cover image All Saints

All Saints

Liam Callanan, . . Delacorte, $23 (278pp) ISBN 978-0-385-33696-3

A rarified Southern California Catholic high school serves as the setting for thrice-divorced, 50-year-old Emily Hamilton's reckoning in Callanan's oddly luminous novel (following The Cloud Atlas ). A teacher who finds her life intertwined with three of her students', Emily revisits relevant stages of her past (nicely interspersing an abundant knowledge of saints' lives) as she gets around to telling how she kissed Edgar Mandeville, an upstart student in her church history class (dubbed "Saints and Sinners" by everyone, including Emily herself). Refreshing insights into teenage angst (including secondaries such as the sexually confused Paul, the aforementioned Edgar and the shy but longing Cecily) are matched by midlife crisis candor—including that of irreverent department chair Fr. Martin Dimanche, with whom Emily has an ambivalent relationship. Emily herself has been struggling for personal redemption for nearly four decades: her teenage pregnancy and subsequent miscarriage are just the beginning. The book's stark events are handled while retaining sympathy for Emily: no mean feat. Callanan gets into her head with page-turning panache and authority. (Feb.)