Summary and book reviews of Liars and Saints by Maile Meloy

Liars and Saints

By Maile Meloy

Liars and Saints
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  • Hardcover: Jun 2003,
    272 pages.
    Paperback: Jul 2004,
    272 pages.

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Book Summary

With her 2002 debut story collection, Half in Love, prizewinning author Maile Meloy drew acclaim from readers and reviewers across the country. "Here is an author who knows how to jump-start the reader's interest," raved The New York Times. "Wonderfully wise beyond the author's years," said the Chicago Tribune. "What distinguishes Meloy is her insistence on old-fashioned plot and sensibility ... Maile Meloy is a truly compelling discovery."

With her first novel, Liars and Saints, Meloy more than delivers on the promise of her earlier work. This richly textured, emotionally charged novel tells a story of sex and longing, love and loss, and of the deceits that can lie at the heart of family relationships.

Set in California, Liars and Saints follows four generations of the Catholic Santerre family from World War II to the present, as they navigate a succession of life-altering events through the submerged emotion of the fifties, the recklessness and excess of the sixties and seventies, and the reckonings of the eighties and nineties. In a family driven by jealousy and propriety as much as by love, an unspoken tradition of deceit is passed from generation to generation, and fiercely protected secrets gradually drive the Santerres apart. When tragedy shatters their precarious domestic lives, it takes astonishing courage and compassion to bring them back together.

By turns funny and disturbing, irreverent and profound, Liars and Saints is a masterful display of Maile Meloy's prodigious gifts, and of her penetrating insight—into an extraordinary American family and into the nature of human love.

Chapter One

They were married during the war, in Santa Barbara, after Mass one morning in the old Mission church. Teddy was solemn; he took the Mass very seriously. Yvette, in a veiled hat and an ivory dress that wasn't a gown, was distracted by the idea that she was in California, without her father there to give her away, and she was about to change her life and her name. "I, Yvette Grenier, take you, Theodore Santerre..." It all sounded formal and strange, as if someone else were saying the words, until she realized with surprise that it was her.

It was a quick wedding so Teddy could ship out, but they went two days later to a dance at the beach club, where she met Teddy's commanding officer at the bar.

"You can't leave this girl so soon," the officer said, looking at Yvette. She was wearing the ivory dress she was married in, because it had taken a long time to make it, and she wasn't going to wear it just once. It suited her, she knew—it set off her...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. How does the novel's unusual structure -- alternating chapters told from many points of view -- strengthen the story? Why is it so important for this particular novel that we read almost every character's point of view?

  2. Do you think the novel has a main character? Is it Yvette, who hatches the plan that leads to so many family secrets? Is it Jamie, the root of his family's biggest secret? Is it Teddy, the Santerre family patriarch? Is there no main character?

  3. When Yvette devises the plan to hide Margot's pregnancy, who or what do you think she is trying hardest to protect? Margot? Jamie? Teddy? Herself? Her family's reputation?

  4. Discuss the importance of Catholicism in the Santerre family. Consider such ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

This first novel packs quite a punch. In less than 300 pages Maile Meloy paints a picture of 50 years in the life of one Californian family from World War II to the present. It seemed that the less words Maile used to describe a scene, or the feelings of a character, the more vividly you relate to that person or situation. It takes great skill to hone one's words to this degree, instead of simply expanding them!  

Media Reviews
The Washington Post - Carol S. Briggs

The consistently distant and detached tone, reminiscent of Evan Connell's novels Mr. Bridge and Mrs. Bridge, is heartbreaking in its careful observations.

New York Times Magazine

... combines the meticulous realism of domestic fiction with the witchery of a natural-born storyteller.

Glamour

Meloy has written an exquisite novel about the power of secrets—and the redemption found in religion and love.

New York Times Book Review

... upends popular notions of American fiction ... spectacular.

Los Angeles Times

Meloy's Santerres may just be the most fascinating, engrossing American family since the Louds.

Minneapolis Star Tribune

Vivid, memorable characters ... [Meloy's] various plot lines are woven together with a skill that seems effortless.

Booklist - Donna Seaman

In its finer moments, Meloy's sexy, circular, five-decade-spanning tale transcends its soap-opera tendencies and calls to mind the work of Antonya Nelson and Andre Dubus.

Library Journal

Meloy shows how skillful she is at hurtling the reader into an intriguing story line ... a compelling read.

Publishers Weekly

Meloy's unerring mastery of narrative is remarkable ... The rich emotional chiarascuro and fine psychological insight of this haunting novel mark Meloy as a writer of extraordinary talent.*

*According to the Oxford English Dictionary Chiaroscuro means 'the style of pictorial art in which only the light and shade are represented'.

Kirkus Reviews

A multigenerational first novel told with remarkable compression and precision ... Meloy pushes every melodramatic hot button with disarming understatement.

The Economist

Calmly efficient, pared-down prose, and ... keen perceptions ... Admirers of Half in Love will find much to enjoy here too.

Author Blurb Philip Roth
... a surehanded little first-novel by a sly, knowledgeable, no-nonsense young writer who will not permit herself a single exaggeration but who nonetheless packs quite a punch ... an impressive achievement, literary and otherwise.

Author Blurb Elizabeth Strout - author of Amy and Isabelle
In this exquisitely rendered novel, Meloy brings her incisive intelligence to the page once again ...

Reader Reviews
Kahleen R.

Generations
Maile Meloy has written one of the most tender and heart-wrenching novels about the American family I have ever read. The story of Liars and Saints focuses on the Santerre family, an average middle-class, Catholic family living in California for ...   Read More

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