I swear someone posted a review of this on CBR but I can’t find the post now…
Saints for All Occasions is one of those generational tales that bounces between the present day and the events in the past that shaped the landscape of the future. It’s a popular storytelling device, even more popular now with TV shows like This is Us, that works well here.
In the past Nora and Theresa Flynn are sisters who leave their family farm in Ireland for a new future in Boston thanks to Nora’s fiance, Charlie. Unfortunately Theresa gets pregnant, not a spoiler it’s in the book description, and the repercussions from the decisions that follow lead to a fracture in the relationship between the Flynn sisters.
“One of life’s contradictions: how human beings were at once entirely resilient and impossibly fragile. One decision could stay with you forever, and yet you could live through almost anything.”
In the present day, 2009, Nora is the mother to four grown children and Theresa is living life as a cloistered nun. The sudden death of one of Nora’s sons brings the women together for a tense reunion. While the plot device of a death worked well at bringing the estranged sisters together the true meat of the story was in the past. My biggest complaint is that right when the “present” got interesting the book ended!
The big family secret is easy to figure out but that doesn’t make the story any less compelling, a testament to Sullivan’s writing. The background characters from the past are part of what makes those chapters stronger than the present where most of the characters, namely Nora’s other children, are just trying to figure out their own shit on top of dealing with the death of their Mother’s favorite child.