So Much Blue by Percival Everett

I chose this book because I have joined LibraryThing to keep a record of books that I own and read and there was a group who read American Authors with this month focusing on Percival Everett. I loved The Trees and Dr No so chose So Much Blue.

It started off exactly the way I think of an Everett book starting. With maths or dimensions. We understand that he is talking about a canvas and pretty a large one, and then move onto the dimensions of the room, not just the square footage but also the volume. This canvas is for a painting that no one else is allowed to see, it has a title but no one else has heard it and this painting sits there, hidden for the rest of the story but trailing a line through everything that happens.

Kevin Pace is a succesful artist, his children go to a private school and he and his wife are able to go to Paris and spend some time there. It is at this point that the story splits and we find out about three key events in Pace’s life which have a hold on him and are secrets. Can a story be a tryptich?

1979 tells of the time when at the age of 22 Pace visited El Salvador with his best friend Richard to find Richard’s brother and bring him home. It just so happened that this was the time the country was descending into war and so events overtook them. This story feels like a coming-of-age story.

House tells of Pace’s domestic life, his absences even when he is physically there, his drinking and his painting and his relationship with Linda his wife. It turns out that he has many things he can’t tell her about and this lack of trust leads to problems in their marriage.

The third story takes place in Paris where Pace has an affair with a woman less than half his age, a rather cliched idea but a perfect cliche for yet another secret. This is his mid-life crisis. It is here that Pace describes his life as a painting that is static, hardly a story at all, ‘moving but with no moving parts’ (p54).

These three stories run in parallel until we start to get some cross-over, first just through phrases being repeated in each story such as ‘the walls come caving in’ and we get the colour blue in all its variations appearing in each story, linked to the secrets and times in his life that have been difficult. There’s a blue dress, one time it is cobalt blue, another royal blue, there is blue black, the manganese blue of the sky, light blue of socks, the blue of the night and of daylight.

. . . I saw the blue of rain, how it tinged the darkness of night sapphire and how Alice blue made lavender the leading edge of morning.


Blue is a colour of trust and loyalty and is the one colour that Pace does not use in his work because he can not control it. In the story it is connected to trauma and secrets.

There is quite a bit of threeness in the book: three stories, three decades of marriage, three reasons for not telling his wife about their daughter’s pregnancy, the phrase ‘so much blue’ said three times and then there are the dimensions of the canvas mentioned at the start of the book – ‘twenty one feet and three inches across’. There are the spare three inches, all needed, but the number is also divisible by three. So we do get some of Everett’s genre play because here he is using a fairy tale trope where three is ‘just right’. Even when asking his wife to marry him, Pace jokes that she is third on the list.

Eventually the story of House takes over, subsuming the others and Pace finally faces up to his life and the hold the secrets have had over him. He makes a decision and it would seem is redeemed.

I think of Everett as a comentator on race and whilst it is not at the forefront of this story, it is there in the background. Richard tells Kevin he is glad to have him with him when he walks through a predominantly African-American neighbourhood. It makes him feel safer. He describes jazz clubs as if they are churches with people sitting around – white churches. He doesn’t like the saying ‘calling a spade a spade’. They are low key in the story but they are there.

This is the story of the hold over a man’s life that secrets and trauma can have and how art can reveal that trauma or emotion without it ever being said.

A picture is a secret about a secret.

Diane Arbus, Epigraph

And so it is in this story. So much blue.

I am now off to get hold of a copy of I am Not Sidney Poitier by Everett to read that one as well. I have become a massive fan.

Other books by Everett are The Trees, Dr No and I am Not Sidney Poitier

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