Mr. Blue by Myles Connolly reviewed by Mike Foster.
Mr. Blue is one of those books people recall having read long ago as a something-teen and liked without being able to say why.
Certainly, it was for Mr. Blue himself, the enigmatic eccentric young man who flies kites, dreams dreams, loves martial music, “a gent so happy he’s crazy.”
Re-reading it some fifty years after that first time, one can see why it appealed to so many bright young readers: Mr. J. Blue’s anti-establishment free-spiritedness evokes both Huckleberry Finn and Francis of Assisi. He is Gatsby in love with Lady Poverty instead of money-voiced Daisy. If Holden Caulfield’s cold, lonely walk had ended up at a Catholic Worker house instead of a psychiatric hospital, call him Mr. Blue II.
In fact, J. Blue is the Anti-Holden as Holden was the Anti-Huck. Myles Connolly was a successful screenwriter between the time this durable little book was first published in 1928 and its paperback reissue in 1954, which began a resurgence in popularity that lasted at least till Connolly’s death in 1964.
This book has the same exasperating charm that The Catcher in the Rye has: good as it is, it is not as good as we remembered it. It is choppy: Connolly’s movie experience gives us a book composed of several montages of scenes with young J. Blue in Boston and New York, for poorer and in richer, in health and in sickness.
He lives in a gaudily-painted packing case emblazoned with a home-made pennant proclaiming “Courage” atop a thirty-story Broadway skyscraper when first we meet him. There he entertains his friends, who never become intimates or apostles, but rather an audience.
His kindness to all has the curious naïve charm of a 88-year-old idealist (which this book is) as he loves and is beloved by Negroes, Jews, Irish, Swedes, derelicts, laborers. He is only intolerant of intolerance: “Any manifestation of bigotry against any color or creed would send the blood to his face.”
Then just as readers begin to wonder who or what—a childish madman? Christ reborn with a Boston accent?–he is, Blue disappears from the top of the Tootsall and the middle of this short (119 pages) tale, just after he spins a 14-page would-be movie scenario about a future dystopia that begins when the last Christian is found and killed.
In Blue’s script, a single rebel keeps the faith alive, celebrates an unlikely Mass atop the citadel of the Anti-Christ as airplanes circle like Ringwraiths, and brings on the Second Coming with his Hoc est enim corpus meum.
Then Blue is gone, and the epistles follow: 23 pages of letters from and about Blue. His ring with clever cadences and plangent paradox:
“Others can be important, but not one who is so small that he wonders why anyone save the infinitely kind God should be good to him. Others can be sober or restrained, but not one who is mad with the loveliness of life, and almost blind with its beauty…Life gives you pretty much what you give it. She gives beauty to those who try to add to her beauty. She gives happiness to those who share this happiness with her. She gives, even, love to those who love her. But these are very, very few. Almost all of us have a capacity for being loved. But few of us have a capacity for loving.”
Although he himself has many friends but no intimates, choosing the cross, as he says, over a wife, Mr. Blue speaks compellingly of the renewed need for “husbands and fathers who were great saints. ‘It’s odd,’ he said, ‘that nowadays there’s no special appeal to sainthood for the heads of families. The idea seems to be that, after a man is married, little else than an ordinary good Christian life is expected of him. In the ripe wisdom of noble husbandhood should lie, it seems to me, rare seeds of sanctity.’”
Mr. Blue dies, of course, at the end. Such heroes always do. We last see him skeletal but still smiling in Boston City Hospital, struck down by a speeding limousine having saved a drunken co-worker from injury.
Then the bed is empty and he is gone, leaving only his words:
“When the day comes that the sky is emptied of stars, and the sun is black, I am sure that somewhere men will be merry together, somewhere good hearts will greet good hearts, and somewhere our dreams of unbroken love and good talk and laughter will have come true. This is a glorious Somewhere, and it is far nearer to us than the stars. There Our Lady talks of children to unknown mothers who taught their many children the love of her single Son. There St. Joseph is a man among peasants…There Saint George boasts of his conquest of the dragon, and mayhap the Good Thief listens, or mayhap he hears little Saint Francis singing his songs. It is a good place, this somewhere. It has been called Paradise. It has been called the Tavern at the End of the World. And it has been called Home.”
Sentimental and patchwork as it is, Mr. Blue still may be worth pulling off the shelf and trying on again, rather like your high school colors jacket. It doesn’t fit too well, perhaps, these days, but you will remember the time when it did.