The Bedloes in Saint Maybe are a typical Anne Tyler family: parents Doug and Bee, their married daughter Claudia, and their sons Danny (the “golden boy” ex-jock) and Ian (the typical high school senior). Neighbors consider them an all-American family, but the Bedloes do not really communicate; thus, they remain detached from each other. Just as their holiday meals are a collection of hors d’oeuvres, the family remains a group of individuals whose links to each other are little more intimate than the family’s links to the ever-changing groups of neighborhood exchange students who temporarily share their lives.
As the novel opens, Danny Bedloe introduces his family to Lucy, “the woman who’s changed my life”; the novel concludes, more than twenty years later, as Ian Bedloe introduces his family to his infant son, Joshua, and contemplates that life-changing introductions actually are everyday occurrences. For Ian, most of these life changes result from what he considers his responsibility for the deaths of Danny and Lucy. After Ian accuses Lucy of marital infidelity, Danny drives into a wall, perhaps deliberately. Likewise, a few months later, when Lucy dies of a drug overdose, Ian again blames himself, though other members of the Bedloe family frustrate his redemption by insisting these deaths are accidents and thus denying him any role. Nevertheless, Ian feels an overpowering guilt.
Searching for atonement, Ian is drawn to the Reverend Emmett’s Church of the Second Chance, an evangelical sect that has discarded traditional forms such as baptism and communion, focusing instead on confession and penance. The Reverend Emmett, a former seminarian, tells Ian that reparations must be concrete and practical, so Ian drops out of college, takes a job as a carpenter (eventually becoming a skilled cabinetmaker), and becomes a surrogate parent to Danny and Lucy’s three orphans—Agatha, Thomas, and Daphne. Initially Bee and Doug are reluctant to take responsibility for Agatha and Thomas, who are not Danny’s children, so for several years Ian attempts to locate their birth...
(The entire section is 863 words.)