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Saint Maybe (1996)

Saint Maybe (1996)
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Rating
3.86 of 5 Votes: 5
ISBN
0449911608 (ISBN13: 9780449911600)
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English
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ballantine books
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Saint Maybe (1996)
Saint Maybe (1996)

About book: Reading the back-of-the-book synopsis, I expected Saint Maybe to be a sort of grace-centered retread of 1980's Ordinary People, in which a teenager struggles to come to terms with the death of his older, "better" brother (for which he feels partially responsible) with the help of a compassionate psychiatrist. As it happened, there are some superficial parallels, but thematically it turned out to have more in common with 2007's Atonement. (And, for the record, I know that both of the films I've mentioned are based on novels . . . I just haven't read them and don't know how faithful a comparison would be.)Saint Maybe begins in 1965 and centers around the Bedloes, a very happy, normal American family living in Baltimore. Doug and Bee are both teachers. Their oldest, Claudia, has been married for some years and seems to be in a near-constant state of pregnancy (I believe the final count by novel's end was eight children). Danny, the middle child, is the family's golden boy. He is handsome, athletic, and well-liked by everyone. He is old enough to be out on his own, but still lives at home and has settled comfortably into a career at the post office. Ian is the baby of the family, a surprise that arrived several years after the first two. As the book begins, he is nearing the end of his high school career.The even keel of the Bedloe's lives is mildly disrupted when Danny decides to marry Lucy, a divorced mother of two (Agatha,7, and Thomas, 3). Then, almost immediately after the wedding, Lucy announces that she is pregnant, and after only seven months, a baby girl is born "prematurely." Even Ian is perceptive enough to notice that little Daphne is not a preemie, and when he does the math he realizes that this is not even his brother's child. No one else seems to be aware of this, least of all his brother.Ian is ruffled further when he begins to suspect Lucy of cheating on Danny. She frequently calls on Ian to babysit so she can spend her afternoons out on the town, but she never says where she goes and one day she returns wearing a dress that Ian knows she and Danny can't afford. Matters come to a head on the night when Lucy manipulates Ian into babysitting while Danny is at a bachelor party, even though Ian has an important date planned with his girlfriend Cicely (after which he hopes to lose his virginity).Lucy promises to be home early, but she completely blows her curfew, and in fact Danny arrives home first, slightly drunk. Ian, furious, demands that Danny drive him home and then to Cicely's house. As they arrive at the Bedloes', his frustration leads him to blurt out his suspicions about Lucy and the new baby. While he is inside, Danny floors the accelerator and drives his vehicle straight into a stone wall at the end of the street, killing himself. A few months later, after Ian has gone away for his first semester at college, Lucy overdoses on sleeping pills and dies.While he is back in town for the funeral, Ian happens to stroll past a store front with a neon sign that says "Church of the Second Chance" and slips inside. After the service, he stays to talk to the pastor, Reverend Emmett, who tells him that he will not be forgiven unless he at least attempts to atone for what he did. This conversation leads Ian to drop out of college, apprentice himself to a local carpenter, and devote himself to helping raise Lucy's orphaned children.The novel follows him for the next 25 years as he basically dedicates his life to the quest for redemption, using his story to explore two extreme Christian doctrines of absolution; what Dietrich Bonhoeffer would call "cheap grace" on the one hand, and the works-based atonement model on the other. What emerges is neither easy or straightforward. Tyler seems to be saying that forgiveness (which, in this case, also means freedom from guilt), while it will be easier for some than for others, cannot be either assumed lightly or earned through extreme sacrifice.In this case, forgiveness is something that has to be negotiated by the passage of time and the acquisition of wisdom. Ultimately, it is a process in which the journey is more important than the destination. Rather, I should say the journey is the destination (there isn't really a destination at all, I suppose). I don't actually have it all figured out, but I'm still turning it all over in my mind, and probably will be for quite awhile. I've finished reading, but I can't put away what I've read.Tyler writes characters very well. This family felt completely alive and real to me, really almost to an alarming degree. I struggled, emotionally, to continue reading at a few different points, and I was caught off-guard by my visceral response. I actually had to stop at one point last night and watch a sit-com before continuing because I was alarmed by my strong reaction to the novel, and I knew I couldn't just lay it aside. For one thing, I had to have it done for class today, and for another, it's really a page-turner.These days, if I'm even the slightest bit sleep-deprived, I'll be napping after a couple of pages of just about anything. In fact, earlier in the evening I had fallen asleep while reading Faulkner's Light in August, but Saint Maybe kept me wide awake until 4:00 in the morning, when I decided I had reached an adequate stopping place. I should note that these "adequate stopping places" become more frequent as the novel draws on towards its conclusion, though I'm not sure whether to regard this as a weakness or a necessity. Either way, by that point I had more than enough momentum built up to sweep me through to the end.I probably can't totally pinpoint what prompted my reaction to the novel, and certainly part of it must be attributed to personal factors (certainly many of my classmates didn't have the same experience, though I didn't hear any stringent criticisms). Setting that aside, however, I was probably blindsided by two things.First, the extremely effective shifts in tone and point of view. Each chapter is limited to the perspective of a different character, and the use of this device during the first third of the novel completely subverted my expectations for what the book would be like and how it would approach the story. The first chapter lulled me into a false sense of security, while the second presumably slipped right through whatever armor I had donned in response to the introduction.Second, as I mentioned before, Tyler is just crackerjack with characters. Almost before I realized what had happened, I had become enormously invested in these people and their lives, which I then followed for decades through every sort of event imaginable, from births to deaths and everything in-between. It's a lot to take in all at once when you're reading about someone you care about, and it's not the sort of experience that many novels can pull off (though Lord knows they try). Obviously I would recommend it just in general. It was an absorbing and (for me) moving read, and also a work that I expect to find floating on the surface of my thoughts whenever I consider or discuss the topic of forgiveness in future.

