The Patron Saint of Liars: A Novel by Ann PatchettThe Patron Saint of Liars: A Novel by Ann Patchett

The Patron Saint of Liars: A Novel

byAnn Patchett

Paperback | April 19, 2011

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Since her first publication in 1992, celebrated novelist Ann Patchett has crafted a number of elegant novels, garnering accolades and awards along the way. Now comes a reissue of the best-selling debut novel that launched her remarkable career. St. Elizabeth's, a home for unwed mothers in Habit, Kentucky, usually harbors its residents for only a little while. Not so Rose Clinton, a beautiful, mysterious woman who comes to the home pregnant but not unwed, and stays. She plans to give up her child, thinking she cannot be the mother it needs. But when Cecilia is born, Rose makes a place for herself and her daughter amid St. Elizabeth's extended family of nuns and an ever-changing collection of pregnant teenage girls. Rose's past won't be kept away, though, even by St. Elizabeth's; she cannot remain untouched by what she has left behind, even as she cannot change who she has become in the leaving.
ANN PATCHETT is the author of six novels, including Bel Canto, winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize . She has written for the Atlantic, Gourmet, the New York Times Magazine, Vogue, the Washington Post, and others .
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Title:The Patron Saint of Liars: A NovelFormat:PaperbackDimensions:400 pages, 8 × 5.31 × 1.08 inPublished:April 19, 2011Publisher:Houghton Mifflin HarcourtLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0547520204

ISBN - 13:9780547520209

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Reviews

Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Patron Saint of Liars Loved it, didn't want finish it.
Date published: 2014-02-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The Patron Saint of Liars Ann Patchett never disappoints. A lovely story.
Date published: 2013-08-17

