Wayward Saints by Suzzy Roche

Wayward Saints by Suzzy Roche
Hyperion, 2011
ISBN 978-1-4013-4177-0

It’s hard to describe what musician Suzzy Roche’s book Wayward Saints is about.  You could say that it’s about a mother and daughter relationship, but it’s not, really.  You could say it’s about finding yourself, but it’s not that, either.  Nor is it about redemption, or absolution or salvation.  But it’s just as satisfying and a tad more entertaining for not being about those things.

Wayward Saints introduces us to Mary Saint, the lead singer and muse of the “almost famous” rock band Sliced Ham, when her career is just ready to take off.  We’re told that she’s not pretty, but is “exotically beautiful,” yet she thinks she is “as plain as a paper lunch bag.”  Having fled an abusive childhood in small town USA, Mary finds expression in the harsh and profane world of rock and roll, sodden and sticky as it is.  But a tragic accident breaks her, leaving her adrift as her fame dissipates and her apathy reigns.

We also meet Jean Saint, Mary’s mother, who lives a carefully ordered and purposefully narrow life back in the small town that Mary fled 10 years earlier.  Jean truly loves her child, but has been ineffectual in protecting Mary from her abusive husband and belittling authorities.  This mother/daughter relationship is one of fond distance, never losing track of each other but never returning “back home” and never showing interest in their separate circumstances.  They maintain two lives joined, but not intersecting.

That is, not until Mary is invited to give a concert at her old high school.  Suddenly, the loose threads of the Saints’ lives are pulled together, with consequences that neither one of them anticipate nor comprehend.

But the true joy of Suzzy Roche’s novel is the lack of spectacle or overwrought drama in a story that easily could lay claim to both.  Evil events happen in the story, but they are an everyday evil, something most of us can relate to from some point in our lives.  And there are miracles that, while not “everyday” or common place, are still treated as interesting rather than as some kind of transportation to glory.

If I may, I’d like to take a small detour here.  When my kids were small, we had a favorite musical act:  three quirky sisters (Maggie and Terre and Suzzy) who sang wonderful and crazy pieces, either taking extraordinary works and making them preciously accessible (such as an a capella version of Mendel’s Hallelujah Chorus set for, well, three quirky female voices) or taking the mundane – say, a typical commuter train ride or a failed would-be actress begging for her old job back at the diner – and making it something fantastic and memorable.   It is this same artistic mentality that makes Wayward Saints so wonderful and unique, but since this is Suzzy’s novel, she can venture further out onto the edge and cut a bit deeper.

For instance, the glimpses we see into the music industry are profane and tawdry, bloodily raw, but they are presented in such an ordinary way that they don’t so much shock as paint a graphic picture of a life lived within accepted confines, and they ring all the more true for that – the draw is not an allure but a necessity.  Villains tend to be akin to ones that we live with in our own lives – not monsters, but neighbors, family, even friends with thoughtless comments, actions that belie love but don’t negate it, and small town mentalities.  Angels are confusing and shy, sans trumpets or white raiment.  Salvation comes not with explosions of light and scales falling from eyes, but from acceptance.  Virtually every aspect of the remarkable events that occur in this book unfold so calmly, so realistically, so honestly, that we recognize them and relate to them from our own every day existence, making them so much more precious than were there to be cataclysms and euphoria.

I know, I know, I’m hitting the point too hard.  But I just can’t stress enough what a pleasure it was to read this book.  If nothing else, you should read Wayward Saints just to experience a story about the wonderfully grounding power of true friendship.  It simply glows.  You owe it to yourself in this overblown, heightened drama, histrionic age to read this satisfying, triumphant book.  Then go out and get yourself a copy of the Roche sisters’ album, “The Roches”.  You’ll be glad you did both.

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~ by arcticwren on June 14, 2012.

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