Lehner (What to Wear to See the Pope, 2004) returns with a novel about pursuing sainthood.
Alice Fairweather is a devoted mother and (sometimes) devoted wife to her philandering husband Waldo. She is also a passionate career woman, until she loses her job as host of The Dream Radio Show. (The overused dream motif does nothing new here.) Alice is not particularly likable: Her attempts at humor are either scathing or annoyingly self-conscious; her actions and speech often seem contradictory. A bizarre set of circumstances lead her to befriend and then fall for Waldo’s college roommate, a dashing Nicaraguan named Lalo, who comes to New York City on a mission to canonize his great aunt. When Lalo has to leave the States, Alice weirdly takes up the torch in his stead, immersing herself in the Hagiographer’s Club and eventually boarding a plane to Nicaragua. Though the novel starts strongly with an original premise (laid out in an extremely well-written prologue), the narrative line soon weakens and eventually peters out all together; Part II entirely fails to develop plot or characters. Lehner often chooses showy words when simpler ones will do, and as a consequence the syntax distracts from the story. An excessive number of plot points, ranging from the health of the family dog to the history of saints, give the narrative an unfocused, scattered quality. Lalo’s quirky, sassy family and Alice’s precocious sons are promising characters, but they’re secondary, not crucial. Though the story revolves around whether or not Lalo’s great-great aunt will achieve sainthood and whether or not Alice and Waldo’s marriage will survive, readers won’t care by the time this undirected saga staggers to a close.
A few compelling ideas in a book as misguided as its protagonist.