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The Patron Saint of Liars


The Patron Saint of Liars Cover




Chapter One

Two o'clock in the morning, a Thursday morning, the first bit of water broke through the ground of George Clatterbuck's back pasture in Habit, Kentucky, and not a living soul saw it. Spring didn't care. Water never needed anyone's help to come up through the ground once it was ready. There are rivers, hundreds of them, running underground all the time, and because of this a man can say he is walking on water. This was a hot spring that had broken loose of its river to make mud in the grass, and it kept on till it was a clear pool and then a little creek, cutting out a snake's path toward the Panther River. Water will always seek out its own.

George Clatterbuck found it when it was already a pretty steady stream. It was only fitting that he should be the one, seeing as how it was his land. It was 1906. He was hunting for his family's dinner. He smelled the spring before he saw it, foul and sulfurous as spoiled eggs. He thought it was a bad sign, that it meant his land was infected and spitting up bile for relief. The water was warm when he dipped in his hand, and he wiped it off against the leg of his trousers. He was thinking about it, thinking what he ought to do, when he saw a rabbit on the other side of the field. It was as big a buck as he'd seen, and he knelt down slowly to get off his shot. He had to shoot on his knees. His father taught him that way because he was afraid the rifle's kick would knock the boy off his feet, thought George would be safer close to the ground. But since that was the way George learned, that was the only way he could ever do it, and now here he was, grown with a family, going down on his knees like a man in prayer to shoot a rabbit.

He blew the head clean off and didn't disturb the pelt. He thought he would tan the hide and give it to his daughter, June, for her birthday. June, like many little girls, was partial to soft things. By the time he'd tied the legs onto his belt he'd forgotten about the water altogether.

It wasn't long after that times turned hard for the Clatterbucks. Both plow horses came down with colic, and Betsy, the horse George rode to town, got a ringworm thick as your thumb that no amount of gentian violet could clear. Not a week after, every last one of his cows came down with mastitis that left them all drier than bones. George had to get up every three hours in the night and bottle-feed the calves, whose crying put his wife beside herself. "Sounds like a dying child," she said, and she shivered. George didn't say this to her, but he was thinking he might have to slaughter the calves and take his losses. Bought milk was more than he could afford.

Then, if he didn't have enough to worry about, the horses broke free of the corral. George took some rope and set out to bring them back, cursing the rain and the mud and the stupid animals with every step. He found them at that spring he had forgotten, drinking so deeply he thought they'd founder. He was frightened then because he thought such water would kill them, and where would the money co me from to buy three new horses? But the horses were fine. Betsy's hide was smooth where the ringworm had been and the other two were past their own disorder. George knew it was the spring that had done this, but he didn't know if it was the work of the Devil or the Lord. He didn't tell a soul when he drove his sick cows down to the water, but by the time they came home their udders were so full they looked like they might burst on the ground.

Then little June took sick and laid in her bed like a dull penny. Doctor came from Owensboro and said it wasn't the pox or scarlet fever, but something else that was burning her alive. She was slipping away so fast you could all but see her dying right before your eyes, and there sat her parents, not a thing in the world to do.

So George goes out in the middle of the night with a mason jar.

He walks in the dark to the spring, fills up the jar, and heads home. He goes to his daughter's room and looks at her pale face. He prays. He takes the first drink of water for himself, thinking that if it was to kill her he'd best die, too. It is foul-tasting, worse even than the smell of it. He lifts up June's head from her sweaty pillow and pours the water down her throat, the whole jarful. He only lets a little run down the sides of her face. He wonders for a moment what it would be like to feed a child from his own body as his wife had done, but the thought embarrasses him and he lets it go. The next morning June is fine, perfect, better than new.

When the spring had saved his livestock, George kept it to himself, not wanting to look foolish, but when it saved his daughter he felt the call to witness. He went into the streets of Habit and told what he had seen. At first the people were slow in believing, but as hardships came to them and they went to the spring for help, all was proved true.

Tales of what had happened spread by word of mouth and before long people were coming up from as far away as Mississippi...

