Opening with a wedding and ending with a funeral, Maile Meloy stuffs everything imaginable in between, and manages to maintain a cool, elegant prose style throughout. Liars and Saints
, Meloy's debut novel, following her story collection Half in Love
, chronicles the life of the Santerre family, who sin with the gusto of true Catholics. Written in a series of short story-like vignettes, the family's saga is told in turn by every member, from Yvette the matriarch down to T.J., her great-grandson. We start out with a relatively run of the mill family secret, when in the 1950s Yvette sends daughter Margot off to a French convent for the duration of her teenage pregnancy. As the decades pass, the transgressions become wilder and more melodramatic, as if the Santerres are trying to keep up with the times by way of their naughty acts. What makes the novel work is that all the while, Meloy maintains a quiet, slightly wry tone: illicit lovemaking and bloody mary mixing are recounted with the same equanimity. She also gets just right the tone of each era. When Yvette's other daughter Clarissa marries a jolly lawyer in the early 60s, he sends a telegram to Yvette: "HITCHED. THANKS FOR BEAUTIFUL DAUGHER. PROGENY PROMISED TO POPE." Likewise, in the 1970s the characters talk just groovy enough, and the 80s have a wised-up ring to them. Most multi-generational sagas are dull forays into sentimentalism, but in the aptly titled Liars and Saints
, Meloy has written a corker. --Claire Dederer
From Publishers Weekly
The consolations of ardent faith, as well as the harsh demands of religious dogma, supply the leitmotifs of this dazzling novel of a Catholic family's life over five decades. Meloy, whose collection of short fiction, Half in Love, earned rave reviews last year, writes with wisdom and compassion about the secret guilt that shadows three generations of the Santerre family. Yvette Grenier and Teddy Santerre marry in California in 1945, just before Teddy ships out to the Pacific. Their wartime separation sparks Teddy's fears of Yvette's infidelity, and when naive Yvette is moved to confess an experience of sexual temptation to her priest, his strict penalty for her "sin of omission" creates enduring tension in the marriage. When one of their daughters gives birth at age 16, Yvette contrives to pass off the baby boy as her own son, convinced that God has chosen her to bear this burden. The strict injunctions of Catholic doctrine and the well-meaning deceit that follows trigger an intricate chain of events that finds history repeating itself in the next generation, bringing heartbreaking sacrifice and spiritual reconciliation. Meloy's unerring mastery of narrative is remarkable. The disciplined economy and resonant clarity of her prose allow her to present a complex story in swift, lean chapters. The alternating points of view of eight main characters shine with authenticity and illuminate the moral complexities felt by each generation. The rich emotional chiarascuro and fine psychological insight of this haunting novel mark Meloy as a writer of extraordinary talent.
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