One family two ways

9780743261982 9780743277679The Santerres are just your typical 20th-century American Catholic family. You know, the kind with two daughters and one much, much younger son.

Liars and Saints follows the Santerres from Yvette and Teddy’s wedding right before World War II through the present day. We watch over the childhoods of their two daughters (insufferably pious Margot and free-spirited Clarissa) and the birth of their son Jamie (well… Margot’s son Jamie, but shhh no one knows that). We watch Margot and Clarissa marry. Clarissa has a daughter, Abby, and the sisters both become, in the most complicated way possible, grandparents. We watch the family fall apart and then, when the worst happens, fall back together.

And THEN, once Liars and Saints is over, we get to hit rewind. A Family Daughter recasts Liars and Saints as a novel written by Clarissa’s daughter, Abby. In the universe of the books, A Family Daughter tells the story of what really happened to the Santerre family; Liars and Saints is Abby’s reimagining of her own family’s history. The details are different, but the members of the family are still very much the same people.

Each of these two books is a fantastic family portrait in its own right. But taken together, these novels are about the way we see ourselves reflected and refracted in our families and in the small choices they have made to shape our world. Abby’s revisionist family history was published first, and I read it first. I think you should too, and then pick up A Family Daughter and think about what’s real and what’s not in this seriously fucked-up, seriously familiar family.

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