The Patron Saint of Liars

Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder has been on my To Read list for a very long time and I still haven’t read it. But then I read an article Patchett had written for September’s Vogue magazine (I can’t find a link to it) eulogizing her dog, Rose, and the next day I had to read something she had written.

The library didn’t have State of Wonder, but they did have The Patron Saint of Liars, her 1992 novel about a home for unmarried pregnant girls in the 1960s. I’m hooked on Ann Patchett.

The Patron Saint of Liars tells the story of Saint Elizabeth’s home for unmarried pregnant girls in stages. First we see the place through the eyes of Rose, who when she finds herself pregnant gets in the car and drives away from her mother and her husband and stops at Saint Elizabeth’s. There she finds a place for herself in the kitchen with the all knowing Sister Evangeline and decides that she wants to keep her baby after all. This is where the story is taken over by Son, the home’s handyman who marries Rose so that she can keep her baby (and because he is love with her). Turns out Son has a secret painful past of his own (because that’s how great stories work) and he’s content to let Rose keep her past to herself if she doesn’t ask about his.

When Rose’s past threatens to catch up with all of them, the story is taken over by Cecilia, Rose’s daughter. She’s had a pretty unique childhood, growing up in a home for pregnant girls who desperately want to mother someone and coddled by the nuns who run the place, thrilled to get to keep at least one baby. But Rose, who wanted so badly to keep her, doesn’t really want to have anything to do with her.

(I have to wonder, did Rose the dog get her name from this character?)

Obviously I’m paraphrasing here because I don’t want to give too much away. More happens but you need to read it for yourself and be able to enjoy it without seeing it coming.

The Patron Saint of Liars is the best kind of story – the kind that could have easily really happened somewhere once. It’s the kind of story that moves at the pace of real life. The narrators are completely open and honest with the reader, they are all totally flawed and they know it. But they all keep trying to make the best of what they’ve got.

I fell for this book hard. There’s a quote on the front from the New York Times Book Review that calls it a fairy-tale and despite there being no magic in this book at all, it’s the most appropriate description of this book. It cast a spell on me. I’ll be sad to return it to the library. But hopefully someone else will find it and love it just as much.


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