Editor's Choice

Why is the book Saint Maybe titled as such?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The title Saint Maybe can be applied directly to Ian's life, personality, and choices. In fact, after he takes in Lucy’s children and becomes their sole guardian, Daphne (Danny and Lucy's daughter) nicknames Ian "Saint Maybe."

When a person is described as a "saint," it typically means that they are virtuous, holy, and extremely kind and patient—someone who will undoubtedly go to Heaven when they die. However, adding the adverb "maybe" afterwards contradicts that claim. Ian is certainly someone who is kind, virtuous, and religious, but despite his good guy persona, he can also be perceived as somewhat selfish and judgmental.

When his brother gets together with Lucy, Ian is not very happy, because he believes that Lucy is not a good match for Danny. In his eyes, Lucy is immoral, unfaithful, and undeserving of his brother's love. When he tells Danny all of this, Danny storms angrily out of the house, gets drunk, and dies in a car crash. Unable to cope with her husband's death, Lucy overdoses on sleeping pills and dies, leaving behind three children (two from her previous marriage and one from her marriage with Danny).

Ian thinks that he was the one who caused both Danny's and Lucy’s deaths, which he believes were suicides. Overridden with guilt, Ian decides to abandon his studies and focus on raising the children on his own—and, later on, with the help of his significant other, Rita.

In this context, the title Saint Maybe encourages the readers to question Ian's choice. Is his decision to take care of Lucy’s kids truly selfless and the act of a saint, or is it actually selfish—a choice he made only to overcome his feelings of guilt and sorrow and somehow determine whether or not he is worthy of forgiveness?

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Ian's brother, Danny, marries Lucy, a woman Ian does not approve of: their courtship is short, she has children from a previous relationship, and after the wedding, Ian suspects that Lucy is fooling around behind Danny's back.  Ian and his brother have an argument about Lucy, and after Danny slams out of the house, he has a car accident and dies.

Soon after, caught up in the depression of a life that is spiraling out of control after the death of her husband and the birth of their baby girl, Lucy overdoses and dies.

When the question of who will take the children arises, Ian's guilt eats at him:  Danny might be alive if Ian had remained silent about his suspicions.  Coupled with his new "membership" in the Church of Second Chances, Ian comes to the conclusion that he must assume the responsibility for the children and raise them himself.

As one might expect, it's not an easy job. Quitting college, Ian "apprentices" and eventually becomes an excellent wood crafter, so he is able to provide for the children.

Ironically, Ian grows up along with the children.  As is the case with life, his path has taken unexpected turns and twists.  His is a non-traditional family, but somehow they are able to stick it out and stick together.

As the kids start to seek their own paths in life, and even as Ian is starting to feel his age, he meets Rita.  Rita organizes people's closets, and, in some cases, their lives.  This is the case with Ian.  The two hit it off and eventually marry.  It is with the birth of his own biological child that he is taken back to the birth of his brother's daughter which helps him feel that he has not only come full circle in his life, but that things have worked out as they should have.

The title Saint Maybe may refer to the fact that though Ian is perceived as being a "saint" for taking in his brother's children, he does it not simply because he feels it is his responsibility as a loving brother, but also because of his guilt.  His behavior is not completely altruistic.  In his mind, having brought about his brother's tragic death, his guilt drives him to believe that it falls to him to step into the empty place created in the lives of Danny's children when Lucy dies.

On the other hand, perhaps Saint Maybe refers to the fact that Ian has become the genuinely good man that he is because of the course of events following Danny's death.  He certainly could have felt no obligation to help at all.  Or in doing so, he could have made a casual attempt at parenting.  However, Ian jumps in with both feet.  He loves these children as if they are his own.  Perhaps it is not "sainthood" that surrounds Ian's behavior, but the core of the man emerging to be something extraordinary in the face of life's obstacles, tragedies, and twists.  In that Ian and his family have always been a little "out there" with their unusual optimism and sense of well-being regardless of life's hurdles, Saint Maybe may infer that it is not saintliness at work here, but a man's fight for the common good of his family, which pays off in the end with a great deal of pride in his children, and finally a chance for love with Rita and the birth of his own child.

Maybe Ian is a saint.  And maybe he is simply what all of us can be if we commit ourselves to a true, worthy cause, even while those around us may not believe in our vision--sticking with it not just when it's easy...but all the time.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial