Roche’s first novel has the quirkiness one would expect from a singer in a group whose fans consider them to be down-to-earth music royalty.
The Saints in the title refer to daughter Mary and mother Jean, who live both miles and worlds apart. Mary skipped out from under her abusive father’s thumb when she was a teenager, leaving behind Swallow, N.Y., where she felt stifled and repressed. Later, the mother who failed to protect either her daughter or herself from Bub’s attacks puts her failing husband in a nursing home and moves to a new place, but she and Mary have not seen one another in years. Now Mary’s career as an alternative rocker with hits like “Sewer Flower” and “Feet and Knuckles” to her credit is over, dying along with her lover, Garbagio. She’s landed in San Francisco with an endearing and practical black transvestite named Thaddeus, a bedraggled dog and a fear that people will recognize her and see the failure in her eyes. Jean, on the other hand, remains in Swallow, troubled by a request from a high-school teacher who wants to bring Mary back to play a concert at the high school where she was miserable. To everyone’s astonishment, Mary agrees to do the concert for a ridiculous amount, and her impending trip causes ripples that turn into waves in everyone’s lives. Roche, who knows a thing or two about word slinging, writes with a fine ear, attuned to the rhythm of the language. Although the characters are off-kilter enough to be interesting and compelling enough to be sympathetic, there is, alas, lots of filler in the form of some of the minor characters, like the pedophilic teacher who brings Mary back to town. Like extra verses of a song that no one ever bothers to sing, Roche’s book stretches to add details that are neither important nor very interesting.
A debut novel that offers a slightly unsettling look into the lives of two women who are just beginning to understand one another.