Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Wayward Saints

By Suzzy Roche
Hyperion, 259 pgs
Submitted by Hyperion
Rating: 3

(Aside: This book was shipped to me with Wayward Saints as the addressee, causing my stepmother and sister to inquire as to whether I'd joined a cult.)

Saint is the surname of the principle characters in Wayward Saints: Bub, Jean and Mary. Bub and Mary are definitely wayward, while Jean is just painfully inhibited and scared witless. They live in a small town called Swallow which is painted as a stultifying cliche of a hide-bound neo-con backwater. Bub was frequently unemployed and fond of knocking around his wife and daughter. Jean was thoroughly cowed and unable to protect her daughter. Mary, understandably, became a teenager full of rage directed at  everyone and everything, eventually high-tailing it out of Swallow at seventeen. Who could blame her? Not me.

Mary went on to form a very successful "alternative" band called Sliced Ham. She found a socially acceptable way to misbehave: rock star. And she lived up to the reputation, forced into rehab after a tragedy, both professional and personal. Mary leaves rehab to find a disbanded band, her manager drops her, royalties are drying up, so she aimlessly withdraws from the planet. Mary's redemption and resurrection happen, of course, in Swallow, where she agrees to play a concert for the high school. She has not set foot in Swallow since she was seventeen, nor has she seen her mother or father. So we come full circle.

My favorite character was Jean Saint, Mary's mother. She began this tale as a beaten and abused mother and wife, always trying to placate a husband who couldn't be. She was bound by convention, scared of the "shoulds," frankly she got on my nerves. Although some of the titles of Mary's songs, such as "Sewer Flower," are not something I would want to discuss with my grandmother. But never mind. As Mary must journey, methodically re-entering the world, Jean is on her own journey but she's on rollerblades. She transforms herself, becoming a smart, independent, funny woman and is such a joy by the end of the book. I love her.

I wish I loved this book. The characters are well-drawn and the story heartfelt. There are a few too many cliches. The plot sort of meanders around, decorated by specimens as opposed to people. There are no "regular" (cannot for the life of me come up with a better term) people outside Swallow, they are all trying too hard to be strange. I was not invested in this one. It's a nice little book, nothing much really wrong with it. I do want to say that Suzzy Roche has potential. I will gladly take a look at her next work. I expect it will be much improved. However, I cannot recommend a book if it doesn't elicit more enthusiasm than this. What would be the point of reading?

Suzzy Roche is a founding member (with her sisters) of the Roches, a best-selling folk band whose first album was named Album of the Year by the New York Times in 1979.


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