Read from the Book

HABIT Two o’clock in the morning, a Thursday morning, thefirst bit of water broke through the ground of George Clatterbuck’sback pasture in Habit, Kentucky, and not a living soul sawit. Spring didn’t care. Water never needed anyone’s help to comeup through the ground once it was ready. There are rivers, hundredsof them, running underground all the time, and because ofthis a man can say he is walking on water. This was a hot springthat had broken loose of its river to make mud in the grass, and itkept on till it was a clear pool and then a little creek, cutting outa snake’s path toward the Panther River. Water will always seekout its own. George Clatterbuck found it when it was already a prettysteady stream. It was only fitting that he should be the one, seeingas how it was his land. It was 1906. He was hunting for hisfamily’s dinner. He smelled the spring before he saw it, foul andsulfurous as spoiled eggs. He thought it was a bad sign, that itmeant his land was infected and spitting up bile for relief. Thewater was warm when he dipped in his hand, and he wiped it offagainst the leg of his trousers. He was thinking about it, thinkingwhat he ought to do, when he saw a rabbit on the otherside of the field. It was as big a buck as he’d seen, and he kneltdown slowly to get off his shot. He had to shoot on his knees.His father taught him that way because he was afraid the rifle’skick would knock the boy off his feet, thought George wouldbe safer close to the ground. But since that was the way Georgelearned, that was the only way he could ever do it, and now herehe was, grown with a family, going down on his knees like a manin prayer to shoot a rabbit. He blew the head clean off and didn’t disturb the pelt. Hethought he would tan the hide and give it to his daughter, June,for her birthday. June, like many little girls, was partial to softthings. By the time he’d tied the legs onto his belt he’d forgottenabout the water altogether. It wasn’t long after that times turned hard for the Clatterbucks.Both plow horses came down with colic, and Betsy, thehorse George rode to town, got a ringworm thick as your thumbthat no amount of gentian violet could clear. Not a week after,every last one of his cows came down with mastitis that left themall drier than bones. George had to get up every three hours inthe night and bottle-feed the calves, whose crying put his wifebeside herself. “Sounds like a dying child,” she said, and she shivered.George didn’t say this to her, but he was thinking he mighthave to slaughter the calves and take his losses. Bought milk wasmore than he could afford. Then, if he didn’t have enough to worry about, the horsesbroke free of the corral. George took some rope and set out tobring them back, cursing the rain and the mud and the stupidanimals with every step. He found them at that spring he hadforgotten, drinking so deeply he thought they’d founder. Hewas frightened then because he thought such water would killthem, and where would the money come from to buy three newhorses? But the horses were fine. Betsy’s hide was smooth wherethe ringworm had been and the other two were past their owndisorder. George knew it was the spring that had done this, buthe didn’t know if it was the work of the Devil or the Lord. Hedidn’t tell a soul when he drove his sick cows down to the water,but by the time they came home their udders were so full theylooked like they might burst on the ground. Then little June took sick and laid in her bed like a dull penny.Doctor came from Owensboro and said it wasn’t the pox or scarletfever, but something else that was burning her alive. She wasslipping away so fast you could all but see her dying right beforeyour eyes, and there sat her parents, not a thing in the worldto do. So George goes out in the middle of the night with a masonjar. He walks in the dark to the spring, fills up the jar, and headshome. He goes to his daughter’s room and looks at her pale face.He prays. He takes the first drink of water for himself, thinkingthat if it was to kill her he’d best die, too. It is foul-tasting, worseeven than the smell of it. He lifts up June’s head from her sweatypillow and pours the water down her throat, the whole jarful. Heonly lets a little run down the sides of her face. He wonders for amoment what it would be like to feed a child from his own bodyas his wife had done, but the thought embarrasses him and helets it go. The next morning June is fine, perfect, better than new. When the spring had saved his livestock, George kept it tohimself, not wanting to look foolish, but when it saved hisdaughter he felt the call to witness. He went into the streets ofHabit and told what he had seen. At first the people were slowin believing, but as hardships came to them and they went to thespring for help, all was proved true. Tales of what had happened spread by word of mouth and beforelong people were coming up from as far away as Mississippi.The truth was stretched out of shape through all the telling, andsoon the lame showed up wanting to walk and the blind wantingto see. The spring can’t do everything, the townspeople said. It’swrong to expect so much. And then one boy died right there at the water’s edge. He wasthat sick by the time his folks brought him. He’s buried in Habitnow, two hundred miles away from his own kind. One of the people who got word of the spring was a horsebreeder named Lewis Nelson, who lived in Lexington. Lewis’wife, Louisa, had rheumatoid arthritis and her hands froze up onher even though she was only twenty-two. They set off to Habitto see if the water couldn’t do her some good. The Nelsons wererich, and when they came to town they were looking for a hotel,but there wasn’t one. George had made a vow to never make acent off the spring, and Habit said that was only fitting. So whenvisitors came they were taken in with charity, many times by theClatterbucks themselves. This put the Nelsons ill at ease, sincethey were used to giving charity and not receiving it. June was seventeen that summer. She had grown up as well asshe had started out. She was a kind of a saint in the town, the firstone saved by the spring, but all that really meant to June was thatthere were few boys bold enough to ask her out, and the oneswho did thought it would be a sin to try and kiss her. She gave upher room for Mr. and Mrs. Nelson and slept on the sofa downstairs. After her second trip to the spring the use of Louisa’s handscame back to her and she taught June how to cross-stitch. Herhusband was full of joy. Lewis was a devout Catholic with a headfor figures. He saw the hand of God in the spring and thoughtthe thing to do would be to build a grand hotel in the back pasture.No one was ever sure how he changed George Clatterbuck’smind, but probably it was by telling him that