Synopses & Reviews
With her first novel, Liars and Saints, award-winning author Maile Meloy more than delivers on the promise of her highly acclaimed debut story collection, Half in Love. This richly textured novel tells a story of sex and longing, love and loss, and of the deceit that can lie at the heart of family relationships. Set in California, Liars and Saints follows four generations of the Catholic Santerre family from World War II to the present. In a family driven as much by jealousy and propriety as by love, an unspoken tradition of deceit is passed from generation to generation. When tragedy shatters their precarious domestic lives, it takes astonishing courage and compassion to bring them back together. By turns funny and disturbing, irreverent and profound, Liars and Saints is a masterful display of Maile Meloy's prodigious gifts and of her penetrating insight into an extraordinary American family and into the nature of human love.
"In this exquisitely rendered novel, Meloy brings her incisive intelligence to the page once again, reminding us that our actions and inactions, admissions and omissions, travel from one generation to the next, and that our past travels with us." Elizabeth Strout, Author of Amy and Isabelle
[E]ngaging but slapdash first novel...In Liars and Saints
, Meloy has so much time and biology to keep track of that her crisp writing goes slack and generic in quite a number of places....My sense of Meloy's talents makes me think she'd be wiser to write next about six months in Montana instead of fifty years in and out of California. She's a good writer, but I'm agnostic as to whether she's a novelist." Thomas Mallon, The Atlantic Monthly
(read the entire Atlantic review
"Liars and Saints is a surehanded little first-novel by a sly, knowledgeable, no-nonsense young writer who will not permit herself a single exaggeration but who nonetheless packs quite a punch. It is a surehanded little first-novel that, for all its brevity, happens to disclose half a century of a middle-class Catholic family's disappointed expectations. The quiet, unastonished precision with which Maile Meloy depicts the extent to which everything now goes haywire in so-called ordinary American life is an impressive achievement, literary and otherwise." Philip Roth
"The alternating points of view of eight main characters shine with authenticity....The rich emotional chiarascuro and fine psychological insight of this haunting novel mark Meloy as a writer of extraordinary talent." Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Meloy follows four tangled generations of the Santerre family, French Canadian Catholics who settle in Southern California during World War II. That sounds like a saga, yet the book is only 260 pages long and yet again you don't feel you've missed a thing." The New York Times
"A multigenerational first novel told with remarkable compression and precision." Kirkus Reviews
The prize-winning young author of a critically acclaimed short story collection makes her full-length fiction debut in this richly textured, emotionally charged novel about four generations of an American family.
About the Author
Maile Meloy is the author of the story collection Half in Love and the novel Liars and Saints, which was shortlisted for the 2005 Orange Prize. Meloy's stories have been published in The New Yorker, and she has received The Paris Review's Aga Khan Prize for Fiction, the PEN/Malamud Award, the Rosenthal Foundation Award, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She lives in California.
Reading Group Guide
LIARS AND SAINTS by Maile Meloy
Reading Group Guide
1. How does the novel's unusual structure -- alternating chapters told from many points of view -- strengthen the story? Why is it so important for this particular novel that we read almost every character's point of view?
2. Do you think the novel has a main character? Is it Yvette, who hatches the plan that leads to so many family secrets? Is it Jamie, the root of his family's biggest secret? Is it Teddy, the Santerre family patriarch? Is there no main character?
3. When Yvette devises the plan to hide Margot's pregnancy, who or what do you think she is trying hardest to protect? Margot? Jamie? Teddy? Herself? Her family's reputation?
4. Discuss the importance of Catholicism in the Santerre family. Consider such things as Yvette's out-of-body experience at the convent, Abby's decision to be baptized when she learns she has cancer, T.J.'s stabbing Jamie during Mass, Jamie's and Yvette's relationship with Father Jack, and Yvette's last thoughts before she dies. How does religion positively and negatively affect the choices each character makes?
5. What is the significance of Abby's decision to be baptized in light of the role religion has played in her family's life? Discuss the parallels between her pregnancy and Margot's. How does their religion influence their situations and the way their pregnancies affect other family members?
6. Early in the novel, a priest convinces Yvette to tell Teddy that the photographer who took her portrait tried to kiss her. But she keeps the secret of Jamie's birth for decades. What made Yvette, who was compelled to confess one seemingly less significant secret, so determined to keep a much larger one?
7. What role does guilt play in the actions of all the characters? Consider things such as Jamie's breakup with Gail, Abby's decision to be baptized, and Margot's strained relationship with Jamie. At one point Yvette reflects on the past and thinks, "A lie wasn't terrible as long as it hurt no one, but she wasn't sure it had hurt no one. But she did know that if it was 1958 again, and Margot came to her, she would do exactly what she had done." Do you think that Yvette is easily able to live with her lies? Why?
8. Discuss the parallels between Yvette's relationship with her parents and siblings and the relationships between Yvette, Teddy and their children. How do the chapters about Yvette's mother provide insight into the incidents in the other characters' lives?
9. Discuss the theme of sex and physical attraction in the novel. How does it influence each character in life-altering ways? What decisions do the characters make that are perhaps harmful to themselves and others? In the end, are any of their decisions actually regrettable?
10. How are the members of the Santerre family affected by the various outsiders -- Mr. Tucker, Gail, Lauren, Father Jack, Vera, Planchet, Owen -- who pass in and out of their lives? What qualities do these supporting characters have that the Santerres lack?
11. Discuss the themes of resurrection and resilience in the novel. Consider incidents such as Margot's breakdown after Jamie confronts her, Yvette's mother's breakdown after the death of her husband, Jamie's rekindled relationship with Gail, Clarissa and Jamie's behavior after Abby's death, Yvette's death, and the family reunion at the end of the novel. What drives each character to overcome tragedy and adversity?
12. What differences between the ways males and females handle secrets are presented in the novel? Consider Teddy's attempts to tell Jamie the truth about Jamie's background, Mr. Tucker's reaction to hearing he has a son he never knew about, and Jamie's surprise at Margot's reaction when he confronts her with the truth of their shared past.
If you've read both Liars and Saints and A Family Daughter:
1. A Family Daughter presents a different version of the Santerre family's history. How do these two versions differ? What are the differences between the Liars and Saints version of the truth and the A Family Daughter version of the truth (i.e., the identity of Jamie's mother; the details of Margot's family life; the deaths of Abby, Henry, Yvette, Teddy)? What reasons do you think the author had for presenting two different versions of this core story?
2. Are some of the characters' personalities different from book to book? If so, why do you think that is? Are their personalities different because the events in their lives are different, or are the events in their lives different because their personalities are different?
3. What truths and relationships are constant between the two books? How is their constancy significant to your reading of the two books?
4. Reading the two books together raises interesting questions about the nature of "truth" and its relationship with fiction. Do you think of one of these stories as the "real" story and one as made up? If so, why do you think that is, considering that, as novels, both stories are clearly fiction? Is your answer influenced by the order in which you read the two books?