Reading guide for Liars and Saints by Maile Meloy

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Liars and Saints

by Maile Meloy

Liars and Saints
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2003, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2004, 272 pages

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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 things as Yvette's out-of-body experience at the convent, Abby's decision to be baptized when she learns she has cancer, T.J.'s stabbing Jamie during Mass, Jamie's and Yvette's relationship with Father Jack, and Yvette's last thoughts before she dies. How does religion positively and negatively affect the choices each character makes?

  5. What is the significance of Abby's decision to be baptized in light of the role religion has played in her family's life? Discuss the parallels between her pregnancy and Margot's. How does their religion influence their situations and the way their pregnancies affect other family members?

  6. Early in the novel, a priest convinces Yvette to tell Teddy that the photographer who took her portrait tried to kiss her. But she keeps the secret of Jamie's birth for decades. What made Yvette, who was compelled to confess one seemingly less significant secret, so determined to keep a much larger one?

  7. What role does guilt play in the actions of all the characters? Consider things such as Jamie's breakup with Gail, Abby's decision to be baptized, and Margot's strained relationship with Jamie. At one point Yvette reflects on the past and thinks, "A lie wasn't terrible as long as it hurt no one, but she wasn't sure it had hurt no one. But she did know that if it was 1958 again, and Margot came to her, she would do exactly what she had done." Do you think that Yvette is easily able to live with her lies? Why?

  8. Discuss the parallels between Yvette's relationship with her parents and siblings and the relationships between Yvette, Teddy and their children. How do the chapters about Yvette's mother provide insight into the incidents in the other characters' lives?

  9. Discuss the theme of sex and physical attraction in the novel. How does it influence each character in life-altering ways? What decisions do the characters make that are perhaps harmful to themselves and others? In the end, are any of their decisions actually regrettable?

  10. How are the members of the Santerre family affected by the various outsiders -- Mr. Tucker, Gail, Lauren, Father Jack, Vera, Planchet, Owen -- who pass in and out of their lives? What qualities do these supporting characters have that the Santerres lack?

  11. Discuss the themes of resurrection and resilience in the novel. Consider incidents such as Margot's breakdown after Jamie confronts her, Yvette's mother's breakdown after the death of her husband, Jamie's rekindled relationship with Gail, Clarissa and Jamie's behavior after Abby's death, Yvette's death, and the family reunion at the end of the novel. What drives each character to overcome tragedy and adversity?

  12. What differences between the ways males and females handle secrets are presented in the novel? Consider Teddy's attempts to tell Jamie the truth about Jamie's background, Mr. Tucker's reaction to hearing he has a son he never knew about, and Jamie's surprise at Margot's reaction when he confronts her with the truth of their shared past.

If you've read both Liars and Saints and A Family Daughter:

  1. A Family Daughter presents a different version of the Santerre family's history. How do these two versions differ? What are the differences between the Liars and Saints version of the truth and the A Family Daughter version of the truth (i.e., the identity of Jamie's mother; the details of Margot's family life; the deaths of Abby, Henry, Yvette, Teddy)? What reasons do you think the author had for presenting two different versions of this core story?

  2. Are some of the characters' personalities different from book to book? If so, why do you think that is? Are their personalities different because the events in their lives are different, or are the events in their lives different because their personalities are different?

  3. What truths and relationships are constant between the two books? How is their constancy significant to your reading of the two books?

  4. Reading the two books together raises interesting questions about the nature of "truth" and its relationship with fiction. Do you think of one of these stories as the "real" story and one as made up? If so, why do you think that is, considering that, as novels, both stories are clearly fiction? Is your answer influenced by the order in which you read the two books?

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Scribner. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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