I haven’t dipped my toe in the reviewing waters yet. But I thought it was high time to do so once I read Once in a Blue Year by Michael D. Durkota.
Like complex, dynamic characters? How about dramatic tension? A little mystery in the workings of love? Me, too! Hence the need to review and the need to praise.
Once in a Blue Year sticks close to three submariners who are friends but often times unfriendly toward one another. Nathan, checked out from his wife and infant son, loves going under that big drink where he can find solace in his own little world. Dan is tormented by a desire to love someone off limits, but tormented more by his inability to move away from a life that no longer suits him. Trevor, all muscle and stunted emotion, balances his morals against the outside world’s insistent battering at his limitations.
These guys dance around one another, on submarine and on dry land, influencing life paths, choices in love and choices in violence. Durkota takes these men through a literary swell of befuddled relationships, sprinkling in a moody, mysterious ambiance throughout the pages. The sentences making up Once in a Blue Year are crisp and tight, punctuated by evocative metaphors and punchy dialogue. One of my favorite images in the book was this one, where Dan reminisces about his time in his father’s basement: “Sawdust would stick to his arms and legs, and he would wipe it away with a swipe of his hand, as if he were wiping away the stars in the sky.” In a lovemaking scene in the book, a moment of guilt-laced passion, he writes, “In mathematics, the product of two negatives is positive. He wasn’t sure if that applied.” I’ve never read a more apt description of an adulterous act than this one.
One of my favorite characters is Jags, a off-kilter submariner looking for ways to get discharged from the Navy. He provides comic relief, Durkota using his nutty voice to break up the seriousness of the story and call into question the reality taking center stage in the narration. Jags has loads of great lines, often playing off the other men. This exchange, between Jags and Trevor, made me laugh out loud:
“When did they let you out?”
“Last night. They said I’m perfectly sane.”
“Did you ask for a second opinion?”
“The thought hadn’t occurred to me.” Jags limped along with the use of one crutch. “What happened to your eye?”
“I must have popped a blood vessel.”
“You look like Satan.”
“Not now. We’ll be late for work.”
I’m a stickler for a strong plot. That doesn’t mean the stories I read need to be formulaic, but they do have to put characters in positions where they are forced to weigh their options and make choices. They must move in a direction, instead of being put upon by outside forces. I like when characters are in the flow of cause and effect and do their best to affect the current. Once in a Blue Year is quiet in ways, a focused vignette on choices made in life and in relationships. Though the scope of the plot is on events we all face in life, it doesn’t mean Durkota’s plot is small. Not at all. It’s rich and complex, detailing a story of love and loss from the perspective of some very real characters.
Durkota writes about Dan’s preferences when reading a book, saying, “He felt safe in the distance. Detached. A voyeur. He spied on the lives of people he didn’t know. He envied the invisible narrator that has no blame, feels no pain. He thought he would choose his own ending.” To me, Dan and Durkota are one in the same here, and the words parallel the psychological suspense of the novel. Except Michael D. Durkota didn’t detach himself from this tale; it’s all in for this author and the reader feels it in spades. The author is present in this tale in a good way. There is no heavy-handed moralistic or personal veneer to wade through. Durkota serves his story and his characters as they wish him to, and that’s no small feat for a writer.
Once in a Blue Year is a nuanced tale of men haunted by life and by their weaknesses and loves. Highly recommended. Can’t wait for Durkota’s next work. Hopefully it won’t be another fifteen years in the making. I don’t want to wait that long!
Connect with Michael D. Durkota on Twitter (@durk13) and on his website (www.durkota.net)