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Average customer rating based on 2 comments:

cerabe1, April 30, 2015 (view all comments by cerabe1)
This novel delivered a lot more than I expected, based on the description. Girl gets pregnant - moves to convent - decides to keep baby. It's been done before, with many different twists, but this one really drew me in. Much more than a coming of age story or one woman's struggle to find meaning and solace in her life, the book is a character study of some really interesting people. For a first novel, it's amazingly well written, too. Ann Patchett is obviously a natural observer of human behavior.
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Dina, November 25, 2007 (view all comments by Dina)
I am a big fan of Ann Patchett. I first read The Magician's Assistant and then backtracked to read this book. The Patron Saint of Liars is an interesting look at Rose, a woman who leaves her marriage and her family and goes to a home for unwed mothers. Her plans change and she ends up staying at the home. Patchett tells the history of the mother's home and the small town where it is located. All of her characters are interesting, but ultimately Rose is hard to figure out. She is unhappy and seeking something, but can't seem to really find what she is looking for.
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Product Details

Patchett, Ann
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Hepinstall, Kathy
New York
Mothers and daughters
Unmarried mothers
General Fiction
Edition Number:
1st Perennial ed.
Edition Description:
Mass market paperback
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
March 18, 2003
Electronic book text in proprietary or open standard format
Grade Level:
8.25 x 5.5 in 0.87 lb

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
History and Social Science » American Studies » Popular Culture

The Patron Saint of Liars Used Trade Paper
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Product details 288 pages Perennial (HarperCollins) - English 9780060540753 Reviews:
"Review" by , "Patchett's first novel...has a quiet summer-morning sensibility that reminds one of the early work of Anne Tyler....In an assured, warm, and graceful style, a moving novel..."
"Review" by , "[A] thoughtful first novel....[A] complex character study of a woman driven by forces she can neither understand nor control."
"Review" by , "Ann Patchett has written such a good first novel that among the many pleasures it offers is the anticipation of how wonderful her second, third, and fourth will surely be....It is a world that Ms. Patchett draws with wit and imagination....It is about pilgrimage and healing. A made-up story of an enchanted place. A fairy tale. A delight."
"Review" by , "A remarkable first novel...the voice is fresh and winning and the images linger....'A Patron Saint of Liars' is everything a novel should be, rich in beautiful language and tender wisdom."
"Review" by , "Perhaps this novel's greatest accomplishment is that we become as yearning and uncertain as the characters themselves — we search for a divine pattern to their lives, yet are surprisingly accepting of the author's reluctance to trace it for us."
"Review" by , "Beautifully written....Ann Patchett has produced a first novel that second- and third-time novelists would envy for its grace, insight, and compassion."
"Synopsis" by , Set at St. Elizabeth's in Habit, Kentucky, this is the story of Rose, an obstinate young woman fleeing her first marriage who seeks temporary sanctuary but instead finds a place among the nuns when she decides to keep her child and marry the groundskeeper.
"Synopsis" by , In the midst of the American Civil War, a southern plantation owner's wife is arrested by her husband and declared insane for interfering with his slaves. She is sent to an island mental asylum to come to terms with her wrongdoing, but instead finds love and escape with a war-haunted Confederate soldier.
"Synopsis" by , Amid the mayhem of the Civil War, Virginia plantation wife Iris Dunleavy is put on trial and convicted of madness. It is the only reasonable explanation the court can see for her willful behavior, so she is sent away to Sanibel Asylum to be restored to a good, compliant woman. Iris knows, though, that her husband is the true criminal; she is no lunatic, only guilty of disagreeing with him on notions of justice, cruelty, and property. On this remote Florida island, cut off by swamps and seas and military blockades, Iris meets a wonderful collection of residents--some seemingly sane, some wrongly convinced they are crazy, some charmingly odd, some dangerously unstable. Which of these is Ambrose Weller, the war-haunted Confederate soldier whose memories terrorize him into wild fits that can only be calmed by the color blue, but whose gentleness and dark eyes beckon to Iris. The institution calls itself modern, but Iris is skeptical of its methods, particularly the dreaded "water treatment." She must escape, but she has found new hope and love with Ambrose. Can she take him with her? If they make it out, will the war have left anything for them to make a life from, back home? Blue Asylum is a vibrant, beautifully-imagined, absorbing story of the lines we all cross between sanity and madness. It is also the tale of a spirited woman, a wounded soldier, their impossible love, and the undeniable call of freedom. http://www.hmhbooks.com/blueasylum/
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