Saint Maybe

by Anne Tyler

Hardcover, 1991

Call number




Alfred A. Knopf (1991), Edition: 1st trade ed, 337 pages


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, when Ian's stinging words to his brother bring tragedy -- and from that careless moment on nothing can ever be the same.

User reviews

LibraryThing member nocto
I don't want to say much about the plot here as I read it without having a clue and not knowing where it was going was good. Roughly, it's 25ish years in the life of a Baltimore family. It's ten perfect chapters - each could stand alone as a short story but they build up to a fantastic whole novel.
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Bite them off one at a time and savour them.
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LibraryThing member writestuff
I'm almost ashamed to admit this is the first Anne Tyler book I have read...and it has made me a fan of her writing. Ms. Tyler seems to have a gift for weaving laugh out loud humor into devastatingly sad and touching scenes. I found myself unable to put the book down as I traveled through Ian's
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life with him and his motley family of very real people. In the end, the book seemed to be about how one moves through life, clinging to faith, searching for meaning and uncovering the simple truths that make us all human. Definitely a book I can recommend.
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LibraryThing member Nandakishore_Varma
There is a special category of movie in India, called "Family Film": these deal entirely with matters inside a big "joint" family (where all the siblings live together with their parents in their ancestral home, either matrilineal or patrilineal). In the first quarter of the movie, something will
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happen to disturb the tranqulity of its existence, and the whole of the remaining is spent in resolving the issue. The movie typically has a tragicomic ending, and leaves the audience with a gooey sentimental feeling inside (precisely for which they have come, anyway). It is something the grandparents can watch with grandchildren, passing the popcorn and soft drinks across the seats.

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.
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LibraryThing member Clueless
This may very well be my most favorite book ever. The characters are just like the people I know in real life. Not all goofy wishy/washy like some other novels. And they act just like real people. Meaning they don't pull guns on each other or do anything else fantastical.

Can I give a book 10 stars?
LibraryThing member readingrat
This book is typical Anne Tyler - full of wonderfully realistic characters and themes that keep you thinking.
LibraryThing member co_coyote
I read this years ago, and pretty much forgot it, remarkably enough. I picked it off my self to take with me on a backpacking trip over the July 4th weekend. The weather report indicated I might well be spending more time in my tent than I wanted to. Believe me, there is nothing better than an Anne
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Tyler novel to take your mind off inclement weather and the cold, hard ground. A total delight, as always.
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LibraryThing member jmoncton
Anne Tyler is always a pleasure to read. I like her style of writing and she creates such realistic and likeable characters - no evil villains, just ordinary people dealing with challenges in life. The protagonist in Saint Maybe is high school senior, Ian Bedloe, who makes the mistake of telling
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his brother something that ends in tragic consequences. For the next 25 years, Ian tries to earn redemption for his mistake.

