Book Review: The Patron Saint of Liars

PatronSaintofLiarsI’ve not read anything by Ann Patchett before but I’m going to remedy that soon. She’s a lovely storyteller and The Patron Saint of Liars was her debut novel.

The story begins with Rose from California. She’s married and newly pregnant and decides to leave her husband in the night and drive to St. Elizabeth’s in Kentucky. It’s a home for unwed mothers, run by nuns, and by definition a place you stay until the birth of your baby, who is subsequently surrendered to adoption, and then you leave.

But Rose doesn’t leave and she doesn’t give up her child. By the name of the book, you can presume that Rose is full of lies and pieces together stories to make herself more comfortable. Eventually her past catches up with her and the people she’s become close to want answers.

The book is split into three points of view: Rose, Son (the groundskeeper at St. Elizabeths’), and Cecilia (her daughter). Patchett did well to create three voices that are clear and distinct, therefore drawing a collection of emotions fueled by the inner thoughts of each person. I’m curious to know how her other books stacks against this one, so I’m off to research her other works and see which one I should read next.

An interesting fact – it was made into a TV movie in 1998.

Buy The Patron Saint of Liars here.

I’m just like Wally Lamb.

That’s a stretch, I know, but hear me out.

I just finished reading We Are Water, Wally Lamb’s latest piece of brilliant storytelling, and stumbled upon an interview with him printed at the end of the book. Two paragraphs into the interview, I gasped. He described the first time a character arrived in his brain. It was unsolicited and strange and exactly the way it happened to me. It occurred the night his son was born.

He says, “I was up all night in the room with my wife, and she went to sleep and Jared went off to the nursery. I’d counted all his fingers and toes and everything looked good, so I went back to our home to take a shower and I was going to call the relatives — and while I was in the shower, this voice that wasn’t exactly my voice started complaining about his summer job as a Mister Softee ice cream truck driver.”

He continues, “Now at the time, I didn’t know that I wanted to write fiction. I didn’t know that it was a character who was speaking. But I did have the impulse — I got out of the shower, and even before I got dressed, I wrote down the two or three lines that the voice and said. And then I forgot about them.”

He rediscovered the lines a month later, tended to them, and ended up writing his first short story. Eleven years later, he published She’s Come Undone, which is in my Top Ten favorite books of all time.

It’s a dose of reassurance to know that other writers experience the bizarre manifestation of characters the way I did. Quite unsolicited, if I may add. One day, Leona was not here, and the next day she was. Have I ever mentioned her name before? I can’t recall. Leona Fisher. She’s my first protagonist, the one who started all of this upheaval in my brain. She showed up, introduced herself, and talked about her family. Once I realized I was meant to tell her story and was not suffering from schizophrenia, I listened clearly and typed.

I’m up to eight rejections now. So prickly it hurts. I’ve not lost all hope and I’m not quitting. Instead, I’m continuing with Novel No. 2 (unrelated to Leona) and trying very hard to not to take every little thing so personally.


we are waterA quick review about We Are Water:

If you are a fan of Wally Lamb, you will likely read this book on your own accord. You won’t be disappointed. Everything is just as it should be.

For others, I offer a brief description: The story surrounds one family and is told by each member’s perspective.  After nearly 30 years of marriage, Annie and Orion have gotten divorced. No one saw it coming, especially their three children, twins Arianne and Andrew, and the young impetuous Marissa. At the crux of the story is Annie’s decision to remarry – this time to Viveca, a wealthy art dealer in New York City, just as gay marriage becomes legal in Connecticut. Dipping back and forth in time, Lamb pieces together everyone’s point of view, including others from the past, to weave a story that explains why we do the things we do. Painful truths come out in desperation, a reminder that nothing can ever be fully buried.

There is such sadness in this story, but it isn’t without bits of redemption in the distinct voice that makes Wally Lamb’s work so unique. To weigh it by comparison, it’s not as good as She’s Come Undone, but I enjoyed it more than I Know This Much is True and The Hour I First Believed.

Buy We Are Water here. 

Book Review: Left Neglected

The synopsis of Left Neglected prepares you for the accident. Sarah is a busy working mother of three, living the high life in Boston, working her tail off to give her children private school, a house in a prestigious neighborhood, and a vacation home in Vermont where they ski in the winter months. Her job demands her attention all day, every day, so much that she’s doing business in bed at night and in the car on the way to the drop-off line. And so it goes: Sarah crashes her car while fiddling on her cell phone and suffers a traumatic brain injury.

Left Neglected

Originally I thought Sarah would have the sort of brain injury that led to paralysis and perhaps she’d end up neglected by family members or hospital staff, but that’s not how it turned out. Her injury resulted in what’s called Left Neglect, a condition in which your brain quite literally does not recognize the left side of anything, including your own body. You don’t eat the food on the left side of your plate, you don’t see the left side of a room, and your left arm and leg become lifeless (not paralyzed, just ignored). It is a condition closely connected with stroke victims, but it’s entirely possible to have Left Neglect as a result of illness or a traumatic brain injury.

But back to Sarah. Of course her life is turned upside down from this event. She was speeding through life and it was brought to a complete halt. The book chronicles the year following her accident as she navigated rehab, relationships, and accepting the inevitable: her life was never going to be the same.

