Saturday, April 12, 2014

Review: Liars and Saints by Maile Meloy

Set in California, this novel follows four generations of the Catholic Santerre family from World War II to the present. In a family driven as much by jealousy and propriety as by love, an unspoken tradition of deceit is passed from generation to generation. When tragedy shatters their precarious domestic lives, it takes courage and compassion to bring them back together.

Very slowly I'm getting back to reading, and tackling this month's book club read on audiobook seemed like the best way to get it read (my track record this year has been far from stellar). Audiobook proved to be an excellent choice, and Liars and Saints a great book to ease me back into the world of fiction.
It can be difficult to create character voices that are easy to distinguish, and most authors limit themselves to two, maybe three points of view per book for that exact reason. Maile Meloy went all in with her debut novel: she has seven. Moreover, these seven characters grow and change as the story progresses, and their voices change with them, never losing their individuality. That was actually my favorite thing about this book, how well the author wrote her characters and their imperfections, self-doubts, courage and faith. They kept me listening, and that is what ultimately counts as far as characters go.
This book was short-listed for the Orange Prize in 2005, and while I can see why it went as far as to be short-listed I also see why it did not win. The plot is to blame, particularly two aspects of it. One came about half-way through and it required me to suspend my disbelief a bit too much. Had it been omitted I wouldn't have minded, in fact, it would have kept me more grounded in the story. The second time the plot development didn't work for me was toward the end of the book, and this time it seemed like a cop-out that forced the story toward resolution. I haven't read very many novels that tell about several generations of a family, so I can't give examples of ones where similar situations would've been handled better, I just know that the way Meloy wrapped up her book didn't work all that well for me. (You have no idea how hard it is to abide by my own no-spoilers policy right now.)
When cover copy tells you that this is a story of a family with a history of deception you begin reading with the expectation of wowza moments. If there are no such moments then what's the point of telling such a story, right? Well, let me tell you, there is a wowza moment alright. When I first realized where the author was going I was sure she wasn't going to actually go there. But she did. All the way. It's quite a shocker, and I can't tell you want it was, but it made me post on FB and Twitter that I was suitably shocked. (Don't you wish right now I didn't have a no-spoilers policy?)
If you are looking for a novel that's a quick read, has rich characters and a plot that at times approaches the twists and turns of a daytime soap opera this book is for you!

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