Maile Meloy’s Liars and Saints snuck up on me. It’s not a brash book. It does not force you to love it. It sits quietly with its hands folded in contemplation and waits for you to find what it is within it that moves you. And when you are moved by this book,you are most certainly moved.
Told in three parts (Part I about temptation–both resisting and giving in to it, Part II about an attempt at redemption through service or sacrifice and Part III about homecoming), Liars and Saints follows the Santerre family through several generations–each of them liars and saints, keeping secrets, making sacrifices, acting out of love. It is not a book that rests on plot but more on moments–little epiphanies that each of the characters experience, revealing to each his special purpose or understanding, providing grace.
In the beginning we see this with fighter-pilot Teddy revealing his understanding in that moment before he is launched:
But there was always that moment before the impact, a moment of absolute stillness and blue sky above, when the shock was imminent. The catapult crew was set up and ready below, and that long second was perfectly still. It was how Teddy imagined death: the waiting moment, the blue sky, something surprising and expected about to come.
The moments are few–as they are in life–but when they come they bring clarity to the reader as well. There is Yvette’s out of body experience, Clarissa’s fear that God is calling her to be a nun after she weans her baby, Abby’s decision to keep the baby even though it will kill her to do so:
She told the doctor she wanted to sleep on it, and she went home and lay in bed, in her old blue room in her mother’s house, imagining the baby growing in her belly and the cancer growing in her jaw. The baby moved, and her mouth ached. She had seen him yawning on the ultrasound, with all his bones and ribs, and the four-chambered heart beating, and the little bladder already full. He was part of her. If she lost him at five months for her own sake, she would bleed to death out of sorrow.
In the end, we have a family, torn apart and cobbled back together, revealing the truth, seeking, once again, redemption and compassion from the only people who matter, each other.