HOUSEHOLD SAINTS by Francine Prose
Kirkus Star


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As in her other folk-mystical/quasi-comedic tales, Prose tilts the fumbling lives here (Little Italy, circa 1945-1965) to take on the color of divine strategies: wink once and you might see a miracle or a celestial message, thanks to God's deplorable habit of slipping in wild cards without warning. Prose begins with fierce Mrs. Santangelo, who's aghast (not even San Gennaro can answer her laments) when son Joseph chooses to marry pallid Catherine Falconetti: a shrimp, a moviemag fancier, a terrible cook, and a member of a hopeless family. What's more, Joseph has ""won"" Catherine from her father in a pinochle game! And though the marriage starts out happy, Catherine is drawn into her mother-in-law's miasma of generally baleful portent: true to Mrs. Santangelo's prediction, Catherine has a stillborn child resembling a chicken and is leaden with months of grief. Then, however, she revives: her neglected houseplants ""miraculously"" bloom; she conceives again; and with Mrs. Santangelo's demise, Catherine even absorbs her mother-in-law's famous secret sausage recipe in a kind of astral osmosis. So the story now shifts to focus on Catherine and Joseph's only child, Therese--who, from the beginning, thirsts for the life of the religious, culminating in her devotion to St. Therese of Lisieux (who championed, as beyond ecstasy, ""the monotony of daily toil""). Is Therese herself a saint? Or a psychiatric case? Her unreligious parents aren't sure but hope it's just a phase--as Therese practices humble household toil (to excess) on callow law student Leonard. . . who's terrified when Therese has a vision of Jesus miraculously making dozens of copies of Leonard's one checked shirt. And eventually Therese will end up in the mental hospital--where, before her death, she'll play pinochle with God. . . who enjoys cheating. A compassionate, warmly comedic, bemused glance at the roiling flood of mystic obsessions, at the human hunger for divine intervention: fine work from a tantalizing writer.

Pub Date: June 12th, 1981
ISBN: 0060507276
Publisher: St. Martin's