Lives of the Saints

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The book is set in present-day New Orleans. The narrator, Louise Brown, has just returned from college in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and has taken a job in a law firm. Once settled back in her home town, Louise studies her own society with a singular passionate interest. She is looking for decency, dignity, and dutifulness--qualities which she found very much lacking up north--and finds them in abundance down south.

The novel consists of a series of scenes involving the Collier family--whom Louise has known for many years--and some of their friends. Louise proceeds to depict situations that are on the verge of the bizarre: a wedding and a funeral during which people ritually have breakdowns, conversations devoid of communication, and curious attachments and detachments.

Louise faithfully records what everyone says and does, but she manages to show these moments in a particularly poignant light. When tragedy strikes the Collier family, the bizarre cracks open to reveal a peculiar kind of suffering. In Louise’s view, the Colliers have a kind of nonreligious saintliness for which she has considerable reverence.

In one sense, this novel is a social satire that ridicules the discrepancy between outdated manners, attitudes, and rituals and the reality of feeling and experiences. In another sense, however, the bizarre behavior of these people is very much an expression of our times and its lunacy. Louise, who is utterly unreliable because her point of view is so totally subjective, also incorporates our own yearning for decency, dignity, and dutifulness.

LIVES OF THE SAINTS is a wonderfully readable book. Its humor is very engaging, and its underlying seriousness is haunting. It should appeal to a wide readership.