24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Complex, compelling tale of a family thrust together by tragedy and some intense religion,
This review is from: Saint Maybe (Mass Market Paperback)
A young man (Ian Bedloe) believes he has caused his brother to commit suicide, as a result of which his brother's wife also commits suicide. Weighed down by guilt, he encounters a little congregation, The Church of the Second Chance, which changes the whole trajectory of his life. If this book weren't by Pulitzer Prize winner Anne Tyler, the plot summary might fool us into believing this is inspirational Christian fiction: it's not. Tyler shies away from simple conclusions: the church certainly transforms Ian's life, but the end result is complex and fascinating.
Although the first part of the book is from Ian's perspective, Tyler eventually shifts and tells the story from the viewpoint of various key characters. I missed Ian's perspective further on, but we receive a rounded view of this fascinating family (Ian, his girlfriend, his parents, his brother's children). As Ian's family seeks to deal with his intense, newfound religiosity, I was reminded of Nick Hornby's How To Be Good (although Saint Maybe is much better), which explores the question of what it means to be good, just as Tyler here explores what it means to be forgiven.
Tyler does a wonderful job of capturing family life, interpersonal relationships, and internal struggle. The book took too long to get to the first pivotal event (the suicides), but after that, I couldn't put it down. Jay Parini, in his New York Times review, concluded with these remarks: "In many ways [Saint Maybe] is Anne Tyler's most sophisticated work, a realistic chronicle that celebrates family life without erasing the pain and boredom that families almost necessarily inflict upon their members. Ian Bedloe, for his part, sits near the top of Ms. Tyler's fine list of heroes. Exactly how she makes us care so much about him remains a mystery to me. That is, perhaps, the mystery of art" ("The Accidental Convert," 25 August 1991). And in his review of Tyler's most recent novel, The Washington Post's Ron Charles claims Saint Maybe as his favorite Tyler novel (no small feat, given that there are 17) ("The Roads to Home," 30 April 2006).
This book would be an excellent read for a Book Club. After finishing it, I spent a long time discussing it with the friend who gave it to me.