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The Blue Window

A Novel


About The Book

From the Orange Prize­–winning author of A Crime in the Neighborhood comes a “sharply witty” and “impeccably written” (Star Tribune, Minneapolis) novel featuring a therapist attempting to unlock the most difficult cases of her life—those of her son and of her mother.

Anyone who’s ever had trouble persuading a teenager or an elderly parent to “open up” will recognize Lorna’s dilemma during the three days she finds herself alone in a remote lakeside cottage with her mutely miserable son and her impenetrable mother. Despite her training as a clinical social worker, and her arsenal of therapeutic techniques, she’s resisted at every turn as she tries to understand what’s made the two people most important to her go silent.

Though silence has always marked Lorna’s family. Her father was deaf. Her mother, Marika, abandoned Lorna and her brother when they were children. No explanation was ever offered. Nor why Marika resurfaced eighteen years ago to invite Lorna and her infant son, Adam, to Vermont for a strained reunion. A relationship, of sorts, has followed—an annual Thanksgiving visit, during which Marika sits taciturnly among the guests at Lorna’s table, agreeing only to “be seen to exist.”

But now it’s Adam who won’t talk. Home from college and suffering over something he won’t disclose, he’s so depressed that he refers to himself as “A” for “Anti-Matter.” So, when she’s summoned to Vermont because Marika has had a fall, Lorna sees an opportunity to get Adam out of the house and maybe also a chance to finally connect with her mother. What she never anticipated was that grandson and grandmother would form a bond, and leave her out of it.

How do you care for people you can’t understand, and who don’t want to be understood?

Suspenseful, poignantly funny, and beautifully incisive, The Blue Window explores the ways people misperceive each other, and how secrets and silence, wielded and guarded, exert their power over families—and what luminous, frightening, and tender possibilities might come forth, once those secrets are challenged.

“Suzanne Berne is an elegant, psychologically astute novelist” (Tom Perrotta), whose new book reveals what happens to people who hide from themselves, and the act of imagination it takes to find them.


Chapter 1 1
You could assume A stood for Adam. That’s what the mother assumed if she found a note in the kitchen that said something like “Going out. A.”

You could also assume A stood for the first letter of the alphabet, or A for anonymous. Or if you chose to get philosophical, you could posit that A meant “against” and that A was making a political statement by becoming A. If you were into physics, A might stand for something extra negative, like A for Anti-Matter.

Or if you had been on campus three weeks ago, A probably stood for Asshole.

Whatever it meant, A was not I. That was the point.

A did away with I.

I = Death.

You might assume the above statement was related to what happened during finals, on the lawn in front of the college library. But, A would suggest, obvious causal reasoning was as bad as complicated causal reasoning. Neither proved anything.

Plus, explanations turn into excuses.

Though if A were ever called upon to argue the case for rejecting “I” (while testifying before the student judiciary council, or say, Congress), this might be A’s response: Erasing the first person is the only responsible moral position to take in a world full of moral positions, most of them absurd and all of them dangerous.

To wit: the enraged Twitter lava flow accompanying news coverage of any march, speech, parade, Sunday school Easter egg hunt.

Thus: It is profoundly unsafe to attach to anything, to identify as anything. Ergo: Show no concern. Have no opinion. The world is full of fake news, so don’t make any. Hence: Eliminate “I”—the raised hand. The flag of existence.

Solution: A = Absent.

Actually, it had been easier than expected to shed the first-person pronoun and most possessive word forms, once A discovered that anything could be said in the passive voice. For instance, when the mother asked if A had walked Freddy while she was at work, A could answer, “It seems so” or “It seems not.”

If she said, “What have you been doing all day?” A might say, “Naps occurred” or “Videos were watched.” Added value of the passive voice—no definitely positive or negative statements. Although sometimes affirmation was necessary, like when the mother said, “Should I buy more avocados when I go to the grocery?” For those occasions, A used “Perchance,” a word so affected it could only mean “Yes.”

