Saturday, October 13, 2012

A still and quiet conscience

I absolutely loved Ann Patchett's Bel Canto. So naturally I ran out and reserved most of her books from the library, never imagining they would all arrive at once.

Patron Saint of Liars was equally as gripping as Bel Canto; I couldn't put it down, and read it in one sitting on a windy autumn night. The story spans a century: a small Tennessee town with a "miracle" spring, a runaway wife from California who drives across the country to a Catholic home for unwed pregnant girls, a nun who can eerily predict the future.

As the title implies, the lies characters tell themselves, strangers, and their loved ones form the foundation of the community at the girls home. The lies about why they are pregnant, who the fathers are, whether or not they will keep their babies, whether or not they are Catholic, create a solid --if temporary-- universe. Even the lies of tangential characters shape the realities of the central ones.

It's a beautifully written story about hidden pasts and how people build a comfortable reality around partial truths. My only small quibble with the book is that the central character, Rose, is still a mystery by the end. We never get to delve more deeply into her psyche, and it's barely known why she always runs away. In the end, it doesn't matter; since the reader is left with the same feeling of abandonment and confusion that the characters have already normalized.

Because I hadn't quite gotten my Ann Patchett fix, I read What Now?, a commencement speech she gave at Sarah Lawrence College, her alma mater.

With few exceptions, I tend to forget commencement speeches and remember only a line or two at best. Graduation keynotes are written for an audience that will not be able to full appreciate the words for years, if not decades -- and by then, they will barely remember most of it. Commencement sermons (because that's what they are) resonate more with the parents, family, and alumni more than with the cap-and-gown- clad honorees themselves.

As speeches go, it was decent. But I definitely prefer Patchett's fiction.

No comments: