The Patron Saint of Liars

by Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett's bestselling first novel about a young pregant mother and a Kentucky home for unwed mothers

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN-13/ EAN: 9780547520209
  • ISBN-10: 0547520204
  • Pages: 400
  • Publication Date: 04/19/2011
  • Carton Quantity: 24

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About the Book
About the Author
  • About the Book

    In 1992, celebrated novelist Ann Patchett launched her remarkable career with the publication of her debut novel, The Patron Saint of Liars, a best-selling book that is “beautifully written . . . a first novel that second- and third-time novelists would envy for its grace, insight, and compassion” (Boston Herald).

    St. Elizabeth’s, a home for unwed mothers in Habit, Kentucky, usually harbors its residents for only a little while. Not so Rose Clinton, a beautiful, mysterious woman who comes to the home pregnant but not unwed, and stays. She plans to give up her child, thinking she cannot be the mother it needs. But when Cecilia is born, Rose makes a place for herself and her daughter amid St. Elizabeth’s extended family of nuns and an ever-changing collection of pregnant teenage girls. Rose’s past won’t be kept away, though, even by St. Elizabeth’s; she cannot remain untouched by what she has left behind, even as she cannot change who she has become in the leaving.

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  • Excerpts


    Two o’clock in the morning, a Thursday morning, the
    first bit of water broke through the ground of George Clatterbuck’s
    back pasture in Habit, Kentucky, and not a living soul saw
    it. Spring didn’t care. Water never needed anyone’s help to come
    up through the ground once it was ready. There are rivers, hundreds
    of them, running underground all the time, and because of
    this a man can say he is walking on water. This was a hot spring
    that had broken loose of its river to make mud in the grass, and it
    kept on till it was a clear pool and then a little creek, cutting out
    a snake’s path toward the Panther River. Water will always seek
    out its own.
     George Clatterbuck found it when it was already a pretty
    steady stream. It was only fitting that he should be the one, seeing
    as how it was his land. It was 1906. He was hunting for his
    family’s dinner. He smelled the spring before he saw it, foul and
    sulfurous as spoiled eggs. He thought it was a bad sign, that it
    meant his land was infected and spitting up bile for relief. The
    water was warm when he dipped in his hand, and he wiped it off
    against the leg of his trousers. He was thinking about it, thinking
    what he ought to do, when he saw a rabbit on the other
    side of the field. It was as big a buck as he’d seen, and he knelt
    down slowly to get off his shot. He had to shoot on his knees.
    His father taught him that way because he was afraid the rifle’s
    kick would knock the boy off his feet, thought George would
    be safer close to the ground. But since that was the way George
    learned, that was the only way he could ever do it, and now here
    he was, grown with a family, going down on his knees like a man
    in prayer to shoot a rabbit.
     He blew the head clean off and didn’t disturb the pelt. He
    thought he would tan the hide and give it to his daughter, June,
    for her birthday. June, like many little girls, was partial to soft
    things. By the time he’d tied the legs onto his belt he’d forgotten
    about the water altogether.
     It wasn’t long after that times turned hard for the Clatterbucks.
    Both plow horses came down with colic, and Betsy, the
    horse George rode to town, got a ringworm thick as your thumb
    that no amount of gentian violet could clear. Not a week after,
    every last one of his cows came down with mastitis that left them
    all drier than bones. George had to get up every three hours in
    the night and bottle-feed the calves, whose crying put his wife
    beside herself. “Sounds like a dying child,” she said, and she shivered.
    George didn’t say this to her, but he was thinking he might
    have to slaughter the calves and take his losses. Bought milk was
    more than he could afford.
     Then, if he didn’t have enough to worry about, the horses
    broke free of the corral. George took some rope and set out to
    bring them back, cursing the rain and the mud and the stupid
    animals with every step. He found them at that spring he had
    forgotten, drinking so deeply he thought they’d founder. He
    was frightened then because he thought such water would kill
    them, and where would the money come from to buy three new
    horses? But the horses were fine. Betsy’s hide was smooth where
    the ringworm had been and the other two were past their own
    disorder. George knew it was the spring that had done this, but
    he didn’t know if it was the work of the Devil or the Lord. He
