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lunedì, maggio 08, 2017

Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan

Saints for All Occasions  a novel written by J. Courtney Sullivan and published on June 9 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group is a very complicated story between two Irish sisters, Nora and Theresa Flynn.
They live in the rural Irish countryside, and Nora starts a relationship with Charlie. She is 20, her sisters more little than her.

She is not incredibly involved by this love-story with Charlie and she is not completely happy of this choice but when Charlie goes to the USA in search of fortune and she promises her he will save money for her and Theresa, because it was indispensable to bring also the littlest sister with her to the USA, she is at least happy.

She receives various letters with updates of his American life. They live in Boston, they're happy because in their life entered the word dignity and modernity, with hot water and real warm houses.

At the end saved the money Nora and Theresa will afford to the USA. Boston is a frenetic city, Charlie, a complete stranger to Nora according to her most profound feelings. Charlie doesn't understand her feelings and her discomfort. He will introduce at the two of them his friends and people he met along his way.
If Nora remains a melancholic and at the same time solid soul, at the end appreciating Boston and the USA and giving up at the idea of returning to Ireland (a dream cultivated by Charlie for all his life, because he missed his old land, it's a common sentiment this one for emigrants) Theresa is a bubbling character. She loves to go out, she loves to meeting her girlfriends and she also meet a man, Walter, pretty interesting and with which she has some sexual intercourse.
She doesn't know that Walter is married.

We are in the 1950s when this story starts and of course a pregnancy a big shame for a Catholic family. Theresa doesn't imagine... She is sunny, she wants to live her life, she is happy and cheerful, but one day a friend of her ask her if maybe she is pregnant. What to do?

Nuns and a monastery where kept segregated Theresa and where later
she would have given away the baby the best choice according to the family when they discover that dear Walter is a happy husband in search for some ingenuous company.

Nora still uncertain about Charlie, because she doesn't love him a lot although she is affectionate to him decides to marry him. She does it just for Theresa and her baby. For keeping Theresa's son with them and for growing up this baby as if she would have been their own baby. The nuns accept this unusual request. After all Theresa could see Patrick all the time and growing up with them Patrick in the while.

Theresa although Nora keep Patrick in the family and at first help her, can't do it and she run away. Again. A friend suggest her to spend some time in a convent and well, Theresa decides that maybe this one is the best choice for her. It's a revolution.
Not from bubbling Theresa, the life-lover. Not from her. She becomes sister Cecilia, buried in a convent and for 50 years just sporadic visit at the family with cold conversations.

The book develop the entire plot of events past and present, starting with the unexpected and tragic departure of Patrick dead in a car accident in 2009 and the organization of the funeral with the arrival of friends, relatives.

Theresa's son is dead and  thoughts, feelings, impressions of the two sisters will be the strongest part of this book like also a vivid complete wonderful reconstruction of Ireland during the 1950s and social situation of the family during the various decades in Boston like also the life of the various children and Nora and Theresa's friends.

The structure chosen by the author is the one of stream of consciousness but it makes more than a sense because when we attend a funeral, or a wedding or another important event our mind is frequently transported in a dimension of past and lost occasions, memories and events we shared with our family and we do indulge to examining more than in other part of our existence our life under many perspectives. It's after all  what the two protagonists will do in this book.

Theresa think that maybe Patrick the turbulent son she has had never found a dimension in Nora's family because he felt that he was different. He was part of another mom.
Maybe that's why he developed this rebellion, he had a lot of girls and lived a wild life.
Or simply: he was very similar to his mom but he didn't become a friar choosing differently to enjoying life.

At the same time Nora can't forgive the egoism of the sister and the  sacrifice she did just for her and Patrick fruit of joy and love, because maybe this sister missed a word that to her was important: gratitude. She escaped, she refused responsibilities.
Nora grew up Patrick and Patrick was surely her son although not his biological son.

In the while we will also discover the life of the rest of Nora's family. Pretty complicated.
With Charlie, her husband she has had other three children: John, Bridget, and Brian.

Catholic family, Theresa was fixated with the cards of the saints that they had in their house in Ireland and a book called: Saints for all Occasions.
You discovered the meaning of the title of this book :-)

When her children were little Nora didn't permit to any of them to touch these cards. For every problems there was a specific saints, for every sin there was a saint. And still there is with her new cards.

Will there be also a saint adapted for forgiving, putting the past, in particularly the remote one behind for these two sisters and for a new beginning after a life spent apart?

This book let us reflect about secrets and the danger they cause in families. Theresa after all buried herself and her bubbling character in a convent, not forgetting but also avoiding responsibilities and the joys of seeing her own child growing up with her sister and with the possible chance of telling him the truth once adult because of course a child out of a wedding didn't preclude to her the construction of a family. No one knew anything of her past "sin.".  Praying for other families and children and moms  wonderful but Theresa unable to be a real mother as Nora has been for Patrick. She didn't keep in touch, she didn't think that her son became the man who was in that coffin. She wouldn't never recognized him if she would have met him along a street.

Sure Theresa didn't want to "expect" any baby and didn't search for that baby and so maybe she didn't feel her as a mom. She lived this experience of maternity as a stranger. The baby unwanted, surely not wanted as she wanted Walter, so badly.
She loved the idea of Walter, her big love but Walter couldn't be his man.
Who knows? Maybe if Walter wasn't occupied but free, if Theresa matured much more in his company  they would have become a couple and she would have had a lot of children from him. All wonderfully opened as she was.
But Theresa deluded by life, men and sufferance and she decided to choose a drastic different path, she decided to choose for peace. She was not completely understood by her entire family in Ireland and Boston. A situation accepted with resignation and anger at the end. In Ireland in general  it's an honor to have a priest, a friar or a nun as a relative, but maybe they thought that this mission wasn't for Theresa the proper one. Because of her character.

Nora is different from her sister: she loves to give love and she is not scared of starting the adventure with Patrick, telling to everyone that she is pregnant. Growing up the very beloved son of her sister  not a problem.
It's just a word: love.
The love of a mom, the love of a woman who can't permit to give in adoption the baby of her sister because he is part of them. Just, part of them all.

I thank NetGalley and Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group for this book.

Anna Maria Polidori

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