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?
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LibraryThing member CatieN
It is 1960's America, and the Bedloes are the all-American family living in Baltimore with three kids: Claudia, Danny, and Ian. Ian is 17, a popular senior in high school with a pretty girlfriend, raging hormones, a bit of an attitude, and a touch of laziness thrown in for good measure. One night,
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Ian lets his temper and poor judgment act on his behalf and believes he is the cause of the tragedy that ensues. Wonderful book about the repercussions there are from words that are spoken carelessly, never to be taken back, and also forgiveness, especially of yourself. Beautifully written with characters, all of them, that the reader truly cares about. Was sad to see it end.
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LibraryThing member whirled
All of us have done it - tossed a particularly cruel barb at somebody we profess to love in a moment of frustration and anger - yet few have paid as dearly for such fleeting indiscretions as Ian Bedloe. The aftermath of that moment has a profound effect on Ian, prompting him to swap college life
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for surrogate parenthood and a rather cult-like brand of religion. Once again, Anne Tyler skillfully intertwines humour and pathos to bring this unpredictable tale of regret and forgiveness to life.
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LibraryThing member chmessing
This was my first Anne Tyler. It was good, but I don't know that I will run out to read more of this author. Ending wasn't terribly satisfying.
LibraryThing member booksinthebelfry
This is my second favorite of all Anne Tyler's novels, surpassed only by Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant -- which has mysteriously disappeared from my bookshelves, possibly lost in a move somewhere along the way, or recklessly lent to someone & never returned.... If you see it, please send it
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home! :-)
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LibraryThing member lycomayflower
An enjoyable read, as Tyler has a gift for putting the details and events of ordinary life on the page. The writing is clean and well-turned, and Tyler's choice of jumping a bit forward in time and into a new point of view for each chapter makes the novel as a whole work well as portrait of the
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Bedloe family over time. If I have any complaints, it is that this method of story-telling makes the reader feel as if she never really has a handle on any of the characters, for every time they appear, they've turned into a slightly different version of themselves. That Tyler can achieve that effect speaks to her skill, but it also left me feeling a bit unsatisfied with the book.
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LibraryThing member FKarr
touching story of young man who feels responsible for his brother's death and thus selflessly devotes his life to two orphans as penance; Christian, intelligent, honest; the best Anne Tyler
LibraryThing member SueinCyprus
Ian is the youngest of three siblings in an apparently ordinary family who always look on the bright side of everything. Then he decides to tell his brother something he has kept hidden for years. Believable people on the whole, in rather typical Tyler-like situations which are often bizarre but
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not impossible. Quite enjoyable and thought-provoking
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LibraryThing member Kelslynn
A lonely teen troubled by a past family tragedy is suspicious of his sister-in-law, believing she is being unfaithful. His confrontation with his brother sets off a series of tragic events.
LibraryThing member moonshineandrosefire
It's 1965, and the Bedloes are just your average all-American family living an ideal, apple-pie existence in Baltimore, Maryland. Theirs are simple, loving, happy lives. Then, in the blink of an eye, a single tragic event occurs that will transform their lives forever - particularly that of
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seventeen-year-old Ian Bedloe, the youngest son, who blames himself for the sudden "accidental" death of his older brother Danny.

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!
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LibraryThing member ffortsa
Ian Bedsoe meddles with his brother's marriage and ends up caring for his three children and seeking absolution for his actions. Tyler is known for her 'domestic' novels, and this is certainly one of them, as she follows Ian and his accidental family through 16 years of child-rearing, prayer and
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other family affairs. The writing is fine, but the book didn't really excite me. I suspect it was the very nature of the story - I felt distanced from Ian and from everyone else with the possible exception of his youngest niece, who grows up to be a person I would have liked to know.
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LibraryThing member cbl_tn
The Bedloes seemed to be a perfect family. When oldest son Danny married a divorcee with two children, they found a way to accommodate his less-than-perfect choice into the family image. The baby born less than nine months after the marriage was just premature, wasn't she? Youngest son Ian has a
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growing awareness of the difference between the facade the family presents to the world and the reality of their lives. One fatal night Ian can't hold his tongue any longer, and life changes forever for the Bedloes. Ian will spend the rest of his life trying to atone for his thoughtless words and their consequence for his family, with the help of the Church of the Second Chance.

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?”

“Oh, no.”

“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.”
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LibraryThing member BookConcierge
My F2F book club really liked this novel. We'd definitely read more of Anne Tyler's works.
LibraryThing member sidiki
I didn’t realize I have read 7 of her books. Loved some of them liked some but Saint Maybe I liked least of all. I liked the concept of how a person works towards a kind of life he decides he wants to live but something happens that changes his life to go in another direction. And makes him an
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entirely different person( his lifestyle, his likes dislikes, his company his traits. There is a lot of love in this family a lot of compassion but overall too domestic for me. All regular folks with no quirks in personalities, all decent people became quite boring
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LibraryThing member Eosch1
It’s interesting that I read this right after Ladder of Years (unintentional). Whereas Delia ran away from her life, Ian Bedloe leaned into his…desperately…sacrificially…to atone…to be forgiven. In the process of learning to live with himself, he created a life and established a family
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for children who needed one. It’s a story about family, love, tragedy, sacrifice, strength and so far, my second favorite of Tyler’s (after Accidental Tourist).

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
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LibraryThing member Black_samvara
Strangely compelling; Ian makes a poorly timed comment on the faithfulness of his older brother's wife and manages to jynx the next 20 years of his life. He tries to expiate his guilt by dropping school, adopting a new religion and taking on his brother's three orphaned children, none of whom he
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believes are really related to him.
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LibraryThing member nogomu
Why have I not been on to Anne Tyler before now? Best book I've read in ages. Going to start reading another of hers tomorrow. There is not one thing I didn't like about this book.




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