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Saints for All Occasions

Review

Saints for All Occasions

An old-fashioned multigenerational saga by J. Courtney Sullivan, the bestselling author of MAINE, SAINTS FOR ALL OCCASIONS begins in Ireland in the 1950s when two sisters, Nora and Theresa Flynn, set off for Boston. Nora will marry their Irish neighbor, Charlie Rafferty, who has emigrated there. She doesn’t love him, but feels she should no longer be a burden on her father and that Theresa would have more opportunity away from their small village.

"This sweeping Irish family drama is filled with anguish about the choices made by others, yet somehow exudes an air of sweetness and resigned acceptance on every page."

Theresa is excited by the adventure and plans to become a teacher, as Nora has advised her to do. But when they arrive in Boston, Theresa takes up with a young man (who subsequently turns out to be married) and soon gets pregnant. How each sister chooses to deal with Patrick, the baby to whom she gives birth, is at the crux of this absorbing novel.

Not only is Patrick’s life affected by those choices, so are the lives of Nora, Theresa and Nora’s three children: John, Bridget and Brian. Sullivan takes readers through the decisions each of them makes, showing how both nature and nurture shape their lives. But their decision on how Patrick should be raised has the greatest impact on them and the children, often in ways that neither sister could have anticipated.

The themes that Sullivan tackles are familiar ones in Irish American lives: immigration and cultural identity; rigid conformity and rebellion; the religious and the laity; and secrets that are kept and shared. Which secrets should be shared is debated by each member of the Flynn and Rafferty families, but the author never condemns their choices. She says towards the end of the book, when yet another secret is revealed to Nora’s children, “They would each go forward, seeing it in their own ways, just as they did with all the other secrets they had chosen to share or not share with each other.”

This sweeping Irish family drama is filled with anguish about the choices made by others, yet somehow exudes an air of sweetness and resigned acceptance on every page.

Reviewed by Lorraine W. Shanley on May 31, 2017

Saints for All Occasions
by J. Courtney Sullivan

  • Publication Date: May 9, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf
  • ISBN-10: 0307959570
  • ISBN-13: 9780307959577