The Patron Saint of Liars

by Ann Patchett

Hardcover, 1992





New York : Houghton Mifflin, 1992.


St. Elizabeth's is a home for unwed mothers in the 1960s. Life there is not unpleasant, and for most, it is temporary. Not so for Rose, a beautiful, mysterious woman who comes to the home pregnant but not unwed. She plans to give up her baby because she knows she cannot be the mother it needs. But St. Elizabeth's is near a healing spring, and when Rose's time draws near, she cannot go through with her plans, not all of them. And she cannot remain forever untouched by what she has left behind . . . and who she has become in the leaving.

User reviews

LibraryThing member cameling
It is an interesting study of 3 main characters. Rose is a pregnant woman who leaves her husband one day and drives from California over to Kentucky to St Elizabeth's home for pregnant girls who would have their babies adopted when they're born. Nuns run this home and Rose finds solace, friendship and a mother figure with Sister Evangeline. Rose keeps all her emotions inside and doesn't say much, keeping herself detached with most other people, even the ones she loves. I think she's pretty unaware of how she's perceived by others but at the same time, she doesn't really care what they think of her.

But after watching one of the girls deliver a baby at the home, she changes her mind about giving up her baby and decides to keep her daughter when she's born.

A handyman at the home, Son, an ex-marine escaping from his own past, has come to love Rose's quiet fortitude and beauty. He asks her to marry him, and she agrees, sparing no consideration for her past and the fact that she's already married. He's had his share of heartache that he's not willing to share. But what he is determined to be is Rose's daughter's father.

Into this family comes Cecilia, who grows up within the grounds of St Elizabeth and learns that all the girls who comes here will eventually leave one day to have their babies and not return. It's almost heartbreaking to watch the child crave her mother's attention and love and then to watch that adoration turn into teenage resentment and bewilderment as Rose remains to all extents, detached from her family.

The book is divided into 3 sections, each narrated in turn by Rose, Son and Cecilia. Through them we are privy to the emotions and thoughts that they are unable or unwilling to share with others, and that helps us understand them a little better.

I thought this was a good study into characters of different complexities. The lies that are told to protect oneself, and the lies told to protect others.
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LibraryThing member indygo88
This was a very well-written novel about a young woman who flees from her loveless marriage when finding out she's pregnant. She basically hops in the car, leaves her home in California, & drives to a home for unwed pregnant women/girls in Kentucky. It sounds fairly simple, but the story is really quite complex & moving, and despite the reader's mixed feelings about the main character of Rose, it's hard not to become emotionally involved in this book. The novel is split into three parts, each told by a different narrator, and follows the months of Rose's pregnancy, as well as several decades following.

The characterization of Rose in this story is unsettling. Despite being the main character, she is someone you feel you never really get to know, deep down. However, this doesn't take away from the enjoyment of the book because it is so well written. This was actually the first Ann Patchett novel I've read, despite having some others in my TBR stack, and now I'm anxious to delve into those as well.
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LibraryThing member lauralkeet
When Rose Clinton becomes pregnant in the summer of 1967, she knows that without dramatic action on her part she will be locked in an unfulfilling marriage for the rest of her life. And so she leaves, heading east from her home in California to the St Elizabeth’s home for unwed mothers in rural Kentucky. This former hotel, now run by an order of nuns, is a refuge for “fallen women” who are expected to give up their newborns for adoption and then return to their former life as if they had only been away on holiday visiting relatives.

Rose, too, does not plan to keep her baby. But she also knows she will not go back to California. During the course of her pregnancy, she eases into the rhythm of life at St Elizabeth’s, first helping Sister Evangeline in the kitchen and over time assuming most of the daily food service responsibilities. By the time her baby is born St Elizabeth’s is home, and Rose has found a way to make a life for herself within the social norms of the day.

Some novelists might choose to end things right there. But Ann Patchett has much more in store for Rose and St Elizabeth’s over the ensuing 15 years. Rose is a strong woman, but unable to show affection let alone create and sustain intimate relationships. Only Sister Evangeline, one of the most endearing characters in this book, is able to penetrate her shell. But even so, she is unable to heal Rose’s inner wounds. And again, some novelists might have taken the storyline to a very predictable place. But in this, her 1992 debut, Ann Patchett shows signs of the brilliance that led to Bel Canto and other novels, with a surprising, emotional and satisfying resolution to Rose’s story.
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LibraryThing member suedonym
This book grabbed me; it was a book where the kid got to watch more tv and the dog went in the crate, because I was immersed and wanted to keep reading. Two-thirds of the way through, I would have given it 4 1/2 stars, but I found the ending unsatisfying -- in an unfinished sense, not because I disagreed with it. I wasn't looking to have things neatly tied up -- that wouldn't have been a realistic conclusion -- but I would have liked an epilogue from Rose.
Patchett has a gift for portraying characters who seem real, and using small details to make them come to life. Even when you don't like her characters, you care about what happens to them.
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LibraryThing member bookworm12
Patchett’s first book introduces us to Rose, a married woman who decides she’s never loved her husband and she wants out. She’s pregnant, but still decides to leave her life in California behind. She takes off and ends up at St. Elizabeth's, a Catholic home for unwed mothers in Kentucky.

