Sunday, July 14, 2013

Saint Maybe

1991, 1992 Ivy Books edition
Anne Tyler
Saint Maybe
Possibly bought newish for $5.99
Very worn paperback

The title character, Ian, starts out in 1965 as a typical teen with a typical family.  Then he makes the mistake of jumping to a conclusion about his new sister-in-law, Lucy.  (That her youngest child is not her husband's.  Actually, Lucy is just a shoplifter.)  Brother Danny kills himself, and Lucy dies a few months later.  Out of guilt, and on advice from the reverend of the Church of the Second Chance, Ian ends up raising the baby and the two older children.  Even after the children are grown, Ian hesitates to live an independent life, although he sometimes wonders if he made the right choices.  (Joining the church, dropping out of college, giving up premarital sex, as well as raising the kids.)  The third-person perspective alternates between him and the other family members, mostly Lucy's kids.  And the story ends in 1990, when Ian is a new father by his younger wife, who's similar to Muriel of Accidental Tourist.

While there were things I liked about the book, not just most of the characters but the believable details (any late '60s to late '70s child knows those third-rate day camps), I did have issues with it, including Ian's passivity.  (Ironically, Tourist's Mason makes more active decisions.)  At one point, he almost agrees to go to Bible college, just because the reverend wants a successor.  Also, I found the interchangeability, gizmo-loving, and fractured English of the "foreigners" a bit wacky-sitcom-neighborly.  And I felt like we were asked to be invested in characters who disappeared from the novel (particularly Ian's first girlfriend, and to some extent his older sister and her alphabetically-named brood).

Overall, not Tyler at the top of her game, but still worth reading.  Ladder of Years coming up in 1995.  (Yes, the same year we'll return to Smiley and Tan.)

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