Synopses & Reviews
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/
"[A] thoughtful first novel....[A] complex character study of a woman driven by forces she can neither understand nor control." Library Journal
"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." Alice McDermott, New York Times Book Review
"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." Susan Larsen, New Orleans Times-Picayune
"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." New Yorker
"Beautifully written....Ann Patchett has produced a first novel that second- and third-time novelists would envy for its grace, insight, and compassion." Boston Herald
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.
St. Elizabeth's is a home for unwed mothers in the 1960s. Life there is not unpleasant, and for most, it is temporary. Not so for Rose, a beautiful, mysterious woman who comes to the home pregnant but not unwed. She plans to give up her baby because she knows she cannot be the mother it needs. But St. Elizabeth's is near a healing spring, and when Rose's time draws near, she cannot go through with her plans, not all of them. And she cannot remain forever untouched by what she has left behind...and who she has become in the leaving.
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.
About the Author
Ann Patchett was born in 1963 in Nashville, Tennessee. She is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and has published fiction in various magazines, including The Paris Review and Seventeen. The Patron Saint of Liars was her first novel and was chosen as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. She is also the author of Taft and The Magician's Assistant.
Q. The Patron Saint of Liars is your first novel. How did you come to write this? What inspired you?
A. I very much thought of myself as a short story writer when I was young, but I wanted to give a novel a try. I won a fellowship for seven months to the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, which rescued me from being a waitress. I knew that this block of time was my great chance to make the jump to a longer form. So in a sense the fellowship itself inspired me, that and being a waitress. I made up the story of Patron Saint
while rolling silverware at the end of my shift every night.
Q. As a writer, would you say you operate more from life or imagination?
A. In the case of this novel, the question then becomes, "Did you do time in a home for unwed mothers or did you make it up?" I work very much from my imagination, though I write about issues that interest me in my own life, like the construction of family. There are also some similarities between the home for unwed mothers and the artist's colony on Cape Cod in the winter where I wrote the book. Like the pregnant girls, the artists and writers were all sort of stuck out in the hinterlands for seven months.
Q. When you wrote The Patron Saint of Liars, did you start with the characters, the narrative, or something else? What was your process, and did you always know where you were going?
A. I started with the scene of Beatrice giving birth to her twins and not calling out. I was thinking about who the other people in the room were and where they had come from and Rose was the one I was most interested in. I do always know where my books are going before I start writing them. I always say if I don't know where I'm going I tend not to get anywhere.
Q. The novel was adapted to a TV movie. Did you have any hand in the adaptation? What do you think is the best way to make a book into a movie?
A. The best way to make a book into a movie is to have nothing to do with it. I find Hollywood a very frustrating place. I did become good friends with the screenwriter for Patron Saint, Lynn Roth. I always thought of it as Lynn's movie, not mine. Even when I see it now in reruns I think, "Lynn's movie is on!" I had a part as an extra, one of the pregnant girls, but I was cut.
Q. Because your first novel takes place mostly in a small town in Kentucky, some people might think of you as a southern writer. How do you think of yourself?
A. I've lived in Tennessee for most of my life but I was born in Los Angeles. People here take that very seriously, where you were born. Southerners have been so supportive of my work that I will always think of being called a southern writer as a great compliment, but I think everyone ultimately wants to just be a writer, not southern, not female, not Catholic.
Q. How would you say The Patron Saint of Liars fits into your body of work? Did you discover themes or make artistic choices that continue to intrigue you?
A. Patron Saint is the novel in which I learned to write novels. I figured it out as I went along. Many of the choices I made in the book, the three points of view for example, came from what I was capable of doing at the time. I have a real tenderness for the book because it was my first, but I've also never read it since I finished writing it, so I can't speak to whether or not it holds up.
Q. Do you think writing for magazines was important to your early progress? Now that you are a successful novelist, do you still write short fiction or nonfiction?
A. I think writing for magazines was good for me because it helped me take my feelings out of the process of writing. For years when I was young and very broke I wrote for Seventeen Magazine and they were merciless, making me rewrite things ten times. I got to the point where I didn't take it personally. I just buckled down and did what needed to be done. I stopped writing short stories when I wrote my first novel, but I still write nonfiction and I really love it. It's so great when your life revolves around novels that take years to write to do an essay that people read and comment on right away.