Rose is a cold character and the first section of the book was hard for me to get into. About 1/3 of the way in we switch to a different point of view, that of the home’s handyman Son, and after that things clicked for me. By the end of the book we rotate perspective once more, seeing the world through Rose’s daughter Cecelia’s eyes. These alternative POVs made things work so much better because Rose is such an intentionally hard character to connect with. Since we started from Rose’s POV I should have understood her character better, but she kept the reader at such a distance.

I loved the interaction of the women at St. Elizabeth’s. There’s such an intense bond of shared experience, almost like a summer camp on steroids. I was reminded a little bit of the scene from When She Woke in the women’s home. The women form friendships quickly because they are all pregnant and alone in the world in some way.
I think what I loved about the book was the quiet rhythm that you get into without even realizing it. Not much happens, but there’s a steady flow of time, women come and go with the years and all the while Rose is a steady force, never changing. I also loved the character of Sister Evangeline, an older nun who is the only one who seems to understand Rose.

BOTTOM LINE: It’s an extremely good first novel. Patchett’s gift for storytelling has clearly improved with time, but I still enjoyed this one. I also love being able to compare her early work to her later work.
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LibraryThing member Arctic-Stranger
I was half way through the second section before it hit me that this was a first person narration. The characters are interesting, but somewhat flat. They don't seem to know themselves well enough to tell their own stories. It is as if they are all telling someone else's story.
LibraryThing member KinnicChick
She's done it again. I wasn't as crazy about the lead character in this novel as I've been in other reads, or as I was in the last book I read from Ann Patchett, but she certainly knows how to turn a phrase and tell a story and catch a detail in words.

First a recap - This was Ann Patchett's first novel, which makes it all the more brilliant. From the jacket: "St. Elizabeth's is a home for unwed mothers in the 1960s. Life there is not unpleasant, and for most, it is temporary. Not so for Rose, a beautiful, mysterious woman who comes to the home pregnant but not unwed. She plans to give up her baby because she knows she cannot be the mother it needs. But St. Elizabeth's is near a healing spring, and when Rose's time draws near, she cannot go through with her plans, not all of them. And she cannot remain forever untouched by what she has left behind... and who she has become in the leaving."

In further reflection, I'm not sure I'm SUPPOSED to be crazy about Rose. Perhaps if Rose had done things the way I wanted her to do them (it's all about me, after all) all through the book instead of being selfish and doing hurtful things just when I thought she was coming around, perhaps then I'd have found her to be a lovely and redeeming character. But now as I'm writing it out this way, perhaps that is all a part of what makes this story brilliant.

I'm always so pissed by jerkaround formulaic stories (think Sparks) that are all alike and simply trying to rip your emotions from you just for that reaction and you can predict everything that is going to happen. This story? Thi is a simple, honest story of a woman who is the ultimate escapist running from her life and her past and the impact of her actions on the people who love her.

Ann Patchett tells the story in three parts and from three perspectives, from the single mother Rose, from the daughter, and from the second husband. And it is all done seamlessly.

I'm coming around! I think this is an excellent read and I'm bumping my rating up from the original 3 1/2 stars to at least a 4. Fabulous.
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LibraryThing member dawnlovesbooks
Patchett's writing is at it's finest in this book!! loved it!
LibraryThing member carmarie
This book was readable. By the 3rd part, I kind of lost interest but since I was so close to the end, I decided to keep going. The part I enjoyed the most was Son's part. To me, that was the clearest narrative of the book. And it made me really dislike Rose. I just didn't understand her, and maybe we're not supposed to. The book was just left dangling in the end for me.… (more)
LibraryThing member siri51
A home for pregnant girls; one girl stays on to marry the handyman while still married to faher of the child; an unusual storyline and unusual motivations of the main character, Rose, but still a good story.
LibraryThing member heidialice
The story of Rose, perpetually dissatisfied and wanting to run away, and what happens when she settles down at Saint Elizabeth’s, a home for unwed pregnant women.
This is the third Patchett book I’ve read (after The Magician’s Assistant and Bel Canto) and probably my favorite so far. Some of my enjoyment probably comes from being about the same age as Rose (at the beginning) and the pregnant women. Her portrayal of love, lying, loneliness and motherhood are brutal and honest. This one reminds me of the best of Anne Tyler.… (more)
LibraryThing member Lindsayg
I wanted to read this because I enjoyed The Magician's Assistant by the same author so much. This one was a little bit of a let down. It's the story of a woman, Rose, who leaves her husband when she discovers she's pregnant and goes to live in a catholic charity home for unwed mothers. The first section is told from her point of view, and I enjoyed that part. The rest of it is told from the point of view of the people around her, and I realized after awhile that I just didn't like Rose very much. I thought she was incredibly selfish and I couldn't find much sympathy for her. The characters are very well drawn, and I still like Patchett's writing style, but I couldn't get over that problem. If I don't like the main character I usually won't like the book.… (more)
LibraryThing member miriamparker
I couldn't quite tell what I thought of this as I read it, alternately I was compelled and bored. It kind of felt like a writer grasping for story where there wasn't one quite. And then I got to the end and it completely redeemed itself and now I love it. Maybe because really it is a book about faith and that is what I am obsessed with right now. It still isn't as good as "The Magician's Assistant" or "Bel Canto." can see a mind at work, developing into a good writer which is kind of fun to see.… (more)
LibraryThing member Bellettres
Too many unanswered questions to make this a truly rewarding read for me. I didn't really understand why Rose married Thomas, why she left him, why she wanted to keep a baby whom she pretty much ignored after her birth, why she married Son, why she insisted on the name Cecilia, why she took off at the end. Although Rose and Son lived with big lies on their conscience, the lying seemed much less harmful than the leaving. And just who IS the "patron saint" of liars? I did want to keep reading, and I really loved Sister Evangeline, but it was hard to get super-enthusiastic about the other women in this story.… (more)
LibraryThing member readyreader
The story telling was good...the story was not so much. I am a daughter, a wife, a mother, and a grandmother. I can understand why some women "run away from home" but I do not understand Rose's motivations. Just being beautiful and mysterious doesn't work for me.
LibraryThing member LibrarysCat
This first novel from Ann Patchett begins with a lie of omission. The consequences of that lie and how the characters deal with them is at the heart of the remainder of the book. Which is laden with lies. The story is told from three perspectives: Rose, who left her husband who did not know she was pregnant and traveled from California to Kentucky to stay at a Catholic Home for Unwed mothers to deliver her child and give it up for adoption. Son, the older man who is a maintenance man for the home who eventually marries Rose and serves as a father to Rose's daughter. And Sissy - the daughter who wants a mother to love her. No one in this story really gets what they want. Actually it was the side characters that I really enjoyed in this book - a young girl whose baby dies at birth, a nun who can see the future for the unborn babes, and the other girls who wind up at St. Elizabeth's.

