cover image Saints for All Occasions

Saints for All Occasions

J. Courtney Sullivan. Knopf, $26.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-307-95957-7

Sullivan’s (The Engagements) latest is the story of Rafferty family matriarch Nora, her estranged sister, Theresa, and the secrets that an Irish Catholic upbringing led them to keep from their children. After leaving Ireland for Boston in the late ’50s, the effervescent Theresa finds herself pregnant by a married man. Dour Nora agrees to care for baby Patrick as her own. Theresa moves to New York and pursues a career as a teacher before going into convent life, eventually becoming Mother Cecilia. Charismatic Patrick dies in 2009 after a life of drinking and letting his temper get the best of him. His overachieving brother John is agonizing about whether he’s somehow responsible for Patrick’s death after a revelation about the role of the politician John works for in an incident from Patrick’s childhood. Their sister, Bridget, is resentful that Nora refuses to acknowledge her relationship with girlfriend Natalie, who will soon have a baby. Brian, the youngest, is living with Nora after a failed career in baseball. Patrick’s funeral leads to a surprise visit from Theresa, much to Nora’s chagrin. Sullivan has a gift for capturing complicated sibling dynamics, especially in a family ruled by Catholic repression. Nora is imprisoned by the need to avoid shame and being the subject of gossip. In contrast, Theresa allows her religion to free her by letting it influence her life. Nora’s need for secrecy builds walls between John and Patrick, though Theresa’s presence might finally reveal all. Sullivan’s quiet ending is a satisfying conclusion to this rich, well-crafted story. 75,000-copy announced first printing. (May)