When you feel responsible for the death of a loved one,
atonement can take a long time. For Ian Bedloe, the sweet Saint Maybe in Anne Tyler’s novel,
atonement goes on for decades.
Ian’s older brother Danny crashes his car into a wall right after Ian reveals that he suspects Danny’s wife, Lucy, of infidelity. Within a year Lucy dies of an overdose. Feeling thoroughly guilty, Ian drops out of college to help his parents with Danny and Lucy’s infant daughter and her two other children. The Bedloes can’t find the older children’s father, so all three remain with them. Ian’s sense of obligation to the children is reinforced by the minister of a storefront church he stumbles upon, the quirkily named Church of the Second Chance. Reverend Emmett counsels Ian that forgiveness requires more than asking — thus Ian believes he has a moral obligation to raise the children. He becomes their surrogate father, giving up college, a career, independence, and relationships, supporting them with a job as a carpenter (like Jesus?). Acquaintances tell him he’s wasting his life.
After the children are grown, Ian finds happiness with a new wife and baby, but Tyler doesn’t seem to be suggesting that he’s making up for lost time. Ian will just continue in a role he performs beautifully, the pillar of a family. What’s different is that Ian, with Emmett’s help, has forgiven himself.
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