Excerpt from Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Saint X

by Alexis Schaitkin

Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin X
Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2020, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2021, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rachel Hullett
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When they return home, they quickly forget the names of things. They do not remember the name of the beach on which their resort was situated, or of the cay where they went for their snorkeling excursion. (The beach there was littered with sand dollars, as if they were entirely unprecious.) They forget the name of the restaurant they liked best, remembering only that it was some exotic flower. They even forget the name of the island itself.

* * *

ZOOM IN closer on Indigo Bay and the resort's features come into view. There is the long drive lined with perfectly vertical palm trees, the marble lobby with its soaring domed roof, the open-air pavilion where breakfast is served until ten each morning, the spa, the swimming pool in the shape of a lima bean, the fitness and business centers ("CENTRE," on the engraved placard outside of each; the American guests are charmed by this Briticism, which strikes them as quaint and earnest on this island so distant from England). There is the beach where lounge chairs are arranged in a parabola that follows the curve of the bay, the local woman set up on a milk crate beneath a sun-bleached blue umbrella at the beach's edge, braiding young girls' hair. The fragrance is tropic classic, frangipani and coconut sunscreen and the mild saline of equatorial ocean.

On the beach are families, the sand around their chairs littered with plastic shovels, swimmies, impossibly small aqua socks; honeymooners pressed closely together beneath cabanas; retirees reading fat thrillers in the shade. They have no notion of the events about to unfold here, on Saint X, in 1995.

The time is late morning. Look. A girl is walking down the sand. Her gait is idle, as if it is of no consequence to her when she arrives where she is going. As she walks, heads turn—young men, openly; older men, more subtly; older women, longingly. (They were eighteen once.) She wears a long, billowy tunic over her bikini, but she has a teenage knack for carrying it with a whiff of provocation. A raffia beach bag is slung casually over her shoulder. Apricot freckles crowd the milky skin of her face and arms. She wears a silver anklet with a charm in the shape of a star, and rubber thongs on her long, archless feet. Her russet hair, thick and sleek as a horse's, is tossed into a bun of precise messiness with a yellow elastic band. This is Alison, never Ali.

"Good morning, sleepyhead," her father says when she reaches her family's lounge chairs.

"Morning," she yawns.

"You missed a cruise ship go by right out there. You wouldn't believe how big that thing was," her mother says.

(Though the guests at Indigo Bay are apt to complain when these hulking ships lumber into the vista, they also derive a certain satisfaction from these moments, when the bad taste of others reaffirms their own quality—they have not chosen to spend their vacations in the vulgar opulence of a ship with all the beauty of an office park.)

"Sounds riveting." Alison drags a chair out of the shade of an umbrella and into the sun. From her beach bag she removes a yellow Walkman. She lies down, puts on her headphones, and pulls her sunglasses over her eyes.

"How about a family swim?" her father says.

Alison does not respond. Not pretending she doesn't hear him over whatever she's listening to, her father decides, just ignoring him.

"Maybe in a little while everyone will be more in the mood," her mother says with prodding cheerfulness.

"Hey, Clairey," Alison says. "I'm going on a treasure hunt and I'm bringing a starfish."

She is speaking to the little girl sitting in the sand between her mother's and father's chairs, who until this moment had been piling sand into small mounds with intense focus.

"I'm going on a treasure hunt and I'm bringing a starfish and a dog," the little girl says.

She is as peculiar in appearance as her older sister is appealing. Her hair is nearly white, her skin extremely pale. Eyes gray, lips blanched. These features combine to create an impression that manages to be at once arresting and plain. This is Claire, age seven. Clairey, to her family.

Excerpted from Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin. Copyright © 2020 by Alexis Schaitkin. Excerpted by permission of Celadon. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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