Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Saints For All Occasions

Author: J. Courtney Sullivan
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: Trade Paperback ARC
Pages: 333
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Knopf Publishing

First Published: May 9, 2017
First Line: "In the car on the way to the hospital, Nora remembered how, when Patrick was small, she would wake up suddenly, gripped by some terrible fear -- that he had stopped breathing, or spiked a deadly fever."

Book Description from GoodReadsA sweeping, unforgettable novel from The New York Times best-selling author of Maine, about the hope, sacrifice, and love between two sisters and the secret that drives them apart.

Nora and Theresa Flynn are twenty-one and seventeen when they leave their small village in Ireland and journey to America. 

Nora is the responsible sister; she’s shy and serious and engaged to a man she isn’t sure that she loves. Theresa is gregarious; she is thrilled by their new life in Boston and besotted with the fashionable dresses and dance halls on Dudley Street. But when Theresa ends up pregnant, Nora is forced to come up with a plan—a decision with repercussions they are both far too young to understand. 

Fifty years later, Nora is the matriarch of a big Catholic family with four grown children: John, a successful, if opportunistic, political consultant; Bridget, privately preparing to have a baby with her girlfriend; Brian, at loose ends after a failed baseball career; and Patrick, Nora’s favorite, the beautiful boy who gives her no end of heartache. Estranged from her sister and cut off from the world, Theresa is a cloistered nun, living in an abbey in rural Vermont. Until, after decades of silence, a sudden death forces Nora and Theresa to confront the choices they made so long ago. 

A graceful, supremely moving novel from one of our most beloved writers, Saints for All Occasions explores the fascinating, funny, and sometimes achingly sad ways a secret at the heart of one family both breaks them and binds them together.

My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: This family saga spans several decades and follows two Irish sisters, Nora and Theresa, who immigrate to the US in the late 1950's. Some of their early choices have severe repercussions which greatly complicate and weaken the strong bond they once had with each other.

The story's focus is on this dysfunctional family which has been unraveling for quite some time. The family members are adept at repressing how they truly feel and hiding deep, sometimes dark, family secrets - sometimes for decades. Besides the family turmoil Sullivan also explores what life was like for Irish immigrants, the horrible treatment of young, unwed mothers at the time and also touches on religion (specifically Catholicism) and its power and influence (good and bad) over people.

This was a slower kind of read that jumps back and forth from the late 1950's to 2009 and has various characters taking up the reins of the story. This helped to give some of the secondary characters more depth but the book mainly centres around Nora - the complicated matriarch who I wanted to hate but couldn't.

The one weakness for me was the ending which was left too ambiguous. After witnessing all of the family dysfunction I felt cheated out of the resolution and reveal.  An epilogue would have given readers more closure.

This is a slow burn kind of read but it held my attention throughout. I love reading about the tangled, sometimes messiness of families - in all their various forms.  This would be the perfect choice for people who enjoy books featuring the complexities of a dysfunctional family.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Knopf Publishing for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions are my own.

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