by Suzzy Roche
Here’s a winning combination of witty, wise and weird. Wayward Saints is as edgy as it is emotionally taxing, much like its main character, Mary Saint, and the music that she writes and sings. The author, Suzzy Roche, a founding member of the rock/folk group the Roches, must have heard that age-old advice, “Write what you know,” as that’s exactly what she does here.
The story alternates between Mary Saint, an aging alternative rocker, and her mother, Jean, a good catholic woman who tries her best to understand her very different daughter. Both have endured years of abuse at the hands of Bub, Mary’s father and Jean’s husband. When Mary is old enough and strong enough, she begins to fight back and eventually leaves. Jean never does, thus building a huge, seemingly impassable gully between herself and her daughter.
Through the years, Mary has poured her pain and rebellious nature into her songs. She forms a band, Sliced Ham, and for many years they enjoy cult status in the alternative rock world. Their songs are painfully raw, often vulgar and jarring, yet poetically sound, as well. Mary holds nothing back, and while the majority of people don’t “get her,” her die-hard fan base definitely does. Not surprisingly, tragedy eventually tears the group apart, and when the novel opens, Mary is recovering from a stint in rehab.
Meanwhile, Jean spends her days visiting Bub in a nursing home and wading through endless days of loneliness. She definitely doesn’t “get” Mary, though claims to miss her immensely. So, when a high-school teacher, a major Sliced Ham fan from way back, approaches Jean about having Mary return to their little town of Swallow to perform a concert, Jean jumps at the opportunity, having wanted her daughter to come home for years.
Jean happens to catch Mary at an extremely vulnerable moment, and Mary agrees to come home. With the help and support of her “chocolate tranny” bff, Thaddeus, Mary is able to make the painful journey home.
Wayward Saints is a quick read and a worthwhile one. There are many hidden, as well as obvious, messages on which to reflect. In other words, the book will live on in your mind as you ponder the true meaning of life and whether or not you’re living it to its fullest, while having fun doing so.