    didn’t tell a soul when he drove his sick cows down to the water,
    but by the time they came home their udders were so full they
    looked like they might burst on the ground.
     Then little June took sick and laid in her bed like a dull penny.
    Doctor came from Owensboro and said it wasn’t the pox or scarlet
    fever, but something else that was burning her alive. She was
    slipping away so fast you could all but see her dying right before
    your eyes, and there sat her parents, not a thing in the world
    to do.
     So George goes out in the middle of the night with a mason
    jar. He walks in the dark to the spring, fills up the jar, and heads
    home. He goes to his daughter’s room and looks at her pale face.
    He prays. He takes the first drink of water for himself, thinking
    that if it was to kill her he’d best die, too. It is foul-tasting, worse
    even than the smell of it. He lifts up June’s head from her sweaty
    pillow and pours the water down her throat, the whole jarful. He
    only lets a little run down the sides of her face. He wonders for a
    moment what it would be like to feed a child from his own body
    as his wife had done, but the thought embarrasses him and he
    lets it go. The next morning June is fine, perfect, better than new.
     When the spring had saved his livestock, George kept it to
    himself, not wanting to look foolish, but when it saved his
    daughter he felt the call to witness. He went into the streets of
    Habit and told what he had seen. At first the people were slow
    in believing, but as hardships came to them and they went to the
    spring for help, all was proved true.
     Tales of what had happened spread by word of mouth and before
    long people were coming up from as far away as Mississippi.
    The truth was stretched out of shape through all the telling, and
    soon the lame showed up wanting to walk and the blind wanting
    to see. The spring can’t do everything, the townspeople said. It’s
    wrong to expect so much.
     And then one boy died right there at the water’s edge. He was
    that sick by the time his folks brought him. He’s buried in Habit
    now, two hundred miles away from his own kind.
     One of the people who got word of the spring was a horse
    breeder named Lewis Nelson, who lived in Lexington. Lewis’
    wife, Louisa, had rheumatoid arthritis and her hands froze up on
    her even though she was only twenty-two. They set off to Habit
    to see if the water couldn’t do her some good. The Nelsons were
    rich, and when they came to town they were looking for a hotel,
    but there wasn’t one. George had made a vow to never make a
    cent off the spring, and Habit said that was only fitting. So when
    visitors came they were taken in with charity, many times by the
    Clatterbucks themselves. This put the Nelsons ill at ease, since
    they were used to giving charity and not receiving it.
     June was seventeen that summer. She had grown up as well as
    she had started out. She was a kind of a saint in the town, the first
    one saved by the spring, but all that really meant to June was that
    there were few boys bold enough to ask her out, and the ones
    who did thought it would be a sin to try and kiss her. She gave up
    her room for Mr. and Mrs. Nelson and slept on the sofa downstairs.
     After her second trip to the spring the use of Louisa’s hands
    came back to her and she taught June how to cross-stitch. Her
    husband was full of joy. Lewis was a devout Catholic with a head
    for figures. He saw the hand of God in the spring and thought
    the thing to do would be to build a grand hotel in the back pasture.
    No one was ever sure how he changed George Clatterbuck’s
    mind, but probably it was by telling him that a lot more people
    could be saved if there was a bigger place to stay and that George
    was being unchristian by denying them. It’s easy to imagine that
    Lewis had seen how well the hot-springs hotels had done in Arkansas
    and Tennessee and knew there was some real money to
    be made. Not long after that the architects came with their silver
    mechanical pencils, and after them the builders and the gardeners.
    In 1920 the Hotel...

  • Reviews
    A New York Times Notable Book 


    "A lovely, evocative tale about a beautiful mother, her abandoned daughter, the love-struck men who are devoted to them both-- and the living saint who watches over them all. Maybe the Patron Saint of Liars really is a sign from God." —Carolyn See


    "A delight." —Alice McDermott, New York Times 


    "The Patron Saint of Liars is a remarkable novel. . . . Ann Patchett is unique: a generous, fearless, and startlingly wise young writer." —New York Times Book Review 


    "Beautifully written . . . Ann Patchett has produced a first novel that second- and third-time novelists would envy for its grace, insight, and compassion." —Boston Herald


    "A wonderful novel. A-" —Entertainment Weekly

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