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Maker of Saints Summary

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

In Thulani Davis’s Maker of Saints, Alex Decatur, a performance artist and sculptor known for works that draw on exotic religious imagery, falls to her death from the window of her Manhattan apartment house. Her neighbor and friend, a former artist named Bird Kincaid, is certain that Alex did not commit suicide as the investigators conclude. Rather, she is convinced that Alex’s controlling lover, an influential art critic named Frank Burton, is responsible for her death. For some time, Alex had heard the sounds of violent arguments coming from their apartment.

Much earlier, Burton had written a disparaging review of Bird’s first solo show, a review so scathing that it caused Bird to stop painting. She works now as a sound engineer for public radio documentaries. Her obsession with proving Burton responsible for the crime energizes her. As Bird begins to catalog Alex’s effects left in her apartment, she comes across boxes of videotapes containing Alex’s experimental performance pieces. Bird is certain that Alex, fearing for her life, used the tapes to leave clues behind in case anything happened to her. Bird becomes intrigued by the tapes, which reveal aspects of her friend that she had never suspected and which shed light on the psychologically twisted relationship Alex maintained with Burton.

When Bird herself is brutally attacked in her apartment house by a man wearing a ski mask, she feels suddenly vulnerable. She seeks the help of Charles Marshall, a successful broker, ten years her junior, who is articulate, artistic, handsome, athletic—and married. Determined to help her recover, he drives her to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, where she begins to feel the first liberating return of emotion—specifically, a hunger to be with him. They make love.

Bird returns to New York determined to compel Burton to confess. She is sure that Burton has been in her apartment in her absence: The tapes she had begun to catalog have been rearranged. Bird believes that Burton is searching for a tape in which Alex speaks indirectly but emphatically about the threat of violence. She decides to create a trap to catch Burton when he returns to the apartment. Inspired into artistic fury, she constructs an elaborate art piece in Alex’s apartment, a stunning multimedia creation that involves carnival masks, clay figurines of demons, dozens of Bird’s self-portraits (many of them nudes), and a full-length mirror. The centerpiece is a grisly altar, actually the television, strewn with mannequin parts. On it runs a tape of Alex, her voice part of the display. The artwork constitutes an allegorical environment intended to intensify Burton’s feelings of guilt.

When Burton arrives, he is disconcerted but refuses to admit his guilt even when confronted by Bird wearing a jaguar mask. A brutal fight ensues, during which Bird realizes that her earlier attacker was in fact Burton. The police, called earlier by Bird, break up the fight, and Burton is charged with stalking and assault. Bird gloriously returns to her art, keeping in her studio a Mexican figurine from Alex’s collection. The figurine, a woman giving birth to another fully grown woman, represents the maker of saints. It symbolizes for Bird Alex’s part in Bird’s rejuvenation.


(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)


(The entire section is 793 words.)