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2 Burnside Literature- A to Z

The Patron Saint of Liars

by

The Patron Saint of Liars Cover

 

 

Excerpt

HABIT

Two oclock in the morning, a Thursday morning, the

first bit of water broke through the ground of George Clatterbucks

back pasture in Habit, Kentucky, and not a living soul saw

it. Spring didnt care. Water never needed anyones 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 snakes 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

familys 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 hed 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 rifles

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 didnt 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 hed tied the legs onto his belt hed forgotten

about the water altogether.

 It wasnt 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 didnt 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 didnt 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 theyd founder. He

was frightened then because he thought such water would kill

them, and where would the money come from to buy three new

horses? But the horses were fine. Betsys 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 didnt know if it was the work of the Devil or the Lord. He

didnt 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 wasnt 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 daughters 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 hed best die, too. It is foul-tasting, worse

even than the smell of it. He lifts up Junes 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.

The truth was stretched out of shape through all the telling, and

soon the lame showed up wanting to walk and the blind wanting

to see. The spring cant do everything, the townspeople said. Its

wrong to expect so much.

 And then one boy died right there at the waters edge. He was

that sick by the time his folks brought him. Hes buried in Habit

now, two hundred miles away from his own kind.

 One of the people who got word of the spring was a horse

breeder named Lewis Nelson, who lived in Lexington. Lewis

wife, Louisa, had rheumatoid arthritis and her hands froze up on

her even though she was only twenty-two. They set off to Habit

to see if the water couldnt do her some good. The Nelsons were

rich, and when they came to town they were looking for a hotel,

but there wasnt one. George had made a vow to never make a

cent off the spring, and Habit said that was only fitting. So when

visitors came they were taken in with charity, many times by the

Clatterbucks themselves. This put the Nelsons ill at ease, since

they were used to giving charity and not receiving it.

 June was seventeen that summer. She had grown up as well as

she had started out. She was a kind of a saint in the town, the first

one saved by the spring, but all that really meant to June was that

there were few boys bold enough to ask her out, and the ones

who did thought it would be a sin to try and kiss her. She gave up

her room for Mr. and Mrs. Nelson and slept on the sofa downstairs.

 After her second trip to the spring the use of Louisas hands

came back to her and she taught June how to cross-stitch. Her

husband was full of joy. Lewis was a devout Catholic with a head

for figures. He saw the hand of God in the spring and thought

the thing to do would be to build a grand hotel in the back pasture.

No one was ever sure how he changed George Clatterbucks

mind, but probably it was by telling him that a lot more people

could be saved if there was a bigger place to stay and that George

was being unchristian by denying them. Its easy to imagine that

Lewis had seen how well the hot-springs hotels had done in Arkansas

and Tennessee and knew there was some real money to

be made. Not long after that the architects came with their silver

mechanical pencils, and after them the builders and the gardeners.

In 1920 the Hotel Louisa opened its doors. Theyd wanted to

call it the Hotel June, but June, afraid of scaring off the few dates

she had left, said thank you, no.

 When the roses on the wallpaper were still in their first bloom

and the carpet was soft and springy beneath your feet, there

wasnt a hotel in the South that could match the Hotel Louisa.

People came from Atlanta and Chicago and New Orleans,

some to be healed but most to play tennis on the grass courts

and dance in the fancy ballroom. Lewis sent for his collection of

horse prints in Lexington, and Louisa picked out velvet to cover

the settees for the lobby. There were two formal dining rooms

where people ate with real silver and drank champagne smuggled

down from Canada. At five oclock everyone went out and

stood on the front porch to drink bourbon and soda. No one

from Habit ever went inside after the opening day. It made them

feel like they werent quite good enough. Even the Clatterbucks,

who were supposed to be partners in everything, kept to the

other side of the woods. You couldnt see their house, not even

from the third-floor rooms. The guests never knew they had ever

been there at all.

The crash of the stock market in 1929 and the great drought

that came over the land were so close together that it was hard to

separate one from the other. Everything was coming to an end,

and the spring would not except itself. Maybe there was a reason

for it, that things got so hot that even the water underneath

the ground felt the pull of the dry air. In no time it went from a

trickle to a strip of mud and then not even that. But whatever it

was, the town of Habit took its leaving as a sign, just as they had

taken its arrival.

 For the spring this was no hardship. It was just going back,

folding into one of those underground rivers. It would break

through later, years from then, someplace else. Next time people

might not be around for miles. It was very possible that no one

would ever drink from it at all.

 Not long after all this, people stopped going to the hotel,

though it would be hard to say if it was because of the spring or

because they were the kind of people who had kept their money

in banks. June used to walk across the field in the evenings and

look at the place in the ground where her salvation had come

from. She saw men in suits and women in silk dresses carrying

out their own bags and taking hired cars north to catch trains.

 The Nelsons tried for a long time to get the water to come

back. They hired people who said they knew how to coax it out

of the ground. But the spring was long gone by then. They stayed

on in the hotel alone until the middle thirties, hardly coming out

for anything. You could trail them as they moved from room to

room, one light going off and another one coming on. People

said they could set their watch by what window was bright at the

time. Then one day the Nelsons packed up and left without saying

good-bye.

