Saint Maybe is the rich and absorbing story of a young man's guilt over his brother's death and his struggle to atone for the wrong he feels he has done. On a quiet street in Baltimore in 1965, seventeen-year-old Ian Bedloe lives with his family in an "ideal, apple-pie household," enjoying the comfort of family traditions and indulging in all the usual dreams of the future. Until one night, whenIan's stinging words to his brother bring tragedy -- and from that careless moment on nothing can ever be the same. Anne Tyler takes us along Ian's painful and poignant quest for forgiveness, from theChurch of the Second Chance to Ian's gratifying, solitary work as a carpenter. Raising the three children that are thrust on him, he finds himself amazed, drowning in family and duty. Then, out of the very heart of thedomestic clutter, a light begins to flash. "From the Hardcover edition."
Can I give a book 10 stars?
Saint Maybe by Anne Tyler is such a "Family Film". The novel chronicles the life and times of the Bedloe family, after unexpected tragedy strikes them in the late sixties in the form of the "accidental" death of one of the sons, Danny. However, the tragedy is even more serious for Ian, his younger brother, because he knows that he has unwittingly caused his brother's death through some harsh words uttered in the heat of the moment.
The Bedloes are a picture-perfect family right out of a sitcom: they are always a "family" (as if the individual members didn't matter) and nothing "wrong" ever happens for them. Even when Danny marries Lucy Dean, a divorcee with two children, it is accepted after the initial shock. However, Ian begins to have serious doubts about his sister-in-law's character: he comes to the conclusion that she is sleeping around, her gentlemen friends are keeping her in riches and that his brother is nothing but a fall guy: worse, he is pretty sure that Lucy’s third child, Daphne, is not his brother’s. Things come to a head when Ian is kept away from a date with his girlfriend by being forced to babysit the kids while his brother is attending a stag party, and Lucy is ostensibly having dinner with a girlfriend (but Ian is sure she’s elsewhere). As Danny comes back late, Ian blurts out the unwelcome truth: Danny retaliates by driving his car into a wall and killing himself. Soon, Lucy dies from an overdose of sleeping pills.
Two deaths on his conscience, Ian’s world starts to fall apart. Plagued by guilt, he finds succour in an unlikely place: “The Church of Second Chance”, run by the maverick Reverend Bennett. He gives Ian a way out of his guilt: atonement, the hard way. He has committed a wrong, so he must do whatever it takes to set it right: which in Ian’s case means foregoing a college education, forgetting his sweetheart, and taking charge of his sister-in-law’s three children. Ian spends the rest of the atoning, even when the people around him lose conviction and faith, including the beneficiaries of his penance; but he does not find peace. Until one day, the truth is brought home to him by Daphne, Danny’s daughter:
”You think I don’t know what I am up to, don’t you,” Daphne said.
“You think I’m some ninny who wants do right but keeps goofing. But what you don’t see is, I goof on purpose. I’m not like you: King Careful. Mr. Look-Both-Ways. Saint Maybe.”
“Mess up, I say!” Daphne crowed. “Fall flat on your face! Make every mistake you can think of! Use all the life you’ve got!”
Ironically, Ian finds peace when he stops looking for it.
Novels about people trying to atone for that one mistake is common in literature: Lord Jim is perhaps the most famous example: Atonement is a recent one. What makes Ian’s story different from these is that it is not a tragedy. There is nothing grandiose about it: it’s just a piece of life. We get a feeling that, even if Ian had not done his penance, nothing much would have changed: life would have gone on, just the same. It is this realisation (“People changed other people’s lives every day of the year. There was no call to make such a fuss about it.”) that is Ian’s true salvation.
Anne Tyler writes well. There is a carefree, no-nonsense quality to her prose, even while describing tragic events, that get to you - there is no heavy-handedness. The structure of the novel, with almost each chapter shifting in POV, prevents it from being too focussed on Ian and helps highlight the fact that it is the story of a family which is being narrated, rather than that of a person. And the constantly changing Middle-Eastern students in the house next door (“the foreigners”) and their perennial craze with electronic gadgetry provides an effective counterpoint to the Bedloe’s unchanging stolidity. The novel literally flows.
