring, monster-truck satires … More than the story of a man and his family, though, So Much Blue is an extended meditation on seeing. Pace is an abstract painter who is also African-American, and in that way, the novel could not be timelier … It might be helpful to visualize the structure of So Much Blue as a painting. Containing 17 chapters set in 1979, 15 in 1999, and 22 in 2009—all jumbled together—the novel works like a shattered triptych, or perhaps like an elaborate game of three-card monte, with secrets revealed every so often. The technique is effective, and the rhythm that develops keeps the pages turning.
The three narrative threads feel disparate at the novel’s beginning, with little in common beyond their shared narrator, but they slowly begin to coalesce and inform each other, revealing and clarifying what makes Kevin tick, and what motivates him to conceal his masterpiece ... All three plotlines are markedly distinct, and this makes for a vertiginous reading experience — the stark jumps are, at first, difficult to keep up with. But the contrast creates a delightful suspense: We know Kevin gets out of these jams, but we don’t yet know how ... Author Everett writes with wit and precision. His sentences have the whimsical acrobatics of Michael Chabon, but their restraint and caution recall Denis Johnson. That is not to say that Everett isn’t his own writer, because, in fact, his distinct narrative voice is part of why So Much Blue is such a fun page-turner.
There are three separate plot strands, skillfully interwoven, each informing the others ... The author’s deft plotting and wry wit sustain multiple levels of intrigue, not only about how each of the subplots resolves itself, but how they all fit together.
Art, friendship, family, and sex all jostle for priority of focus in the prolific Everett’s contemplative new novel. The plot doesn’t so much unfold or tighten but rather follows the idiosyncratic thoughts of its protagonist ... The novel’s version of the three ages of man adds yet another level to Everett’s intellectually provocative work.