The story is written in first person, so we spend a lot of time in Sarah’s head, an essential component for a story about brain injury. Though there’s a bit of predictability at the end, I thought it was a well-writing cautionary tale about what life could look like if we all don’t slow down.

Buy Left Neglected here.

Conclusions on Gone Girl

GoneGirlWhen I read this book last year, I was hooked on every word, relishing the twists and giddy over all of the things I didn’t see coming. It was brilliant – right until the end. Then, like a sucker, I had fallen for a story that left me unsatisfied and ripped off, like I’d been taken on a fabulous date only to be dumped on the doorstep. I took to the internet and found solace with others like me who rejected Gillian Flynn’s ending. I also discovered that there was another group, just as strong, who defended the book in its entirety. We were at an impasse.

Before I dig in, I’m going to give you an out. For those who’ve not read the book (or seen the movie), turn away NOW so you aren’t exposed to spoilers. If you don’t care either way, go ahead, but I’m going to talk plainly about this story so consider yourself warned.

Continue reading “Conclusions on Gone Girl”

Book Review: May We Be Forgiven

May We Be forgivenThis is perhaps the most unusual book I’ve read in a while. I’ve tried to nail down a better adjective, but unusual always comes back around – unusual and unique.

I bought the book while I was in Santa Fe with Michele, and after reading the first three pages, I wanted to read more. Of course, the first three pages did not prepare me for the next 477.

Frankly, I’m not even confident I could write an informative synopsis, but what’s the harm in trying?

Written in first person and present tense, we go alongside Harold Silver whose life used to be predictable and mundane. But after his brother, George, commits a violent crime, Harry’s day-to-day becomes one impossible situation after another. He becomes responsible for his niece and nephew, whom he hardly knows, as well as aging parents that aren’t his own. The web he weaves through internet sexcapades don’t help matters, and then the cat has a mess of kittens. All the mediocre college professor really wants to do is finish his research on Richard Nixon and forget his brother ever existed. Buying him an iPad was a really wrong move. Who knew you could start so much trouble through Amazon?

The book spans one year exactly, and after 365 days have passed, Harry’s life is on completely different trajectory. May We Be Forgiven is a dark comedy – emphasis on dark – and it earned A.M. Homes the 2013 Women’s Prize for Fiction.May We be forgiven Cranberry edition

A note about the cover: The first image reflects the cover of the book I own. However, I have to say the updated version is pretty clever too. You will understand the significance of both the lamp and the canned cranberry sauce within the first ten pages. I would say the first chapter, but there are no chapters.

Did I mention this book is odd? The fact that I’m still thinking about it tells me something important about the author. Despite the number of times I shook my head while reading it, or turned to Chuck and said, “This book is so weird,” the story left an impression on me, and in the arena of art, that’s a good thing. Whether or not you like a piece of art is almost irrelevant. If you’re still talking about it weeks after seeing it (or reading it), perhaps the artist (or writer) did her job. After all, where’s the inspiration in indifference?

Buy May We Be Forgiven here.

School update and a book review

We’ve begun our second week of school and if the boys keep at this pace we’ll be finished by March. Not really, but they are zooming through the first few units of math. Things will slow down when we hit fractions and multiplication hard core. Jackson dances around saying, “Multiplication is easy peasy,” but he’s only started with zeros and ones. I’m letting him enjoy the little victories.

As for my school, I’m loving it. Genre writing is the perfect class to take while finishing the novel for my capstone. Right now we’re reading a brainless romance novel, but next on the list is Gone, Baby, Gone. It won’t be a fresh read since I’ve seen the movie, but I expect it to be good.

The Girl You Left BehindSpeaking of books, prior to the start of the fall semester I finished The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes. It was recommended to me a few weeks ago when I asked friends on Facebook to suggest their current favorite reads. The story is a lively mix of historical and contemporary fiction that revolves around the portrait of a French woman, titled appropriately The Girl You Left Behind.

The book begins with Sophie Lefèvre, who runs a hotel in a small French town in 1916 during the German occupation. Her husband, Édouard, is away fighting in the war but has left his wife with a sweet reminder of their love for one another – an informal yet irresistible portrait he painted of her. The painting is all well and good until the German Kommandant takes notice of it. Subsequently, Sophie and the Kommandant become uncomfortably intertwined.

Fast forward nearly one hundred years and The Girl You Left Behind hangs in Liv Halston’s house, a comforting yet cruel reminder of her dead husband who bought the portrait for her as a wedding gift. Liv is in a pit of mourning and complacency when she is threatened with losing the portrait on account of restitution.

Though there’s a bit of predictability with how the book will end, the mystery is all about discovering how the portrait went from hanging on a hotel wall in 1916 France to an unrelated widow’s home in London a century later. There’s also a some suspense when it comes to finding out what happened to Sophie, who disappeared the same time as her portrait.

Overall the book was an enjoyable read and it was the first I’ve read from Jojo Moyes. Her writing is fluid and descriptive, and even though a few of things I suspected early on came true, my attention was kept until the final page because the unfolding of the portrait’s story was so interesting.

In other news, is it autumn yet?