However, after reading Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant and this novel, I am starting to get a sneaking suspicion that Ms. Tyler’s subject and style can stale very fast. What is aimed at seems to be a “feel-good” story with some family values (like the films I mentioned at the beginning) rather any exploration in depth of the characters’ motives. There is nothing wrong in that: this is a well-written novel and a fast read. But I doubt whether it will stay in the mind for any length of time.
Good book and I can already tell that this will be a great discussion for our bookclub. But I often feel slightly dissatisfied at the end of Anne Tyler's books. The ending don't quite seem complete - maybe mirroring life?
I’m short on time, so this will have to suffice for my usually lengthy reviews, but brevity is definitely not an indication of how much I liked this book.
I read someone’s 2 star review, stating the characters were “flat” – One of the reasons I’m afraid of recommending books is because reading is so subjective and situational, that it’s hard to know what anyone would or wouldn’t like based on what I like. Heck…I’ve liked books now that I would have hated younger and vice-versa. However, to me, Tyler’s characters are far from “flat” - to me they’re so well fleshed out that I can’t stop thinking about them and want to know more about them the longer I read. I love how she makes no judgments…it leaves me pondering…was it wrong of Delia (In Ladder of Years) to do what she did? Can it be justified? Is it wrong of Ian (Saint Maybe) to have sacrificed so much? Can it be justified? I like that.
Off topic…maybe…I was a little befuddled by the star ratings in Goodreads, so had to actually look it up. See…people gave Anna Karenina and The Awakening ONE star ratings because they didn’t like the character, and I’m over here all judgey thinking “that’s not a good enough reason,” but it turns out that yes, it is a good enough reason (subjectivity here again!LOL) because the one star just means “did not like it,” and who am I to judge you for not liking Anna Karenina….except I’m low-key judging….I’m working on this!LOL
Depressed and depleted, Ian is almost crushed under the weight of a nearly unbearable secret guilt. Then one crisp January evening, he catches sight of a window with a glowing yellow neon sign: the Church of the Second Chance. Ian enters and soon discovers that forgiveness must be earned, through a bit of sacrifice and a lot of love...
I absolutely loved this book - a definite A+++! In my opinion, Ms. Tyler has written a well-told, engrossing story once again. This story is filled with characters that the reader can truly care about, living through circumstances that are completely believable. I read Saint Maybe perhaps ten years ago, but could barely remember the plot when I read it again. I suppose that that makes this a 'new' book for me - one that is a definite keeper!
In a Harlequin novel, a young, handsome, single man raising his brother's children would meet a beautiful woman who bonds instantly with the children. After a few ups and downs, they would fall madly in love, marry, and live happily ever after. Anne Tyler didn't write a Harlequin novel. She takes a pivotal event in the life of an average family and traces its effect over succeeding decades. Years lapse between chapters. While the characters age, they're still living out the consequences of a single choice. Or maybe two choices. When Ian stumbles upon the Church of the Second Chance, it becomes his lifeline. However, it's a non-traditional church with unorthodox doctrine, and instead of providing solace and healing, Reverend Emmett's faulty teaching sentences Ian to a lifetime of penance.
”...Don't you think I'm forgiven?”
“Goodness, no,” Reverend Emmett said briskly.
Ian's mouth fell open. He wondered if he'd misunderstood. He said, “I'm not forgiven?”
“But . . . I thought that was kind of the point,” Ian said. “I thought God forgives everything.”
“He does,” Reverend Emmett said. “But you can't just say, 'I'm sorry, God.' Why, anyone could do that much! You have to offer reparation—concrete, practical reparation, according to the rules of our church.”
“But what if there isn't any reparation? What if it's something nothing will fix?”
“Well, that's where Jesus comes in, of course.”
Another itchy word: Jesus. Ian averted his eyes.
“Jesus remembers how difficult life on earth can be,” Reverend Emmett told him. “He helps with what you can't undo. But only after you've tried to undo it.”