 Word came soon after that the Nelsons had made a gift of the

Hotel Louisa to the Catholic Church, and this put the fear of

God in everyone. It was one thing to have rich people in your

pasture, but when the Clatterbucks thought of Catholics, they

saw statues of the Virgin Mary going up in the yard, ten feet high.

The Clatterbucks could have kept the Catholics off, since they

owned the land, but nobody told them that. When the lawyers

came and knocked on their door, there was nothing for them to

do but look at the ground and shake their heads. A few weeks

later two buses pulled up, and a group of little old women in

white dresses were led or carried up the front stairs. The church

had changed the name of the Hotel Louisa to Saint Elizabeths

and turned it into a rest home for old nuns.

 But the nuns were miserable. Theyd been dirt poor all their

lives, following the word of their church. The idea of spending

their final days in an abandoned grand hotel made them restless.

Soon the tiny women started wandering over to the Clatterbucks

in their bathrobes, searching out a simpler way of life.

The Clatterbucks, good Baptists every day of their lives, took

pity on the old Catholics and overcame their fears. They served

them platters of fried mush with sorghum, which were received

with heartfelt prayers and thanks. It made the family feel needed

again; the old womens dependence called to mind the early days

of the spring when the sick were healed. They thought that God

had seen again what was best.

 But the church did not agree, and two years later the buses returned

and took the nuns to Ohio. Mrs. Clatterbuck cried when

they left, and June touched the medal around her neck of Saint

Catherine of Siena that Sister Estelle had given her. She wore it

all her life.

 The Hotel Louisa was getting worn, fretwork slipped from

the porch, shutters hung down. In any other town it would have

been ransacked, people breaking out windows and carrying off

furniture in the night. But the people of Habit were true to their

name and just kept on avoiding the old hotel like they did in the

days when they wouldnt have had the right clothes to go inside

for a cup of coffee.

 The Clatterbucks waited and watched. Then one day a station

wagon pulled up the front drive and two nuns, dressed in

what looked to be white bed sheets, and five big-bellied girls got

out. June and her mother were just coming through the woods at

the time, out for their daily walk.

 The nuns cut across the dried creek bed, not knowing a thing.

They didnt know how the hotel had come to be or that they

were standing on top of what might have been the closest thing

to a real miracle that any of them was ever going to see. They

were occupied, unloading the car.

 “Pregnant girls,” Mrs. Clatterbuck said. “Theyve gone and

made it into a home for pregnant girls.”

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 1 comment:

Wendy in Port Townsend, September 6, 2011 (view all comments by Wendy in Port Townsend)
Having loved State of Wonder so much, I'm reading Ann Patchett's earlier writings now. The Patron Saint of Liars has a lot going for it. The setting-- a home for unwed mothers in Kentucky in the 60s-- is superb, the nuns and the history of the home are brilliant, and the plot propels the reader forward. I enjoyed getting to know Rose, Son, and Cecilia, as they each narrated part of the story, and each provided different perspectives. I wonder what inspired Ann Patchett to write about this theme, this place, these people?
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780547520209
Author:
Patchett, Ann
Publisher:
Mariner Books
Author:
O'Brien, Tim
Author:
Eco, Umberto
Subject:
General
Subject:
General Fiction
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
20110431
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Language:
English
Illustrations:
3 b/w images
Pages:
592
Dimensions:
8 x 5.31 in 1 lb

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Product details 592 pages Mariner Books - English 9780547520209 Reviews:
"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."
"Review" by , "[A] wonderful first novel."
"Review" by , "The Patron Saint of Liars is a remarkable novel...Ann Patchett is unique: a generous, fearless, and startlingly wise young writer."
"Synopsis" by , Since her first publication in 1992, celebrated novelist Ann Patchett has crafted a number of elegant novels, garnering accolades and awards along the way. Now comes a reissue of the best-selling debut novel that launched her remarkable career.
"Synopsis" by , A repackage of bestselling Ann Patchett's first novel about a young pregant mother and a Kentucky home for unwed mothers.
"Synopsis" by ,
Tim O'Brien's ambitious, compassionate, and terrifically compelling seventh novel, called his "masterwork" by Texas Monthly, sees one of our greatest writers return to his signature themes—passion, memory, and yearning in American twentieth-century life
"Synopsis" by , Umberto Ecoand#8217;s first novel, an international sensation and winner of the Premio Strega and the Prix Mand#233;dicis Etranger awards.
"Synopsis" by ,
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and#8220;Like the labyrinthine library at its heart, this brilliant novel has many cunning passages and secret chambers . . . Fascinating . . . ingenious . . . dazzling.and#8221; and#8211; Newsweek

"Synopsis" by ,
“Insidiously, compulsively readable.” — MSNBC

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With humor and a sense of wistful hope, July, July speaks directly to the American character and its resilience, striking deep at the emotional center of our lives.

"A symphony of American life.” — All Things Considered, NPR

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"Taut and compelling." — Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Beautifully realized, heartbreakingly honest." — Providence Journal-Bulletin

“Almost impossible to put down.” — Austin American-Statesman

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