I enjoyed the book as it was told from Rose's and even Son's perspective. I did not care for the daughter's perspective which included an ending that was too abrupt although somewhat expected.

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LibraryThing member bobbieharv
About a home for unwed mothers and a woman and her daughter who end up living there - very well-written and a good story.
LibraryThing member twryan72
Good story....all around enjoyable.
LibraryThing member JennyMcb
Enjoyed the story and characters, but once done, felt that it was incomplete.
LibraryThing member kelawrence
I really liked this book - the first I had read of hers - a little predictable, but great character development - would definately pick up another of her titles.
LibraryThing member revslick
has a great first half but then nosedives once the author tries to switch voices.
LibraryThing member porch_reader
I loved Bel Canto and liked State of Wonder quite a bit, so I thought I'd give Patchett's debut novel, The Patron Saint of Liars a try. The story is told from three perspectives. First, we meet Rose, who travels from California to a St. Elizabeth's home for unwed mothers in rural Kentucky. The presumption is that she will give her baby up for adoption and leave St. Elizabeth's when she delivers, but she meets Son, the handyman, and takes a path that is different from that taken by the other girls there. Son picks up the narrative and provides us with a different perspective on Rose and on life at St. Elizabeth's. We also learn some secrets from Son's past. And finally, Cecilia, Rose's daughter, lends her voice to the story when she's a teenager, providing yet another perspective on the tenuous ties that bind families of all sorts.

Patchett has definitely developed as a novelist throughout her career. I found this story to be a bit simpler than her more recent works. But the clean language and themes match the rural Kentucky setting. The challenges that Rose and Cecilia have connecting with one another loom even larger against a backdrop of girls who have made the choice to give their babies up for adoption. And the secrets unfold at a controlled pace that provide for a very satisfying read. Patchett has also created one of my favorite minor characters in Sister Evangeline, who understands Rose and Cecilia better than they understand themselves. In all, this was an enjoyable read.
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LibraryThing member SandSing7
If there was anything that resembled a plot, I missed it, if there was an actual ending to this book, I missed it, and if there was any reason at all to like Rose, I certainly missed it. Yet, I read to the end. That must mean something, right?
LibraryThing member SarahCHonenberger
Although I disagreed with the main character, the story was engrossing.
LibraryThing member voracious
For a story in which I progressively liked the main character less and less, I loved "The Patron Saint of Liars". Rose was 25 and living in Southern California when she found herself pregnant and married to a man she didn't love. After seeking guidance from her priest, he reluctantly directed her to a home for unwed mothers that was run by nuns in Habit, Kentucky. So one morning, after making his breakfast and dropping off her husband for work, Rose took to the open road in his car, and began the trip to Kentucky, never looking back. So begins Rose's life of deceit and pattern of running away from her problems. In the home for unwed mothers, Rose finds support and guidance from Sister Evangeline and the other pregnant girls and is introduced to "Son", the home's handyman. The story is divided into three parts and each part is told by a different character, which serves to move the story through time, from 1969 to 1985. I thought this novel was deep and layered with cultural and religious themes. I am greatly looking forward to discussing his story at Book Club, as the rich storyline will no doubt lead to deep exploration of the story. The only part I didn't enjoy was the ending, as it was surprisingly disappointing and unresolved. However, it was definately a great story and one that I would recommend to others.… (more)



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