Liars and Saints: A Novel Hardcover – Jun 17 2003
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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.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top Customer Reviews
Writing about family sagas and family secrets is nothing new, but the masterful telling and again "form" of this book really made it stand out for me from the other mediocre reads that pepper the lists. With each new decade, Meloy manages to paint a different portrait of the family, building to a wonderful crescendo and satisfying conclusion. And if you think that's par for the course, you haven't read much, for many authors today simply ingore the rules of good writing. Meloy is, in a sense, old-fashioned in that the treatment of the plot, characters, and settings, is all interwoven. And while this may sound academic, it's not. Few authors, whether trained or not, achieve this level of reader satisfaction.
With its rich textures of myriad lives over vast periods of time and the excellent writing, this book will surely become one of the bestsellers.
On the other hand, I enjoyed it both times I read it. I think, therefore, that this novel should be read more as a narrative poem, and really a rather lovely one.
Each chapter is told by the point of view of a different character, with frequent years-long skips ahead in time. The story begins with the marriage of Yvette and Teddy Santerre during WWII, his overseas fighting, the births of their daughters (Margot and Clarissa), and Teddy's jealousy. The secrets begin almost immediately as Yvette confesses a small one to her husband (at the recommendation of her priest) only to have it be a mistake to have told him; she never faces truth easily again. The birth of the family's third child, Jamie, is cloaked in subterfuge as only Yvette and her oldest daughter know that this boy is really Yvette and Teddy's GRANDCHILD, not their son, as everyone will believe until Jamie is well into adulthood.
The family's transgressions, secrets, and tribulations continue from there, becoming more outlandish as the reader is fully immersed in the novel, truly cares about the characters, and is therefore able to suspend some disbelief. Meloy's writing style is to treat the most serious matters very lightly, which some may consider a flaw, but I actually found that it made the events easier to digest somehow.
The progeny of the Santerres, Yvette and Teddy's great-grandchild, is another birth of mysterious parentage and also of tragedy, but little T.J.Read more ›
Meloy certainly set herself a challenging task of telling a sweeping multi-generational story in just over two hundred and fifty pages. And her stark, almost severe style lends itself quite well to telling this story concisely and quickly. In fact, at times her story seems almost two hurried - I wanted her to slow down and not be in such a rush to tell the tale. There's also a tendency for Meloy's style to be almost under-developed. Multi-generational stories can be difficult to do - the structure has to be exact; Michael Cunningham did a good job at it with Flesh and Blood, and with Liars and Saints, Meloy employs similar techniques. Each chapter is told from a different point of view with each family member recording their feelings and motivations about the similar events in each of their lives. This effect works quite well in moving the story along and creating believable characters that have to face hard choices in life.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
Great communication, good shipping time, would definitely purchase from this seller again in the future. Very happy with my purchase. Read morePublished on May 14 2013 by kikiken
C'est la vie say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell.
Starting with a tempestuous World War II wedding of Canadian Acadian French Yvette to Teddy Santerre, and... Read more
Four generations of a family in only 250 pages just doesn't work. The characters and the plot had tremendous but unrealized potential; the author just didn't flesh them out enough... Read morePublished on June 28 2004
LIARS AND SAINTS shows growth in comparison to Maile Meloy's relentlessly bleak debut collection HALF IN LOVE, with much more humor and a better ear for dialogue. Read morePublished on June 14 2004 by Esther Rabinowitz
An American friend sent me a copy of LIARS AND SAINTS and I was completely captivated and read it in one sitting. Read morePublished on May 20 2004
I found it impossible to get involved with the two-dimensional characters. This book went, unfinished, back to the library. I'm glad I didn't buy it.Published on May 12 2004
I purchased this book after reading some of Meloy's short stories. Needless to say I was greatly disappointed. Read morePublished on Feb. 17 2004 by Janine Memon Dietz
Just finished Liars and Saints from Maile Meloy- I give it three stars.
The story is about a family that has two girls and one of them gets pregnant and the mother raises the... Read more