The mothers bake their secrets into the moon pies and feed the moon pies to the girl blue, these three mothers—Irene, Magda, and Libby—who don’t know what’s become of their lives, or rather they know all too well: they’ve bared witness to everything, from the birth of their children to the despondency of their husbands, but still feel helpless, trapped, as though there is no escape from tomorrow and all its dull pain, so they seal their secrets away into the marshmallow cream filling of the moon pies and offer these homemade desserts up to the hungry blue girl, this weird girl who doesn’t speak and is a bizarre blotch on the peaceful façade of their awfully bland lake town. It’s a miracle the mothers don’t go crazy like Irene’s husband has. It’s astounding they don’t try to swim away into the suicidal depths of the lake like the blue girl longs to. These three mothers, each of whom has a daughter and a son and a life she wishes could be so different that it would be unrecognizable to her, they persevere, tending to their families and domestic expectations, yet their lives are filled with enough ineffable desire it’s suffocating. To put it plainly, Laurie Foos has written a stunning novel about despair.
The Blue Girl has six narrators—the three mothers and their three daughters—each of whom offers insights into the blue girl, a strange creature who looks as if “she lights up somehow, like a house you pass at night when the shades are drawn and you start to imagine what the people inside are like,” and whom Irene’s daughter Audrey saves from drowning. “I don’t know why I saved her,” Audrey tells us, implying there ought to be an explanation, as if one needs a reason to live, or at least be rescued. But while Audrey responds to the blue girl with compassion rooted in curiosity and something more, her mother is repulsed. “I feared infection,” Irene thinks, “the girl’s odd blue skin leaking into my daughter’s flesh, soaking it with—poison?”
Yet it is never clear, not to the mothers, not to their children, and surely not to us, what—if anything—the blue girl represents. There is her undeniable utter blueness, which by the end of the novel appears “as if her skin was waging a battle against its own blueness, and was losing.” It’s a blueness that Magda’s daughter Caroline researches on the internet to no avail, a blueness that Rebecca and Caroline’s biology teacher Mr. Davis claims is an impossibility, a blueness that seems to exist as if by magic without affording the blue girl any majesty, a blueness that dooms her just as the mothers feel doomed by the quotidian cruelties infesting their lives. And so to cope they bake moon pies for the blue girl, who is afforded no such respite from this selfsame doom.
“We do not know her name,” Irene tells us in the beginning, “not even now, after we have offered her our secrets and watched her swallow them whole.” I wonder what Foos’s recipe is. The key ingredients are clear enough: sugar, flour, chocolate for the cookies, and marshmallow cream for the middle. But what ratio? Is any vanilla extract required? How many secrets must go into each moon pie and what delicious, peculiar flavors do these secrets add? Can the blue girl taste the mothers’ unmitigated want?
Desperation becomes simultaneously frivolous and deadly when it does not have an outlet. The mothers understand this even though they’re afraid to say it aloud. “I suddenly know that what I really want,” Libby thinks, “is something I can never have.” This heart-stabbing want, longing so thick it has a taste, is Foos’s main concern—how the uselessness of desire, desire for a different life, for something more, leads so quickly and perniciously to desperation and despair, especially for these women confined to small town life where their silent husbands go to work and they make moon pies and try to protect their daughters from replicating their own mistakes. Caroline, who gets A’s in biology and is the smartest of the three daughters, understands this desire. “I want something I cannot name,” she thinks, “something that will pull me out of the books and the words and my own head, something that will take me out to where they’ve been. / To her.”
The Blue Girl, Foos’s sixth novel, continues her exploration of a unique sort of conceit-driven fantastical realism. In her first novel, a woman loses her uterus at a shopping mall, perhaps “somewhere between the shoe store and the lingerie counter of a major department store.” In her fourth novel, a hair replacement specialist named Cass discovers one day that a horn is growing out of the center of her forehead. The bizarre occurs as frequently as breakfast in Foos’s fiction and while the characters are repulsed, perplexed, and intrigued by these oddball intrusions, no one is especially shocked. Real life is a strange thing already; what’s one more lost uterus or human unicorn to top it all off?
Unlike Foos’s earlier novels, which are generally written in zainier, more jocular prose styles, The Blue Girl is a somber affair. The crush of domesticity is keenly felt here; melancholy suffuses the lake town air. In some ways, it is Foos’s best book, because of how quickly and easily it transcends the initial conceit of the mysterious blue girl and delves into the inner lives of the mothers and the daughters who tell us their tales of sorrow and desire. While reading it, I longed to taste the sticky sweetness of the moon pies. I wanted to understand the secrets hidden within every statement, gesture, and glance. I wanted to know every strange, hopeful, angry sentiment that can be cooked into marshmallow cream filling but put never into words.