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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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,
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
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
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.
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.
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 :-)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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