LitStack Recs: A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople & Wayward Saints

Wayward SaintsWayward Saints
by Suzzy Roche

It’s hard to describe what musician Suzzy Roche’s book Wayward Saints is about.  You could say that it’s about a mother and daughter relationship, but it’s not, really.  You could say it’s about finding yourself, but it’s not that, either.  Nor is it about redemption, or absolution or salvation.  But it’s just as satisfying and a tad more entertaining for not being about those things.

Wayward Saints introduces us to Mary Saint, the lead singer and muse of the “almost famous” rock band Sliced Ham, when her career is just ready to take off.  We’re told that she’s not pretty, but is “exotically beautiful,” yet she thinks she is “as plain as a paper lunch bag.”  Having fled an abusive childhood in small town USA, Mary finds expression in the harsh and profane world of rock and roll, sodden and sticky as it is.  But a tragic accident breaks her, leaving her adrift as her fame dissipates and her apathy reigns.

The RochesWe also meet Jean Saint, Mary’s mother, who lives a carefully ordered and purposefully narrow life back in the small town that Mary fled 10 years earlier.  Jean truly loves her child, but has been ineffectual in protecting Mary from her abusive husband and belittling authorities.  This mother/daughter relationship is one of fond distance, never losing track of each other but never returning “back home” and never showing interest in their separate circumstances.  They maintain two lives joined, but not intersecting.

That is, not until Mary is invited to give a concert at her old high school.  Suddenly, the loose threads of the Saints’ lives are pulled together, with consequences that neither one of them anticipate nor comprehend.

But the true joy of Suzzy Roche’s novel is the lack of spectacle or overwrought drama in a story that easily could lay claim to both.  Evil events happen in the story, but they are an everyday evil, something most of us can relate to from some point in our lives.  And there are miracles that, while not “everyday” or common place, are still treated as interesting rather than as some kind of transportation to glory.

I just can’t stress enough what a pleasure it was to read this book.  If nothing else, you should read it just to experience a story about the wonderfully grounding power of true friendship.  It simply glows.

—Sharon Browning