LIVES OF THE SAINTS by David Slavitt


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Not your average serial-murder novel, but a self-described ""rewrite"" of The Bridge of San Luis Rey by the gifted but erratic author of Alice at 80 (1984), Salazar Blinks (1988), and many others. The ""saints"" are the victims of a shopping-mall mass murder, and their hagiographer a seamy, nameless narrator assigned by his editor at the Star (""DID LIBERACE'S DOG HAVE AIDS?"") to write a story on them. Still numb from his own bereavement--a drunk driver killed his wife and daughter--the narrator tries to connect himself to his subjects by examining ""relics"" they left behind (a ballpoint pen, an envelope full of dirty pictures, a playing piece from a board game); by speculating about the ways their names (and the saints behind them) might hint at the meaning of their lives; and by expatiating on the philosophy of Malebranche, who denied causality and saw the world as utterly chaotic. Meanwhile, the narrator is getting close (too close? he wonders and wonders) to Stephanie Stratton, one of the victims' widows, and he's getting leapfrogged out of his job by sycophantic newcomer Tweedy Harris. Slavitt spices this cold-comfort monologue with hundreds of painfully witty, dead-ended asides, but their energy--which can be considerable--works against the movement of the novel (which seems exceptionally long for its 175 pages), and the hollow, upbeat ending is a real cheat. Despite some great excursus and a continuous play of intelligence, this never adds up to anything like The Bridge of San Luis Rey--or, for that matter, The Floating Opera.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Atheneum