cover image Saint Maybe

Saint Maybe

Anne Tyler. Alfred A Knopf Inc, $22 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-679-40361-6

Although Tyler ( Breathing Lessons ; Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant ) is again writing about families--the way they cleave together in times of trouble and muddle through with stoic courage--her eminently satisfying new novel breaks her familiar mold, giving us ordinary, not eccentric characters who are shaped by disastrous events into quietly heroic behavior. The Bedloes are cheerful and count their blessings, even if they are far from rich and live on a slightly seedy street in Baltimore. But when 17-year-old Ian rashly informs his older brother Dan that the latter's wife was undoubtedly pregnant before their marriage, Dan commits suicide, and Ian is left with profound guilt--especially since Dan's wife dies soon after. Asking God's forgiveness, he receives spiritual guidance at the endearingly shabby Church of the Second Chance. He drops out of college, becomes a carpenter and helps his parents care for the three orphaned children; as the years pass, that burden falls primarily on Ian's shoulders. Wondering when God will signal that his atonement can end, Ian has an epiphany: ``You could never call it a penance, to have to care for those three.'' Ian eventually does construct a life for himself, in one of Tyler's most appealing endings. The narrative also enjoys her whimsical humor (although the group role of the ``foreigners'' who live in the neighborhood verges on caricature). Since her characters' foibles never overwhelm their homespun simplicity, the reader is emotionally involved and touched as never before. 250,000 first printing; BOMC main selection; first serial to the New Yorker. (Sept.)