This is a beautiful story of an Irish Catholic family over two generations; of love, secrets, and reconciliation; of what it means to be a family, and what it takes to remain one. Its plot is deceptively simple: Nora Rafferty’s son Patrick has died in a drunk-driving accident. In her grief, Nora calls her long-estranged sister, a Benedictine nun, and summons her to the funeral, along with her other three children, sons John and Brian and daughter Bridget. In alternating points of view, Sullivan slowly reveals the reasons for the sisters’ estrangement and the conflicts that Nora’s children have faced in trying to reconcile their conservative Irish upbringing with the modern world’s expectations.
Saints for All Occasions explores what it means to be Roman Catholic, specifically Boston Irish Catholic. Many of the main characters’ decisions are influenced by their culture and their religion, not to mention the social mores of the times. Anyone with a Catholic upbringing will recognize the references to the lives of the saints, the significance of the Medal of the Immaculate Conception, and all the behavioral expectations that went along with Catholic beliefs. Even if you’re not Catholic, you will find a lot of relatable moments in this richly layered family drama.
Sullivan’s writing is captivating. Somehow, she seems to get every word exactly right. Her sentences have a perfect rhythm to them and her descriptions are pitch-perfect. I empathized with every one of her characters and didn’t want the book to end. This is going to be one of my favorite books of the year.