Genre: Historical Fiction
Date Published: February 1, 2005
Number of Pages: 148
Print Price: $8.25
eBook Price: $
Mr. Blue is a little gem of a book – short but affecting, and featuring a memorably iconoclastic hero. Published in 1928, Myles Connolly’s first novel is like a Catholic answer to The Great Gatsby, questioning that distinctly American brand of materialism which offers big houses, fancy cars, and a bulging bank account as evidence of a person’s worth. As Fr. Breslin notes in his insightful introduction to this edition, “J. Blue was the man whom the ambitious Jay Gatsby might have become had he steered by a higher truth than the sound of money in Daisy Buchanan’s voice.”
Even the format is similar to Gatsby. A nondescript, Everyman narrator recalls with some mixture of wonder, admiration, and bewilderment a unique personality with whom he had a few fleeting encounters. Like Gatsby, Blue is a mystery to those around him, an enigmatic figure whose past is obscure and who presently moves in mysterious ways. Yet for Gatsby and Blue both, the source of the mystery is really quite simple. For Gatsby, it’s a girl. For Blue, it’s God.
To again quote Breslin, “The book is about a young man – the eponymous Blue himself – who decided to take Christianity seriously as a layman, not as a chore but as a challenge.” Mr. Blue is a Romantic hero in many respects: a rebel, a free spirit, a vagabond, and the “troubadour of the poorhouse.” Like St. Francis, Blue finds joy and whimsy in a faith that for too many of us is a complacent duty. “He was born a Catholic, but he had all that enthusiasm of discovery that heaven usually reserves for converts. His faith did not transform things: it made him see things. And what he saw made him exuberant with that enthusiasm so foolishly thought madness.”
When Blue inherits a ton of money, he blows through it like an innocent eight-year old handed a blank check, buying four palatial houses to fill with down-on-their luck servants. Blue could care less about hoarding money, he gives everything away. “He exchanged money for everything possible. He exchanged it with the poor for their delight. He exchanged it with the helpless for lighter hearts. I thought at one time he was setting a bad example for other plutocrats. But the fear was unfounded. Nobody imitated him.”
After his inheritance money runs out, Blue decides to take up residence on the roof of a New York skyscraper. The landlord is mystified until Blue explains his motives. “He set forth the advantages of living on top of a skyscraper: the air, the view, the solitude, the closeness to the heavens. He spoke vividly of his plans: how he could dream there on his back, how he would use the tent only on stormy nights, how delightful the music of the city would be, compressed by distance into a single note, how he could fly kites there and liberate balloons and set off Roman candles, how he could shout there to his heart’s content and, even, pray there.”
Mr. Blue owes much to G.K. Chesterton’s chivalric view of Christianity as a lifelong Romance. If I have one objection to Mr. Blue, it is the impression Connolly gives that sainthood is equal to "otherness," a strange and whimsical state-of-mind bordering on insanity. Connolly, a young author when he wrote this his first book, later admitted that Mr. Blue was not a character he could have invented after he'd married and begun to raise children.
Even so, Connolly's Mr. Blue remains an affecting Portrait of the Saint as a Young Man. We’ve all met those unique, inspiring people who take hold of Christianity as a life form, not as a Sunday obligation. Their joy and confidence in Christ is intoxicating, stimulating, and we’re reminded of the power and the glory of God’s brief tenure on Earth. But then life with all its attendant anxieties, duties, and demands tends to distract us from the essential point: that we’re all called to be saints.
Blue discovers his vocation: to live among the poor and downtrodden as one of them, bringing to them the story of Christ. “He was confident that in this work lay his career. He hoped, he said, others would someday join him, others who would go into the factories and great offices and teach there, as comrades, by character and example. They would be the Spies of God, he decided. Their unselfishness, their patience, their courage, their amiability, their fine wholesome lives would be living sermons to those who read only the newspapers and disdain the preacher. He even hoped that someday his spies would go into crafts like journalism and advertising and try to win men to a desire for truth and an affection for beauty. And such, briefly, was his great dream of a Secret Service for God.”
Mr. Blue should especially appeal to younger readers, to those at an age when Holden Caulfield seems like a worthy role model. Mr. Blue’s eponymous hero is young, attractive, and joyful in his devotion to Christ. As the narrator observes, “One expected that this striking and vigorous lad would have other diversions (than religion). He was audacious, merry, healthy. He had, indeed, all of those buoyant and vivid qualities I had been told were alien to religious recollection and the pious life.”
Connolly’s point is that Blue’s buoyancy and vitality spring from his faith rather than in spite of it. He hopes to shake his reader out of spiritual lethargy, to remind us that we’re called to follow Christ, whose life ended in crucifixion not comfortable domesticity. Yet this journey of faith is really an adventure, not a burden, and though Blue seems like a madman to many, the narrator ultimately understands that “he had all the marks of insanity but somehow he gave you the impression that we were all crazy and he alone was sane.”
Publisher: Loyola Classics
Original Language: English
Book Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 8.5 inches
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