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The Patron Saint of Liars: A Novel (P.S.) by…

The Patron Saint of Liars: A Novel (P.S.) (original 1992; edition 2007)

by Ann Patchett

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Title:The Patron Saint of Liars: A Novel (P.S.)
Authors:Ann Patchett
Info:Harper Perennial (2007), Paperback, 368 pages
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The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett (1992)



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The novel is the author’s debut work in 1992 and reveals the quality her later works will continue. It is the story of Rose, a young woman growing up in California with her single mom in the 1960’s. Rose is close to her mother and admires her beauty and style. She has little memory of her father who died in an auto accident when she was very young. She meets a young man, Thomas Clinton, who takes interest in her and whose devotion moves Rose into marrying him. Within a year, her life with him begins to seem flat and uninspiring; he isn’t unpleasant and they don’t quarrel but Rose realizes she doesn’t love him. Rose copes with her growing unease by driving on long trips around southern California, efforts to escape her feelings without taking any overt actions to address her unhappiness. Escaping from truth will become the hallmark of her later life.

Rose becomes pregnant. She cannot imagine staying with Thomas with a child entering their marriage relationship. She confides in a priest who tells her of a home for unwed mothers in Kentucky. Without telling Thomas or her mother she sets off on a cross-country road trip to St. Elizabeth’s Home for Unwed Mothers. St. Elizabeth’s has a somewhat remarkable history. In the 1920’s George Clatterbuck, a farmer, found that a natural spring had burst forth on his land. After noticing that illnesses in his stock were cured after they drank the spring water, he treated his daughter who had come down with a serious illness and said that by its power she was cured. Word spread of the water’s miraculous properties. A rich couple leased the land and built a resort spa hotel where people would come to bathe in its waters. After a time the spring dried up and the hotel fell out of fashion and closed. The property was acquired by a religious order who converted it to a home where unwed mothers came to have babies they put up for adoption. June, now an older woman, continued to live on the family homestead on the property.

Rose arrives at the home and gains admission telling a lie that the baby’s father died in an auto accident. She is assigned to work in the kitchen assisting the kindly Sister Evangeline with whom she becomes very close. She also is befriended by June and visits her often. As her pregnancy progresses she sees the pain when other girls have to give up their new born infants, and she decides she won’t do it. She has become friends with the home’s maintenance man – Son – and asks him to marry her. He agrees, not knowing that Rose is already married. Son has a tattoo on his shoulder with the name Cecilia and decides to give this name to her new-born girl. Son is uneasy about this and it is revealed in a sub-plot that a girl called Cecilia was Son’s first love who drowned in the early 1940’s.

Because she is now married and has been a blessing to the home’s kitchen operations Rose is allowed to stay on after the birth. She, Son and Cecilia move into a home on the grounds that Son has been fixing up. Of interest to her is the car she drove from California. While she doesn’t drive it anymore, she has kept it and has Son maintain it in working order. After some time goes by, June dies and leaves her home to Son and Rose. After a time, Rose decides that she will move alone into June’s house – just a stone’s throw from her home – and, while not alienating herself from Son – becomes distant from him. It is clear that she does not feel deeply attached to him and her response is to flee. As Cecilia grows into her teenage years the story shifts to her perspective and she resents her mother’s aloofness and appearance of not caring too much for her. It is interesting that while Rose is teaching Cecilia to drive she becomes much more open and communicative. Cecilia is very close to her father.

By means of some sleuthing Thomas finds out after the many years have passed that Rose is living at St. Elizabeth’s. He writes he is going to visit, but before he arrives the prospect of confronting her earlier life motivates Rose to take off again. She uses the car to embark on another flight from the circumstances she finds herself in. She has disappeared from the truth once again. Cecilia picks up clues that Son might not be her father, but she doesn’t reach a conclusion, almost seeming to avoid this truth.

This novel is as much about truth as it is about lies. Rose’s coping mechanism surely hurts others, but her story prompts us to consider how lying is related to truths held by the liar. Rose confronted truths about herself by lying to others, by running away. In a sense she seeks to be true to herself – to her disappointment in her marriage, to her desire not to give up her child – by acting dishonestly. While she might have chosen other means to deal with her unhappiness, would not denying these truths by not acting on them be, in a sense, lying to herself? How, then, should we judge the morality of lying as a means of dealing with truths about ourselves? How really is this uncommon in dealings with others? Morality aside, as a means to resolve her difficulties, lying and fleeing was not effective for Rose. By fleeing Rose does not find permanent resolution to her circumstances. Lies have consequences not only on those we lie to, but perhaps even more on the liar. ( )
  stevesmits | Nov 11, 2015 |
Good story, good writing and it takes place in Kentucky. What more could I ask for. ( )
  TheresaCIncinnati | Aug 17, 2015 |
I liked this story of religious "calling", or finding your purpose in life: the writing was beautiful, but the overall experience of this book was somewhat unsatisfying.