a lot more peoplecould be saved if there was a bigger place to stay and that Georgewas being unchristian by denying them. It’s easy to imagine thatLewis had seen how well the hot-springs hotels had done in Arkansasand Tennessee and knew there was some real money tobe made. Not long after that the architects came with their silvermechanical pencils, and after them the builders and the gardeners.In 1920 the Hotel Louisa opened its doors. They’d wanted tocall it the Hotel June, but June, afraid of scaring off the few datesshe had left, said thank you, no. When the roses on the wallpaper were still in their first bloomand the carpet was soft and springy beneath your feet, therewasn’t a hotel in the South that could match the Hotel Louisa.People came from Atlanta and Chicago and New Orleans,some to be healed but most to play tennis on the grass courtsand dance in the fancy ballroom. Lewis sent for his collection ofhorse prints in Lexington, and Louisa picked out velvet to coverthe settees for the lobby. There were two formal dining roomswhere people ate with real silver and drank champagne smuggleddown from Canada. At five o’clock everyone went out andstood on the front porch to drink bourbon and soda. No onefrom Habit ever went inside after the opening day. It made themfeel like they weren’t quite good enough. Even the Clatterbucks,who were supposed to be partners in everything, kept to theother side of the woods. You couldn’t see their house, not evenfrom the third-floor rooms. The guests never knew they had everbeen there at all. The crash of the stock market in 1929 and the great droughtthat came over the land were so close together that it was hard toseparate one from the other. Everything was coming to an end,and the spring would not except itself. Maybe there was a reasonfor it, that things got so hot that even the water underneaththe ground felt the pull of the dry air. In no time it went from atrickle to a strip of mud and then not even that. But whatever itwas, the town of Habit took its leaving as a sign, just as they hadtaken its arrival. For the spring this was no hardship. It was just going back,folding into one of those underground rivers. It would breakthrough later, years from then, someplace else. Next time peoplemight not be around for miles. It was very possible that no onewould ever drink from it at all. Not long after all this, people stopped going to the hotel,though it would be hard to say if it was because of the spring orbecause they were the kind of people who had kept their moneyin banks. June used to walk across the field in the evenings andlook at the place in the ground where her salvation had comefrom. She saw men in suits and women in silk dresses carryingout their own bags and taking hired cars north to catch trains. The Nelsons tried for a long time to get the water to comeback. They hired people who said they knew how to coax it outof the ground. But the spring was long gone by then. They stayedon in the hotel alone until the middle thirties, hardly coming outfor anything. You could trail them as they moved from room toroom, one light going off and another one coming on. Peoplesaid they could set their watch by what window was bright at thetime. Then one day the Nelsons packed up and left without sayinggood-bye. Word came soon after that the Nelsons had made a gift of theHotel Louisa to the Catholic Church, and this put the fear ofGod in everyone. It was one thing to have rich people in yourpasture, but when the Clatterbucks thought of Catholics, theysaw statues of the Virgin Mary going up in the yard, ten feet high.The Clatterbucks could have kept the Catholics off, since theyowned the land, but nobody told them that. When the lawyerscame and knocked on their door, there was nothing for them todo but look at the ground and shake their heads. A few weekslater two buses pulled up, and a group of little old women inwhite dresses were led or carried up the front stairs. The churchhad changed the name of the Hotel Louisa to Saint Elizabeth’sand turned it into a rest home for old nuns. But the nuns were miserable. They’d been dirt poor all theirlives, following the word of their church. The idea of spendingtheir final days in an abandoned grand hotel made them restless.Soon the tiny women started wandering over to the Clatterbucks’in their bathrobes, searching out a simpler way of life.The Clatterbucks, good Baptists every day of their lives, tookpity on the old Catholics and overcame their fears. They servedthem platters of fried mush with sorghum, which were receivedwith heartfelt prayers and thanks. It made the family feel neededagain; the old women’s dependence called to mind the early daysof the spring when the sick were healed. They thought that Godhad seen again what was best. But the church did not agree, and two years later the buses returnedand took the nuns to Ohio. Mrs. Clatterbuck cried whenthey left, and June touched the medal around her neck of SaintCatherine of Siena that Sister Estelle had given her. She wore itall her life. The Hotel Louisa was getting worn, fretwork slipped fromthe porch, shutters hung down. In any other town it would havebeen ransacked, people breaking out windows and carrying offfurniture in the night. But the people of Habit were true to theirname and just kept on avoiding the old hotel like they did in thedays when they wouldn’t have had the right clothes to go insidefor a cup of coffee. The Clatterbucks waited and watched. Then one day a stationwagon pulled up the front drive and two nuns, dressed inwhat looked to be white bed sheets, and five big-bellied girls gotout. June and her mother were just coming through the woods atthe time, out for their daily walk. The nuns cut across the dried creek bed, not knowing a thing.They didn’t know how the hotel had come to be or that theywere standing on top of what might have been the closest thingto a real miracle that any of them was ever going to see. Theywere occupied, unloading the car. “Pregnant girls,” Mrs. Clatterbuck said. “They’ve gone andmade it into a home for pregnant girls.”

Editorial Reviews

A New York Times Notable Book A lovely, evocative tale about a beautiful mother, her abandoned daughter, the love-struck men who are devoted to them both - and the living saint who watches over them all. Maybe the Patron Saint of Liars really is a sign from God." -Carolyn See "A delight." -Alice McDermott, New York Times " The Patron Saint of Liars is a remarkable novel. . . . Ann Patchett is unique: a generous, fearless, and startlingly wise young writer." - New York Times Book Review "Beautifully written . . . Ann Patchett has produced a first novel that second- and third-time novelists would envy for its grace, insight, and compassion." - Boston Herald "A wonderful novel. A-" - Entertainment Weekly "