It hadn’t even been that hard to give up self-related urges, i.e., fapping. Passivity breeds passivity.

This afternoon, when the mother arrived home from her office and opened the bedroom door to begin her usual interrogation, A reported: Lunch had been eaten. The trash had not been taken out. Freddy had not been walked. Job applications to Starbucks and Wegmans had yet to be emailed.

“Bad choices were made,” she said, and came into the room to sit on the edge of the bed. She looked at T-shirts, dirty underwear on the floor, sighed, and said she’d had a long day. “I won’t bore you with the details.” But then, as usual, she did.

The men in her divorce therapy group couldn’t understand why “mansplaining” was a problem (Why not explain things that need explaining?); a client arrived forty-five minutes late for a session and then wondered if he still had to pay for it; another client spilled coffee on the office rug and went on talking as if nothing had happened. And then, as the mother was getting into her car to drive home, a huge SUV pulled in right behind her, forcing her to inch out of her parking spot while the driver stood on the sidewalk to make sure she didn’t scratch his bumper. Have a good day! she called out as she drove away.

A watched her mouth open and close with the familiar feeling of being made of the thinnest, clearest crystal and every word spoken within hearing being a small jagged rock. Important to remember that she was not trying to be brutal, or even tedious. She was modeling forbearance. The key to survival, she liked to say, is accommodation (though she also said she loved her work and loved her clients). But in her determination to be understanding no matter what the circumstances, she sometimes gave an impression of deficiency, as if she had forgotten how to behave otherwise. Automatic goodness was not really goodness. But what was it?

Oppression. That’s what it was.

She’d smiled, shook her head. Said she was looking forward to a quiet evening, to having a glass of wine. Maybe after dinner the two of them could watch something? How about an old movie? There was a stealthy drift of her lemony perfume as she leaned forward and reached for A’s hand, which A slid under the sheet before she could reach it.

“Sorry if I’m being intrusive, sweetheart.” She sat back, still smiling, though her eyes looked unsteady. “But I miss talking with you.”

These types of assaults were increasing and growing more cunning. Fatigue setting in. Every morning the same routine: wait for the mother to leave for work, then cereal in bed, videos, lunch in bed, videos, followed by her return and the afternoon offensive (“Going for a walk, want to come?”), a short reprieve, and then more attacks, like the one tonight at dinner (“So I’ve got some ideas of what might be fun for us to do together”). Until windows finally went black. End of Day 18 in Year 2019 of the Battle Against the Self, beset on all sides by demoralizing reminders of familial attachment.

Exile: the only remedy.

Meanwhile, until such plan could be formed, filial relationship must be abbreviated further. Ditto with the father. Designate by glyphs? Math coordinates? Chromosomal contribution? Yes. The ultimate reduction: X = Mother. Y = Father. For other human associates use first initials, especially for former friends (FF), especially from college.

Except one, for whom there could be no letter, no referent. Only a blank, a gap, the nausea of nothing.…

Time to abbreviate even thought.

LATER THAT NIGHT, while padding barefoot down the upstairs hall on the way to take a leak, A was halted by the unmistakable sounds of Being Under Discussion.

“Let’s not pressure him.” X was talking to Y in her bedroom on speakerphone.

“He’s going through something.”

“You keep saying that, Lorna.” Y’s speakerphone voice was both remote and too loud, like someone calling from a space module. “He’s been home since the end of May.”

Y himself was back in Seattle after two weeks in Japan, spent at a medical conference in Tokyo and then sightseeing with his research assistant/girlfriend, Angelica. “I’ve tried calling and texting. But I never hear anything. What’s he do all day?”

X said that as far as she knew he stayed in his room watching videos on his laptop. Hadn’t been seeing friends. Would hardly step outside. His acne had also gotten worse.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” she said, lowering her voice so that A had to lean against the door panel, “but he seems incredibly unhappy. I suggested going back to Dr. Melman, but he refuses to see anybody.”

