Both Ways is the Only Way I Want it

Thomas Jones writes:

Maile Meloy’s first novel, Liars and Saints (2003), told the story of five generations of the Santerre family, Catholic French Canadians displaced to Southern California, and later dispersed more widely across the United States and the rest of the world. The book – chosen as a Richard and Judy Summer Read, though that shouldn’t be held against it – begins with Teddy and Yvette’s wedding in Santa Barbara during the Second World War, and ends with Yvette’s funeral at the turn of the millennium. A narrative spanning nearly 60 years and more than 8000 miles (the distance from Rome to Hawaii), with half a dozen major characters whose various points of view are given more or less equal weight, all told in a mere 260 comfortably spaced pages: it could easily have been rushed, or cramped, with too much being told too quickly or too few sentences being forced to do too much work. And yet, almost miraculously, it isn’t either of those things, because Meloy (unlike, say, Jonathan Franzen) has such a sure handle on what to leave out. Her style is impressively unshowy: it’s not even showily unshowy, not seeing the need to draw attention to its pared-down restraint. The New Yorker left her off its fanfare-y list this summer of the 20 American writers under the age of 40 ‘who we believe are, or will be, key to their generation’ – but then who’d want to be that, and what does it even mean?

(LRB 2 December 2010)

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