Stellar first novel from short-story writer
Author of the critically acclaimed short story collection Half in Love, Maile Meloy now tries her hand at writing a complex multi-generational novel. Liars and Saints has the lively feel of a Catholic soap opera in fast-forward, following the Santerre family through four generations of tangled secrets and deceptions. Yvette Santerre, the family's matriarch, keeps many truths hidden from her family with the best intentions, starting, most notably, by claiming her teenage daughter's son Jamie as her own child. Even Teddy, Yvette's husband, is kept in the dark, as the oldest daughter Margot goes to France for a year ostensibly, to study abroad while Yvette goes to a convent "to rest" during the course of her supposed pregnancy. But as Jamie grows older, Teddy struggles to connect with his unplanned "son"; Margot marries and tries, unsuccessfully, to have another child; and Jamie's other "sister," Clarissa, suffers from a decaying marriage. As Yvette's children and grandchildren mature, and a shocking relationship develops, the family must begin to unravel its own chain of lies.
Rather than having the narrative follow a linear chronology, Meloy jumps in time, with each chapter focusing on the perspective of a different character. This shifting viewpoint makes it difficult for readers to invest much in any one of the characters particularly given the fact that the novel covers more than 50 years in the life of this family over the course of a mere 272 pages. At the same time, this quality, along with the high drama that builds and unfolds, makes Liars and Saints
Meloy's writing is smooth and often vivid, and she manages to surprise readers, and thus avoid predictability, with an ever-spiraling tale of tragedy, faith and the intersection between the two.
Jenn McKee is a writer in Berkley, Michigan.