“We’ve been through this kind of thing before,” said Y. “Remember when those kids quit his band?”

A grimaced, but stayed pressed against the door.

“This is different,” said X. “He doesn’t even sound like himself.”

“How do you mean?”

“Almost like he’s not the one who’s speaking.”

“I could try to find him some kind of internship out here.” Y sounded doubtful.

“If I can barely get him out of his room for dinner, Roger, I don’t think I can get him on a plane to Seattle. Maybe you could come for a visit?”

A brief exchange concerning logistics: flights, car rentals, the difficulties Y faced taking time off from the lab after having been away. What’s today, Friday? Next week might work, no, the week after would be better. This was so similar to phone negotiations overheard during the past five years that A stopped listening and began contemplating a foray to the kitchen for a banana. Self-erasure required constant scourges, hence yesterday’s decision to become vegan. Hunger, however, now constant. Good. Hunger focuses the mind. When one is starving, all other thoughts seem immaterial.

Conversation shift: X now reporting a phone call from someone named Dennis, a Vermont neighbor of her mother’s; apparently she’d tried to rehang a bird feeder blown down from a tree branch and had fallen off a ladder. Possible sprained ankle.

Questions from Y: Doctor consulted? Have you spoken with her?

X: Won’t answer the phone. You know how she is.

New Problem: Grandmother. How to designate? From forty-four autosomal chromosomes, what contribution from her? What region of genome? Scandinavian. X’s father Anglo something. Y’s parents: Polish Russian Jewish Who Knows. No straightforward input from any quarter, instead must consider genetic recombination, chromosomal exchange segments, hybrids… i.e., a complicated inheritance.

On the other side of the door, the conversation had shifted once again. Y was speaking: “Is it a girlfriend, you think?”

A’s head filled with static, at leaf-blower volume. Barely clearing in time to hear X say she didn’t know.

“Any sign he’s had a girlfriend?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Do you think he could be gay?” Y was proceeding in his usual systematic way. “When did your brother decide he was gay?”

“He didn’t decide he was gay,” said X. “Anyway, I don’t think that’s it.”

A stepped back from the door but continued to hover in the hallway, face itching, slightly frightened by such parental ignorance and bafflement.

“I think he’s depressed,” X said.

“Depressed? Like depressed?”

“Well, not clinically, I’d say it’s situational. But something’s wrong. The other day when we were driving home from the dermatologist’s? I asked if he wanted to stop somewhere for lunch. He didn’t answer, so I said, ‘Do you care about stopping or not?’ And he said he didn’t care about anything.”

“Kids his age always say stuff like that,” interrupted Y.

“Wait. So I tried to make a joke of it. I said, ‘Not even onion rings?’ And he said, ‘The only way to live in this crap world is to care about nothing.’?”


“Roger? I’m worried something happened at school. Something he feels he can’t talk about. Maybe he needs—”

“He needs a job and a girlfriend,” said Y. “That’s what he needs.”

A made an involuntary, throttled noise. From the other side of the door came a sudden hush. X must have detected eavesdropping, lifting her chin to listen, like when Freddy whined at the back door to come in. But after a moment she began speaking softly once more. “That’s not very helpful. I’m really worried about him.”

“Sorry,” said Y, “but he’s nineteen. He can’t hide in his room all summer.”

She must be glad about the eavesdropping. Maybe she hoped Y would now offer some actual advice that A would overhear and then follow while pretending not to. Like when Y recommended pre-med courses first semester, and instead A registered for Interpretative Dance, Ceramics, and something called Ecology of the Mind. Then dropped everything but Freshman Writing and French to sign up for Chem and Bio, plus labs, but not before sending Y that original course list.

X said, “I’ve been trying every way I can think of to get him to talk to me.”

