At it’s most basic, The Patron Saint of Liars is about leaving. The blurb on the back cover of the novel is misleading. It makes it seem like Rose is the main character, when in fact, we lose touch with her halfway through, when she becomes a shadow of the character we’ve been reading about for 165 pages. It’s 1963. She has come to Habit, Kentucky to a home for unwed mothers run by Catholic nuns, because she has found herself pregnant, but unlike the other girls in the home, she’s married. She doesn’t love her husband, and only truly realized it when she found herself pregnant with his child. So she leaves. She tells no one where she’s going and drives halfway across the country. At St. Elizabeth’s she falls into a new life, mostly by accident. I very much liked the Rose part of the novel. She was a troubled character, but in the first person POV, she was understandable. Restless. And the book leads you to believe she’s found some kind of peace.
Until halfway through, when Rose’s character loses all coherence. Seen through the two other POVs in the novel, she becomes one of those cliched, disaffected characters who are never satisfied with anything and are constantly leaving and hurting the people they love just because they can’t help themselves. I hate these characters. They always seem shallow and self-obsessed when viewed from the outside, and that’s definitely what happens here, even though the two characters who are the other POVs are SPOILER her daughter and husband. This is especially maddening, because the first half of the book ends with Rose deciding she wants to keep her baby, to be a mother, and in order to do so, she marries the groundskeeper. Her motives as I read them do not track with her daughter and her husband always complaining that she ignores them or that she’s apathetic. I do not understand why Patchett had her make these decisions, only to completley undercut them later in the book and basically ruin Rose’s character.
There are a lot of things that I could point to here for why I’m so frustrated with this book. It’s incohesiveness. The threads brought up earlier in the book that were never touched on again. The fact that SPOILER Cecelia never finds out Thomas Clinton is her father, and that there is practically no resolution at all for any of the characters. And to top it all off, this incomplete, frustrating package of a story is told in lovely prose, so I was compelled to keep reading despite myself.
If you’re going to read this book, I recommend stopping after Rose’s section, or at least midway through Son’s, after the baby is born. You’ll sleep better at night if you do.