The problem with reading an author out-of-order is that most tend to get better with experience. Ann Patchett is one such writer. I am definitely a member of her fan club because of novels like STATE OF WONDER and BEL CANTO. So when my mom gave me PATRON SAINT OF LIARS, I was eager to start.
In keeping with her other books, Patchett does a tremendous job with the setting. I could picture Hotel Louisa and the surrounding Kentucky landscape easily in my mind. I loved her description of the few weeks a girl could actually lay on the ground between winter and the time when heat and bugs made it impossible.
Patchett has a way of crafting sentences that keeps me completely engaged in her story. Honestly, I was hooked on this novel within the first few pages:
I was somewhere outside of Ludlow, California, headed due east for Kentucky, when I realized that I would be a liar for the rest of my life.
I appreciate that kind of set-up and looked forward to the unraveling of these lies. What unfolds is a small family saga set around a Catholic home for unwed mothers. This location, with mothers constantly coming and going, provides the perfect background for Patchett to delve into this unlikely family, especially the tension of an uneasy mother-daughter relationship.
There were so many things I needed to know, how to fix a car, how to lie. My mother taught me how to put on eyeliner without smudging it, but life was going to take more than that.
We see multiple generations of genetic mothers, mothers present and absent, surrogate mothers and even a father of choice. The struggle between Rose and Cecilia is especially poignant as a daughter looks to her mother for something she is incapable or unwilling to give.
The way it seemed the fact of her beauty had never occurred to her and made her so much more beautiful…And I wanted it. And I knew she would think I was ridiculous for wanting it…and if she could give it to me, she would pull it over her head and hand it to me like an old dress. “Take this,” she’d tell me. “It never did me any good.”
This is a theme Patchett seems to return to in other novels. The desire for approval, intimacy and respect drive some of her best relationships. Cecilia and Rose are no exception. Their relationship provides the meat for the story.
Patchett chooses to switch narrators several times throughout the book. Unfortunately neither of the voices is as strong as Rose, whose story pushes the first third of the book. Plus, once Son and Cecilia take over the story, we lose Rose. I understand the intention behind that choice. Their inability to truly know her is an important part of the story, but as a reader, I felt cheated.
Then, of course, there are the last 50 pages. I won’t spoil the plot here, but I actually groaned. I am still not satisfied that Ann Patchett closes her novels as well as she starts them, but she’s come a long way since THE PATRON SAINT OF LIARS.