“So what if you forget about talking and just try to distract him?” Y was the one who sounded distracted. From the background came the clatter of someone noisily clearing plates. “Stop worrying about him and maybe he’ll start thinking he’s actually okay.”

X gave a frustrated sigh. “That is not how it works.”

“Then act like you’re worried about something else. Say you have to go up to Vermont to check on your mother. See if he’ll go with you. Get him out in the fresh air.”

A snorted quietly. As if. Meanwhile, solution: G = both genome and grandmother. G could also stand for her nickname, Grootie. Short for Grootmoeder. Dutch for “old lady from whom one received DNA.”

“How am I supposed to convince him to come with me?” said X. “And I certainly can’t leave him here on his own.”

More plate-clearing on Y’s end of the line. “Tell him you can’t go alone.”


“You still haven’t told him, have you? What she did? Well, maybe now’s the time. Tell him you need the moral support.”

X said she would think about it.

More discussion of travel logistics and why traveling from Seattle this week was impossible. Several references to “we” that did not include X. No further mention of G, or what she’d done, or why X might need “moral support.”

But G had now lumbered into A’s mind and refused to leave it. Stooped, squarish, broad-faced, in brown wool pants and a brown cardigan that smelled of mothballs, with scuffed leather buttons dangling loose from black threads. Short gray hair that looked like she cut it herself. Pink-rimmed oversized glasses with smudgy lenses. Arriving every year on Thanksgiving Day in an ancient tank-like Volvo with splits in the upholstery patched with duct tape. Sitting silently among whatever other guests had been invited for dinner, a Kleenex tucked into one sleeve, extracted at intervals to wipe her nose. If a question was directed toward her she pretended not to hear it or answered in monosyllables. The next morning she’d be gone, rarely mentioned until next Thanksgiving.

Though following A’s seventh-grade visit to Washington, DC, and the Holocaust Museum, X revealed that G’s older sister had been a nurse in the Resistance. The sister typed coded messages onto medicine jar labels and gave the jars to G to deliver by bicycle across Amsterdam; they’d also sometimes hidden children in a kitchen cabinet. When soldiers came to arrest her sister and father, G escaped down the back stairs and bicycled out of the city to a convent school, where nuns took her in. Under intense questioning, X insisted she knew nothing else. G had related these events when X was a little girl, but if you asked G about it now she’d say she didn’t remember. This turned out to be true. The next Thanksgiving, when asked how old she was when the war began, G stared through her smudgy glasses from across the table and continued forking up brussels sprouts. A spent the rest of the meal trying to imagine her as a girl on a bicycle.

Was this what Y was referring to, by “what she did”? Had they forgotten that A already knew? Shared senior moment.

Conversation between X and Y seemed to be winding down and A was moving off down the hall when Y said abruptly, “So how are you feeling.”

“How am I feeling?” echoed X, sounding startled.

A hesitated beside the framed charcoal sketch hanging near the bathroom, drawn by X as a girl of the farm in Virginia where she’d grown up. Four chimneys rose above a scribble of trees and a smear of pasture, with a wavy stroke to indicate the Blue Ridge Mountains.

“Yes,” said Y. “How are you feeling?”

Two potato-shaped clouds floated above the mountains. Strange question. Was Y asking how X felt about Angelica, his now live-in research assistant/girlfriend, the one making all that plate-clearing racket to show she was pissed about Dinner Interruptus?

“I feel fine,” X said.

Or was Y literally asking how X was feeling? Like whether she had a cold? Epidemiologists were always thinking about people getting sick.

“I’m fine,” X repeated. “How are you feeling?”

Downstairs on reconnaissance, gathered supplies for the night: a banana, a jar of peanut butter, and two apples. Stuck to the counter by the fruit bowl was one of X’s “To Do” lists, jotted neatly on a yellow Post-it: Call plumber for dishwasher, order mulch, dentist appt, call Roger, call Dr. Melman (?). With a tremor of contempt, picked up the Post-it by one corner and dropped it in the trash.

