The Patron Saint of
Liars, Ann Patchett’s first novel, is an accomplished debut. It
is written in three sections — the first featuring Rose, the liar of
the title, and the second her husband and the third her daughter.
Rose came of age as a Catholic in the 1960s. She thinks God showed her a sign to marry a man she doesn’t love. Later realizing her mistake but discovering she’s pregnant, she takes off, leaving a note to not look for her. Rose’s destination, in Kentucky, is St. Elizabeth’s, a Catholic home for unwed young pregnant women where Rose won’t disclose she has a husband. She plans to stay at St. Elizabeth’s until she delivers and gives up her baby. The only male on the property, a 40something maintenance man named Son, falls for Rose, so when she decides to keep her baby and stay at St. Elizabeth’s as the cook, she agrees to marry him. Son isn’t told that Rose is already married.
Son’s back story, revealed in the middle section, is poignant, as is the story of Cecelia, Rose's daughter, in part three. Son adores Cecilia, who thinks he is her biological father, but Rose is a detached mother. She is an enigma to Cecilia, who yearns to relate to Rose and learn about her past.
Rose isn’t a particularly likable character, and it’s left to the reader to try to figure her out. Was her religion the reason she chose flight over divorce? How could she never see her beloved mother again? Why did she keep her baby after all? Why did she seem to care for old Sister Evangeline more than her daughter? A discussion about the mysterious Rose has likely absorbed many a book group.
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