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Friday, August 25, 2006

With an “handful of tossed-off words,” 17-year-old Ian contributes, directly or indirectly, to the deaths of his older brother and sister-in-law. His aging parents are left with three orphaned children. Ian goes away half-heartedly to his first semester of college with feelings of guilt and a longing to lead a pure life. One evening, when he steps into a storefront church, The Church of the Second Chance, he is challenged to atone for his guilt by dropping out of college to raise the children. This novel chronicles Ian's steady but rueful resolve over the following 25 years.

The author treats the joys and especially the sorrows of Ian's family with tender reverence. We see the characters wistfully ponder the quirks and virtues of each person who dies in the novel, even the family dog. This sense of sacredness seems to seep into every aspect of the characters' lives, so that every activity takes on special meaning. Some of the most moving parts of the book describe mundane events that trigger unanticipated reflections. I found it interesting that of Ian's faith is not elucidated. His niece describes him as “unusually Christian.” He prays to God as one who is active in the world and admires Jesus as a kind of wise mentor. He is the only believer in his home, and while the rest of the family politely tries to ignore his faith, they cling to him as the one who sustains their family life. Without his trust in God, it is doubtful he could have fulfilled that role. Another intriguing theme is the family's belief that their lives are absolutely wonderful, an optimism maintained predominantly by Ian's mother. Over the years, though she sees her family's lives eroded by sorrow and tedium, she keeps up her hopeful front, something that Ian realizes requires real bravery. Anne Tyler's writing is marvelous. I can't emphasize that enough. And though there is plenty of sadness in the book, there is also plenty of witty humor, fondness, and even redemption.

Title:Saint Maybe
Author:Anne Tyler
Date published:1991
Number of pages:337
Notes:repeat read


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