From the opening pages, Percival Everett's So Much Blue is very much the cliché you hope it will not be. The artist, past the peak in his life and career, putting his all into one last great work. He wonders if it is his masterpiece, hoping no one ever lays eyes on it. The artist, reflecting back on his life, in particular, the affair he had in Paris with a young artist half his age. Of course the artist drinks far too much. Even the book acknowledges the clichés. As I read that first day, maybe two, I was distracted, wondering what I'd read after I finished (or gave up on) this dead, dead horse.
At some point, I began to tolerate the cliché. And then it seemed as if it became nothing more than a backdrop to an increasingly riveting story. Tied in with the present and the affair of ten years ago is a third period, the earliest, about the artist's trip to El Salvador during a time the country was descending into chaos. As the three periods grow more enmeshed, the story as a whole begins to coalesce. It never escapes the cliché completely, but it molds it and crafts a tale that somehow makes the banal elements work to its advantage. In the end, this novel questions the elusiveness of defining trust, love, and sacrifice, an undertaking as illusory as defining various gradients of color.
While I'd heard of Everett years ago, this is my first actual outing with the author. I've heard him described as one of the most underrated authors at present. Although I cannot attest to such an assertion based on one novel, I certainly see the possibility of such a truth. So Much Blue shows significant brilliance in craft and thought. I never fully escaped the constrictions of the cliché and this is the only reason I finally settled on four out of five stars; however, know that this is a very strong four star rating and I very much look forward to reading more from this author.