“The Patron Saint of Liars” is the debut novel of author Ann Patchett. Patchett has also written the extraordinary “Bel Canto.” This novel, originally published in 1992 was the announcement of a major new talent in literature. The story she tells is a simple one, but filled with grace and written with skill. In the 1960’s, pregnant, Rose Clinton leaves her husband in California with nothing but a note saying that she is unhappy and that he should not try to find her. She has no intention of coming home. Her destination is in Kentucky: St. Elizabeth’s home for unwed mothers. It is where women from all over go to give birth and give up their children. It is a Catholic home in a Baptist town. Rose does not believe that she can be a good mother to her child and that she shouldn’t be a mother. Not now. Perhaps not ever.
The novel is told in three sections. The first section is told from the perspective of Rose. Through her eyes and with her words we learn about why she left California, how she ended up at St. Elizabeth’s and what that experience was like. Patchett writes Rose so well that when her section ended I couldn’t imagine that the next section of the novel could possibly be as good as what it was that I just read. Section two is told by Rose’s husband. The final section of the novel is given to Rose’s daughter. “The Patron Saint of Liars” is a remarkable novel. It is filled with insight into the characters and it seems at times also into our own lives. This isn’t a story of faith, but it is also filled with a sense of grace and healing at all turns, even when the characters are facing personal difficulties.
With “Bel Canto” I knew that Ann Patchett was a talented author and I wanted to experience her other novels. After “The Patron Saint of Liars” it is clear that Patchett ranks among my favorite authors. She doesn’t slam the reader with hard hitting slamming dialogue, but rather allows that sense of grace and healing which is so much a theme of the novel come out in nearly every sentence. As a first novel this is even more remarkable as accomplished authors would be fortunate to write a novel as beautiful as this. I would give “The Patron Saint of Liars” my highest recommendation.