I finished The Patron Saint of Liars nearly two months ago, so this review will be rather short and less in-depth than usual. I read this book because it's Ann's Patchett's first novel and I loved Bel Canto so much that I decided that I wanted to read her entire backlist and should start at the beginning. While Patron Saint does not quite have the lyrical magnificence of Bel Canto, it's a lovely novel and hints at just how wonderful Patchett's writing will become.
Patron Saint is a novel in three parts, each narrated by a different character: Rose, a woman who runs from domesticity and commitment; her second husband, who is unable to truly connect to her but loves her daughter like she is his own; and Cecilia, her daughter, who does not know the truth of her parentage and longs for the mother that Rose can never be. Rose deals with the unhappiness of her first marriage by spending her days driving around California, until the day that she finds out she is pregnant. Panicked and afraid, she leaves her husband and drives across the county to a home where pregnant girls are sent to hide their shame and give up their children. However, instead of giving up her child, Rose stays and makes a place for herself there, though is still unable to commit to being a part of a family.
This is a quiet novel. It doesn't have the excitement of a hostage situation or romantic trysts (though those elements weren't really the focus of Bel Canto anyway). The focus here is on the inner lives of three characters, though there is some implied commentary on the choice to send a pregnant teen away, and how that changes over the twentieth century. Patchett strikes a good balance between the two - the commentary is there without being in your face, leaving the reader to understand it as she will, while the characters take the forefront.
Patchett does a great job of bringing her three narrators to life and making her readers empathize with each of them. I was able to understand each character's motivations and desires, and carry this with me into the other parts of the novel. Rose's section was first and even though she turns out to be selfish and hurts her husbands and daughter, I could understand her even when reading and sympathizing with other characters' pain. These are fully-formed characters that Patchett has created, with depth and backstories that inform their current experiences.
While I wasn't in awe of this book as I was with Bel Canto, I enjoyed it in a quiet, relatable way and I will definitely be continuing to catch up on Patchett's backlist.