The Patron Saint of Liars, Ann Patchett, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1992, 336 pp
I've been wanting to read this book ever since I read Bel Canto, by the same author. It was very good, very sad, very unsettling. I finished it about ten days ago and now that I've had time to reflect, I realize that it is truly a women's book. There are two decent men in the book, but even they can't help.
Rose grew up in a town outside Los Angeles with her mother. Her father died when she was three which left her mother very sad. All they had was each other and both were beautiful. Rose grew up almost without any sense of self. It was all about her mother. She married the first man who asked her-Thomas, a quiet man, a nice man, a math teacher. But Rose was not happy being married. When she got pregnant, she got in the car and drove.
She landed at Saint Elizabeth's, in Kentucky, a home for unwed mothers run by nuns. She never let Thomas or her mother know where she was. The rest of the story takes place at Saint Elizabeth's. Rose has a daughter, deciding at the last minute not to give up her baby. The daughter, Cecilia, takes up the story and there is a very cool nun. But Rose is a very strange person who has a lack of human feeling and connection. She is almost autistic, except for the special connection she has with the one nun.
Cecilia has plenty of mothering from nuns and pregnant girls, but not from her mother. Her life is a mystery to her and even at the end, though the chance is there for her to learn the truth, she doesn't and it is heartbreaking for the reader.
So the story is about loss, about failure to be what is expected of a woman, about atonement, about connections, about longing. about freedom not being really an option. It is absolutely beautifully written and I admire Patchett for not making the story wrap up neatly, because in real life it never does and there are no truly happy endings.