Back to bed to resume watching an episode of Cupcake Wars. Self-erasure required watching only videos of absolutely no interest, viz yesterday’s scourge had included Slow TV: Salmon Fishing and a YouTube video about how to rescue an earring lost down a drain. The problem was how to avoid getting caught up in them.

While waiting to find out whose Swedish Princess Cupcake would come out on top, A’s phone dinged. No one but X and Y texted anymore. Not since the immediate aftermath of That Night, when phone had to be buried at the bottom of the laundry hamper. All messages deleted.

Going to VT tomrow to see Grootie.

A peered at the screen, awaiting another text. Rarely could X limit herself to just one.

Sprained ankle. May stay a few days.

How much food was in the house?

New air bubble: I’d like you to come along.

A sat for several minutes without responding. Because here, at last, was a true scourge, a scourge of the hair shirt variety, instead of fake ones like watching golf tournaments. It didn’t matter that X had probably decided to go to Vermont because she thought it would be “helpful,” “a chance to do something together”—it was still a scourge. In fact, more of a scourge. The logic was plain: If the self was outraged at the prospect of spending five or six hours in the car with X, driving to Vermont to visit an old woman in a house full of mothballs and used Kleenex, if the self could conceive of nothing more hideous, then to be vanquished, the self must submit to this ordeal.

Indifference was the goal. If A could be said to have a goal. Herein lay the premise of self-denial: If death of I equals death of hope, then death of hope equals death of shame, and thus death of shame equals freedom of soul.

Maybe. Maybe it worked like that.

Another ding.

I could use the company.

Reading Group Guide


Secrets abound in Lorna’s family. Her mother Marika, who survived the Nazi occupation of Holland, abandoned the family when Lorna and her brother Wade were just seven and twelve years old. The reason she left, and her whereabouts afterward, were shrouded in mystery. As is a darker secret Marika has repressed for nearly seventy years.

Now that Lorna, a respected psychotherapist, has a child of her own, she’s determined to make Marika a part of their lives. But it’s been a struggle for nearly two decades. Lorna’s son, Adam, is creative, passionate, and uncomfortable in his own skin. Three weeks before the story opens, he abruptly returns home from college after an incident that he refuses to discuss. And he refuses to be called by his name. He refers to himself as “A” for “Anti-Matter” and insists that Lorna do the same.

The more Lorna tries to get Adam to talk, the more he withdraws. So, when she gets the call that Marika has had a fall and is incapacitated, she sees an opportunity to bond with Adam on the long drive north to Vermont, and to reconnect with her mother by nursing her back to health.

A deft and compelling exploration of family dynamics infused with suspense, The Blue Window shows what happens to people who hide from themselves—and the act of imagination it takes to find them.

Topics and Questions for Discussion

1. Early in the book, A (Adam) imagines his apathy to be a “responsible moral position . . . in a world full of moral positions.” Do you agree with him? How does his opinion (and your view of his opinion) change throughout the course of the novel?

2. How would you characterize A’s relationship with his parents? Is it significant that he abbreviates his relationship with them—calling his mother “X,” and his father “Y?”

3. Discuss the similarities and differences between A and his grandmother Marika. How would you characterize the ways in which the narrator depicts their respective silences? Can one person’s apathy be distinct from another’s?

4. Track the relationship between language and secrets in The Blue Window, and discuss three moments where characters say one thing, but mean another. Is it significant that the people in this novel—A, Lorna, Marika, etc.—often hide their realities through misdirection?

5. Lorna and A are closely related, but they hide their emotional truths from each other. Considering the theme of secrets in The Blue Window, what do you think it means to truly “know” another person—both in the context of real life, and in the novel?

6. The Blue Window is narrated in a limited and shifting third-person point-of-view. In one chapter, we’re close to A’s perspective; in another, we’re close to Lorna’s. What narrative opportunities are gained via the use of these shifting viewpoints? What would be lost if the book were solely told through a singular perspective?

