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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

    May 2021, 368 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Rachel Hullett
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Print Excerpt

The sisters lay side by side on Claire's bed and let the air conditioner blitz their bodies. One day on the beach and already Alison has turned nut-brown. Her freckles, faint apricot this morning, are auburn sparks. Claire's skin, meanwhile, is angry pink.

"You poor thing," Alison says.

She fetches the bottle of aloe vera from the kit in the bathroom and squeezes some into her palm. She soothes her sister inch by inch. Claire closes her eyes and slips into the blind dream of her sister's touch.

Alison has been away at college for four months. Sometimes at home Claire goes into her sister's room and sits on her bed. The room looks as if Alison went out just a minute ago. On the desk there are messy piles of snapshots and, mixed in with the pens and pencils in a blue ceramic mug, a tube of sparkly strawberry lip gloss. (Once, she opened the tube, slicked some on, and inhaled her sister's smell on her own lips. She has not dared to do this again.) There are band posters on the walls. The clothes her sister didn't take to college are sloppily folded in the dresser. But the room no longer feels inhabited. Sometimes, when she closes her eyes, she cannot picture her sister's face. She cannot hear her voice, and when this happens a wave of panic washes over her.

Now the hotel room they share is humid with Alison's presence, and everything Claire has missed comes rushing back. Her sister's savage nail biting. Her habit of stroking her scar through her clothes when she's thinking. The way she dances a little, small private movements, when she moves around a room. Her sister is a secret whispered in her ear.

* * *

WHAT DOES a father think about when he wakes at dawn on the second morning of vacation? The damned birds. The roosters crowing away, from somewhere behind the resort. Some incessant yellow-breasted bird making a high-pitched racket on the balcony. (This is the bananaquit, an infamous island nuisance.) He throws on a robe, goes out to the balcony, shoos the bird away, and returns to bed. But it is back a minute later. He does this three times, thinking with increasing agitation of some prior guest in this suite who must have offered the bird scraps from his room service pain au chocolat. He tells himself to relax. He's awake anyway now, might as well get his day started. He kisses his wife, who is still sleeping soundly, and steps onto the balcony to appraise the morning. It is a clear day. A few squat clouds move slow as cruise ships across a pure blue sky. Faraway Cay appears so near he half believes he could reach out and touch it. He can make out individual palm trees on the shore. He can see the cay's black rock faces, mossed with growth, and the shadows of its ravines. The cay's intense greens simply do not exist at home. A father reflects momentarily that most people will live their whole lives without getting to see a place this beautiful. He reiterates to himself, as he tries to do often, that he is fortunate. He paused to allow a similar reflection on the shuttle ride from the airport to the resort, a journey whose features—children playing in dusty yards; women sitting somnolently behind dented tin pots at roadside stands; concrete houses that must once have been turquoise, yellow, pink, but whose paint had nearly all peeled away; strays—summoned the equivalent features of his own life: his beautiful daughters, wife, house (the eaves tufted now with shimmering snow), Fluffernutter the dog.

His thoughts are interrupted by a mechanical noise. A tractor is making its way along the beach. He notices now that the sand, which was immaculate yesterday, is strewn with mats of brown seaweed. Two men in overalls are raking the seaweed into piles. The tractor follows after them, scooping up the piles. Behind the tractor, a fourth man uses a push broom to smooth away the tread marks.

A father stands on the balcony and watches this procedure for some time. He understands now that the beach is not naturally pristine, which, he admits, should have been obvious, and this knowledge taints his enjoyment of it. His reaction bothers him. Why should these men's labor make him appreciate the beach less instead of more?

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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