Reading Anne Tyler can be a daring experience. It's as if you have to endure your clothes being taken away and your bare skin exposed. Her insight is scary - and I'm sure I'm not the only reader who feels she is writing about me, my thoughts and my motivations.Saint Maybe is at once both her most depressing yet uplifting novel. In a moment of intense frustration, a seventeen year old boy makes a mistake – he blurts out an accusation to his brother that taken in a rational light in the best of situations might be properly handled. But it's been a trying evening, his plans to spend the first night with his girlfriend have gone astray, his brother has had too much to drink, and with remarks like these, timing is everything. It’s not a good time and the repercussions of his youth and brashness will haunt him and his family for the rest of his life.While I didn’t necessarily enjoy the plot of this book – it’s depressing, who in their right mind would – I was won over, once again, by the writing. Anne Tyler could fictionalize a trip to the grocery store and I would hang upon her every word. By the end of the book I was considering it to be perhaps my favourite novel of hers – a lofty achievement when I consider how many wonderful books of hers I’ve read.
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Reviews
Karen
I keep thinking about this book. An unexpected tragedy puts the main character in a position to take on an unwanted burden. He accepts he responsibility and does it ever so well, changing his life and those around him for the better.I love Anne Tyler's books. This was different than others in that it was not about adult relationships as much as about a single character and his relationship with his parents and the children he helps to raise. The book moves along slowly, which I liked, because it allows the characters to emerge and change over the years in a way that seems real and natural. I also really liked the portrayal of the religious piece. In some ways quirky, but Ian's commitment and the person it helps him to become is very substantial and inspiring.
MyACPL Athens County Public Libraries
from James:I give a lot of book recommendations and often get suggestions from library patrons. Last week I was helping someone who wanted to know the title of all of Anne Tyler's books; she was going into the hospital for a hip replacement and wanted to have something to read. Saint Maybe is her favorite book and she wanted to make sure she hadn't missed a Tyler title along the way.We had a real conversation about the book and I gave her some other authors that I thought she would enjoy. After a few minutes of me running back and forth to stacks, she checked out Blessings by Anna Quindlen and I took home Saint Maybe.I enjoyed Saint Maybe. The only other Anne Tyler I've read is The Accidental Tourist, which really seems more like two novellas. This book veered slightly more towards religious philosophy than I'd normally read, but it was part of the main character's life track.Tyler is a writer and storyteller. It's always nice to feel like you can trust the author to guide you through the book, even when you're not sure where you're going.Getting book recommendations right is a hit and miss game, especially if you haven't read the patron's favorite book. After reading Saint Maybe however, I'm 99% confident that the patron in the hospital is going to devour Blessings...and probably go back for more Anna Quindlen.
Valerie
This story written by anyone else but Anne Tyler would be garbage. This is a tale of an ordinary family with relatively ordinary problems - yet told in a way that kept my interest as well as a "can't put it down" thriller. Tyler's books contain some of the best character studies I've ever read - her insights into the human psyche never cease to amaze me! I realized when trying to place this book on my virtual Goodreads bookshelves, that Anne Tyler really needs a category of her own. There's nothing else like her.
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