Rose has trouble with intimacy, and with staying in one place. She marries Thomas, thinking this is God's plan for her life, but soon runs away and spends almost 20 years at a home for unwed mothers as their cook. I couldn't understand Rose's motivations...especially at the end when her past life seems ready to catch up with her. I also felt that the author missed an opportunity to better resolve the issues.

The voice changes from Rose's to Son's to Cecilia's. While this is common in today's fiction, in this case, I found it somewhat jarring and I think it contributed to my challenges in understanding what was motivating Rose. ( )
  LynnB | Apr 1, 2015 |
"There was a weight to missing. It was as heavy as a child."

Rose never stays anywhere for long. First she marries suddenly, then she spends days and weeks driving around California, then she runs away to Kentucky. She settles and brings up her child in the strange surrounds of nuns and pregnant girls at a home for unwed mothers.

Rose is a surprisingly unsympathetic character with a lack of motive for being so - it's never really explained. Nevertheless, her reluctance to invest emotionally in other people makes for an interesting counterpoint to the warmth of the characters around her, especially Son, who is so caring and gentle. She constantly pushes everybody else away, and Cecilia is the only one we see really examine that.

I guess there's a recurring theme here of religion and vocation - Rose marries her first husband feeling that it's her vocation, then that she must have been wrong. She stays at St Elizabeth's for years, cooking three meals a day for twenty years - clearly she feels some kind of vocation to be there. The assorted religious attitudes of the nuns at the home, of the girls in their varying states of faith... it wasn't until I finished the book that it hit me that this was a theme. It didn't really seem to go anywhere though - just a thread through every character.

There's no denying Patchett writes beautifully. I read this 400 page novel in a day with no trouble at all. While I never felt totally sucked into the plot, the writing is smooth enough that you just keep turning the pages without noticing. I liked the way this book moved from one narrative point to the next about every hundred pages - from an initial third person narrator in Habit, to Rose to Son to Cecilia. It dealt with the passage of time neatly and gave us the chance to move through different characters without having that irritating back-and-forth that plagues the modern crime novel.

The setting (and I'll ignore anything that's not Habit, Kentucky, because that's where 90% of the book is set) is evocatively enough written without ever becoming a character of its own. The huge hotel could easily have become a character of its own (as the house does in The Thirteenth Tale), and we feel Cecilia's frustration through the long, hot summers, the pitchers of iced tea, the swimming hole, without ever really having a strong sense of place.

This lost 2 points out of 10 from me - one for the fact that it was good but didn't reach out of the page and grab you by the throat (the way that Bel Canto did) and one for the ending. I won't say much for fear of spoilers, but a deeply difficult and uncomfortable situation is engineered, without any kind of resolution. After 380 pages of stunning writing, this was so dissatisfying I didn't know whether to think the book was 20 pages too long (i.e. it should have ended before the twist) or 40 pages too short (the twist was unresolved - particularly with Cecilia having stumbled onto a big clue shortly before the end).

One other thing - I've never heard of Mariner Books, the publisher, before... just looked them up and it seems to be an imprint of Houghton Miffler Harcourt. But worth a mention, because this was a really beautiful edition, considering it was just a standard paperback; there was something about the softness of the cover, the type of paper used for the pages... I don't know what it was. It was nice not to have to break the spine to lay it flat on the table while I ate my slow cooker beef stroganoff (yum). ( )
  readingwithtea | Dec 24, 2014 |
One of my favorite authors! ( )
  ShiraR | Nov 6, 2014 |
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This book is for my parents, Frank Patchett and Jeanne Wilkinson Ray, and my grandmother, Eve Wilkinson.
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Two O'clock in the morning, a Thursday morning, the first bit of water broke through the ground of George Clatterbuck's back pasture in Habit, Kentucky, and not a living soul saw it.
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Book description
In the Patron Saint of Liars, Rose is a young wife of three years who concludes she married by mistake, that she misinterpreted teenage lust as a sign from God. Newly pregnant and uanble to continue a life with a man she doesn't love, Rose decides to leave. She abandons her quiet, inoffensive husband and their life at the Southern California seaside of the 1960's. Most of the odd and troubled characters fascinate and confound us. In the end, Rose surprises us on more time, and Sissy grows up, showing herself neither a liar nor a "leaver."
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061339210, Paperback)

St. Elizabeth's is a home for unwed mothers in the 1960s. Life there is not unpleasant, and for most, it is temporary. Not so for Rose, a beautiful, mysterious woman who comes to the home pregnant but not unwed. She plans to give up her baby because she knows she cannot be the mother it needs. But St. Elizabeth's is near a healing spring, and when Rose's time draws near, she cannot go through with her plans, not all of them. And she cannot remain forever untouched by what she has left behind . . . and who she has become in the leaving.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:05:06 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

Pregnant and alone, Rose seeks sanctuary at St. Elizabeth's, a home for unwed mothers in Habit, Kentucky, where she at last finds a place to put down the roots she has never felt she had.

(summary from another edition)

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