7. Make a list of the different kinds of media (TV shows, books, online platforms, etc.) that appear in The Blue Window and discuss their significance with your reading group. For example: does the media that A consumes reveal anything about his character? What about Lorna and Marika?

8. How is trauma represented in The Blue Window? How do characters deal with it, and what revelations (if any) are made as characters confront their pasts?

9. What does this novel suggest about the bond between parents and their progeny? Consider, in your discussion, the similarities (and differences) between A’s relationship with his mother, and Lorna’s relationship with Marika.

10. Consider the jobs that the characters have in The Blue Window. How do people’s work, in the context of the novel, inform what you know about them? How do people’s jobs inform what the other characters think about them?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Reimagine The Blue Window using a different narrative point-of-view. For example: you can rewrite one of A’s sections using a first- or second-person perspective; or you can reimagine parts of the book through Marika’s narration only. What are the kinds of differences you notice as you work through this exercise? Do you find first-person narration to be more “truthful,” for instance, at the sacrifice of reliability?

2. Consider the unspoken (perhaps hidden) truths that exist in your community. What are the things that can be discussed in the open? What are the things that can’t? Write a story, essay, or poem discussing one of these “secrets” and discuss with your reading group.

3. Mimicking A’s interiority, try to go about a day in your life by removing pronouns from your interactions with friends, families, neighbors, etc. How does this affect the way you interact with the world? Discuss.

About The Author

Avery Kimmell

Suzanne Berne is the author of?four previous novels: The Dogs of Littlefield;?The Ghost at the Table;?A Perfect Arrangement; and?A Crime in the Neighborhood, winner of Great Britain’s Orange Prize. She lives outside of Boston with her husband. 

Product Details

  • Publisher: S&S/Marysue Rucci Books (January 23, 2024)
  • Length: 272 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781476794273

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Raves and Reviews

“Sharply witty, deeply raw and impeccably written... [The Blue Window] explores familial bonds with deep feeling but without sentimentality, and [Berne's] portraits of marriage are astonishingly good."
—Minneapolis Star Tribune

The Blue Window is a novel in which the revelations are the story…Berne, whose 1998 novel A Crime in the Neighborhood won the British Orange Prize, is good at getting people’s subtle shifts of mood and understanding, and especially good at grounding these moments in sharply observed detailsThe tension between the immediate and the imagined or remembered is what makes this novel work, with Berne striking a satisfying balance between what happens, what it might mean, and what’s needed to go on. The past may be past, but its significance has yet to be determined. The possibilities are endless.”

—Washington Post

“[A] psychologically insightful portrait of family dynamics… Berne, who won the Orange Prize for A Crime in the Neighborhood, her 1997 debut, and more recently charmed readers with the social satire The Dogs of Littlefield (2016), chooses a tight focus for her latest: the tense dynamics of three troubled individuals as they play out over a few days in rural Vermont.”


“Berne (The Dogs of Littlefield) offers an engrossing story of family secrets involving a woman’s estranged mother and her troubled son…With chapters that alternate between points in time and Lorna, Adam, and Marika’s perspectives, the author expertly shows how secrets fester and affect the family, especially as Adam’s allegiances bend toward Marika…Berne’s strong prose carries the day, particularly her descriptions of Vermont’s natural beauty…a satisfying family drama.”

—Publishers Weekly

“Berne builds suspense with a slow reveal of the long-hidden secrets… Berne’s (The Dogs of Littlefield, 2016) compelling fifth novel is an engaging exploration of how trauma can leave its mark in unexpected ways.”


The Blue Window is a probing, deeply absorbing examination of personal and family secrets, and the sneaky ways that trauma can reverberate through multiple generations. Suzanne Berne is an elegant, psychologically astute novelist whose insights are illuminated by sly flashes of humor.”

—Tom Perrotta, Author of Election and Tracy Flick Can't Win

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