by Elise Levine
200 Pages, $14.95
Elise Levine’s Blue Field starts slow, setting up its characters and their relationships carefully, like dominoes to be knocked over. I found myself getting a little impatient during sections of Part One, wondering when the plot was going to kick into high gear – and then, without warning, I was hooked. Blue Field is written almost akin to a prose poem, with long, winding sections of vivid imagery, barely any paragraph brakes, and nothing to really denote dialogue from description. At first, the descriptions seem mundane, if not slightly colored by protagonist Marilyn’s background as a medical student (as when she describes “her follicles, alert as antennae” from the cold). But as Blue Field marches steadily onwards, the long descriptions feel more Lynchian, an extended shot of a moment that Levine lingers on for just a bit too long before releasing you into the next segment or chapter.
Blue Field, being the story of a woman who is once passionate about diving, quits, and then takes it up again, has an abundance of scenes that take place underwater. These scenes in particular accomplish a certain anxious breathlessness that puts the reader side by side with Marilyn, going through every step of the dive as she performs it. The level of research Levine put into Blue Field is impressive, and abundantly clear from these parts alone. Many of the terms related to diving aren’t explicitly defined in the text, as Marilyn is already familiar with them, but it’s more than easy to pick up on what they do through how Marilyn handles or uses them. I never found myself stumbling over a sentence for lack of knowledge about a term – rather, it was easy to simply let the current of the diving sequences carry me, and learn the terms through context. Most of them are used repeatedly throughout the book, giving you multiple chances to learn the vernacular. But even if you don’t, there’s no great loss to your understanding of the book (and you can always look it up later).
Levine weaves Marilyn’s internal narrative in seamlessly with the events happening around her, wrapping the reader up in Marilyn’s anxieties surrounding mortality even before the gut-punching death that comes roughly halfway through the novel. But even from Marilyn’s memory of her parents’ funerals, towards the beginning, Blue Field never shies away from potentially messy depictions of grief. Instead, it employs the same Lynchian method mentioned previously, forcing the reader to get up close and personal with not just the way that Marilyn grieves for both her parents and her dead friend Jane, but the way that Marilyn’s husband Rand, and even Jane’s family do. These scenes are by no means pretty, but they gives the characters weight, making their sorrow almost tangible, even among the supporting cast members who only show up for a chapter or two.
Blue Field is at its best during these unflinching moments of raw emotion, and the last few parts of the book felt relentless. I found Blue Field hard to put down not only because of its steady, full-steam-ahead pacing, but because I was genuinely worried about what would happen to Marilyn by the end of the book. As she slowly self-destructed, I became as preoccupied with mortality as she was, questioning if Levine would really let the book end on such a dismal note as Marilyn’s death. Though I won’t say definitively what the answer to that question is, Blue Field, for all its relentless grief and panic, manages to end on a surprisingly cathartic note. I found it a very satisfying read, and would recommend it for anyone looking for a new book to pick up this summer (though considering its subject matter, it may not be the best book for the beach).