Yvette Santerre, the family's matriarch, keeps many truths hidden from her family with the best intentions, starting, most notably, by claiming her teenage daughter's son Jamie as her own child. Even Teddy, Yvette's husband, is kept in the dark, as the oldest daughter Margot goes to France for a year—ostensibly, to study abroad—while Yvette goes to a convent "to rest" during the course of her supposed pregnancy. But as Jamie grows older, Teddy struggles to connect with his unplanned "son"; Margot marries and tries, unsuccessfully, to have another child; and Jamie's other "sister," Clarissa, suffers from a decaying marriage. As Yvette's children and grandchildren mature, and a shocking relationship develops, the family must begin to unravel its own chain of lies.
Rather than having the narrative follow a linear chronology, Meloy jumps in time, with each chapter focusing on the perspective of a different character. This shifting viewpoint makes it difficult for readers to invest much in any one of the characters—particularly given the fact that the novel covers more than 50 years in the life of this family over the course of a mere 272 pages. At the same time, this quality, along with the high drama that builds and unfolds, makes Liars and SaintsMeloy's writing is smooth and often vivid, and she manages to surprise readers, and thus avoid predictability, with an ever-spiraling tale of tragedy, faith and the intersection between the two.
Jenn McKee is a writer in Berkley, Michigan. Copyright 2003 BookPage Reviews
BookPage Reviews 2004 July
Liars and Saints
A saga that spans five decades, this multigenerational tale follows the lives of the Santerre family, a Catholic clan living in California. Yvette and Teddy, a marine who served in World War II, struggle with their 16-year-old daughter, who threatens to bring scandal upon the family when she becomes pregnant. To save face, Yvette claims the baby as her own—one of many family deceptions that occur. Presented in brief chapters narrated by various family members, the novel presents the reader with a kaleidoscopic look at the Santerres. The voices Meloy conjures here are authentic and fresh, and she does an expert job of capturing the tensions of the times, bringing to life the cultural tumult of the 1960s and '70s. Best of all, she writes with wisdom and generosity about the quirks and complexities of family life. Copyright 2004 BookPage Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2003 April #2
A multigenerational first novel told with remarkable compression and precision.Devoutly Catholic Yvette defies her family to marry Teddy shortly before he ships out as a WWII pilot. Although the Santerres' early happiness in California sours due to Teddy's inevitable jealousy-though always true to him, Yvette radiates sexuality-they do have two daughters. When adolescent Margot is seduced by a dance teacher, Yvette packs her off to relatives in France, tells Teddy she herself is the pregnant one, then decamps to a convent to cover her lie until the baby is born. Margot, who never acknowledges Jamie as her son, is later unable to bear the children she and her kindly if sketchily drawn husband desperately want. Meanwhile, Margot's rebellious younger sister Clarissa dotes on Jamie, whom she assumes is her baby brother, but then she runs away with a '60s-style idealistic, self-centered law student. Yvette's warning that he'll make Clarissa unhappy proves true, and when he puts his blossoming political career ahead of family, Clarissa divorces him. By now, Jamie, a troubled youth, has left Yvette and Teddy's home after a major blow-up. He moves in with Clarissa and helps raise her daughter Abby (who adores her uncle-really her cousin), until she leaves for college. A couple of years later, at a family reunion, Abby and Jamie have sex (while Clarissa begins a lesbian relationship). Abby gets pregnant and soon after is diagnosed with cancer. Although Clarissa and Jamie have both lapsed from their Catholic faith, Abby demands to be baptized. She dies soon after she gives birth, and Jamie, officially only the godfather, raises the child. The secrets the Santerres keep in failed attempts to protect each other gradually unravel even as some of them find private happiness. Finally, Yvette's murder draws the family together.Prizewinning storywriter Meloy (Half in Love, 2002) pushes every melodramatic hot button with disarming understatement. Copyright Kirkus 2003 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved
Library Journal Reviews 2003 May #1
Following last year's well-received short story collection Half in Love, Meloy shows how skillful she is at hurtling the reader into an intriguing story line. Yvette, a beautiful young French Canadian woman, goes against her father's wishes by marrying an American fighter pilot during World War II. Her life as a soldier's wife in sunny 1940s California is pleasant, but husband Teddy is called up again for the Korean War. When she admits to an innocent flirtation with a photographer while Teddy is overseas, he is overcome with jealousy. Yvette vows never to be so honest again, and thus starts a series of lies that both trouble and bind together the family for generations. Although devoutly Catholic, Yvette finds ways to justify her deceptions within her faith. She develops an elaborate ruse to cover her oldest daughter Margot's teenage pregnancy and pose as the mother of the baby, Jamie. Margot, the least realistic character, shows no love for her brother/son, but her sister Clarissa establishes a close, lifelong relationship. Later, Clarissa's daughter Abby becomes emotionally tangled with him. Meloy cleverly shows the family's interconnections from many viewpoints, but the novel's accelerated pace flattens the characters rather than defines them. Still, the unusual plot makes for a compelling read. Recommended for most collections.-Reba Leiding, James Madison Univ. Libs., Harrisonburg, VA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2003 April #4
The consolations of ardent faith, as well as the harsh demands of religious dogma, supply the leitmotifs of this dazzling novel of a Catholic family's life over five decades. Meloy, whose collection of short fiction, Half in Love, earned rave reviews last year, writes with wisdom and compassion about the secret guilt that shadows three generations of the Santerre family. Yvette Grenier and Teddy Santerre marry in California in 1945, just before Teddy ships out to the Pacific. Their wartime separation sparks Teddy's fears of Yvette's infidelity, and when naive Yvette is moved to confess an experience of sexual temptation to her priest, his strict penalty for her "sin of omission" creates enduring tension in the marriage. When one of their daughters gives birth at age 16, Yvette contrives to pass off the baby boy as her own son, convinced that God has chosen her to bear this burden. The strict injunctions of Catholic doctrine and the well-meaning deceit that follows trigger an intricate chain of events that finds history repeating itself in the next generation, bringing heartbreaking sacrifice and spiritual reconciliation. Meloy's unerring mastery of narrative is remarkable. The disciplined economy and resonant clarity of her prose allow her to present a complex story in swift, lean chapters. The alternating points of view of eight main characters shine with authenticity and illuminate the moral complexities felt by each generation. The rich emotional chiarascuro and fine psychological insight of this haunting novel mark Meloy as a writer of extraordinary talent. (June) Forecast: Widespread review attention for this novel should also spur sales of Half in Love, out in paperback from Scribner in July. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.