Friday, March 9, 2007

Patron Saint of Liars

Okay, now that my dissertation is done and submitted, I can get back to reading. I just came back from a trip to New Orleans--which is still there, kinda. And, the flights gave me the opportunity to read several (three!) novels. Here's the first, Ann Patchett's The Patron Saint of Liars.

I love Ann Patchett's work; it's readable, creates a lush world of words, but isn't overtly "book clubby." Things always turn out unsettled, though in a way that makes sense within the universe of the novel. This particular novel opens with the backstory to the hotel that will eventually become St. Elizabeth's--a home for unwed mothers. It has a magical realism-tinge to it, a fairy tale quality that hovers over all the Patchett novels I've read. Yet, what's nice, is that in her books the fairy tales are like the flawed golden bowl, run through with a small fissure lets the real world seep in.

Rose is a distancing heroine, keeping the reader at bay much as she keeps all others--save her substitute mom, Sr. Evangeline. She marries Tom without loving him, cruelly because he loves her. She marries Son without loving him, cruelly because he loves her and will love her unborn child. She keeps Cecelia (Sissy) and fears loving her. There is a crudeness to her symbolic role as foodgiver that seems a bit below the novel, though.

I have to admit that I did not see the Cecelia story ending as it did, so that was a nice twist. I had envisioned her as a cruel young heartbreaker, a proto-Fitzgerald pretty young thing, but did not see her dying.

And, I loved Sissy. Her palpable love for and disappointment in her mother and her chill. Her adoration of her father, and his for her. Shortly after reading this book, while home sick with the flu, I caught up on all the Heroes that I missed while working on my dissertation. The episode in which Claire's relationship with her father is backstoried struck me as so similar to the way Son and Sissy's closeness (note the names) is portrayed. Both made me cry.

All in all, a good book. Not as transporting as Bel Canto nor as emotionally grounded as The Magician's Assistant, but still, definitely worth the read.

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