~ GENERAL TAKE [MILD SPOILERS] ~
I read Mrs. Saint and the Defectives in July when it was available as one of the selections for Amazon Prime’s Kindle First program. Every month, Amazon Prime members can pick out one title from the handful offered and download it for free thirty days before it debuts publicly. It is one of my particular favorite perks of the Prime program.
I chose this title, as it seemed one right up my alley. It sounded fun, light, and quirky enough to de-stress me and set me up for a positive month. I was not wrong.
The titular character, Mrs. Saint, is a powerhouse of a woman with firm opinions on things like being neighborly, families eating together, and teenage boys and dogs. You know– controversial stuff. I could not help but love her immediately. But then, I loved every one of the characters in this book. The author, Julie Lawson Timmer, does a fantastic job of breathing life into them all. Besides mere life, she bestows each with a charm, grace, and personality. I know people such as these.
Markie, a recent divorcée, and her teenage son Jesse become next door neighbors to the irascible elderly woman and a rag-tag bunch she calls “defectives.” The dance that ensues between the overstepping neighbor and the reticent, retreating Markie is something to behold.
The so-called “defectives” are an awkward bunch of lovely people like ourselves and probably everyone we know. No one escapes pain and woundedness in this life. Some merely hide it better than others, if you ask me. Brokenness does not mean one is “defective”– just human in an imperfect world.
The author has an impressive command of language and narrative. I read the book through nearly in one sitting. Ms. Timmer obviously knows people. With a few deft sentences, she made me feel I understood even the lesser characters well. I had a stake in them and their growth and struggles.
If she were to write a sequel, I would buy it and read it with anticipation. The ending was a mixed bag to me. Ultimately, I like what occurred for most of the characters. There was a development, a revelation, that I felt was not necessary to the story, but others may well disagree.
~ MORE PERSONAL TAKE – [MEDIUM SPOILERS] ~
Mainly, I enjoyed at least the first 90% of the book very much. I smiled often and even laughed aloud. Other times, I found myself “coaching” the characters as though they would hear me and fall into line. [Why do I do that– ever?]
Knowing her neighbor had lots of wisdom, why did Markie not keep her stubborn attitude in check? Why did Mrs. Saint deliver her “advice” in the same matter-of-fact way? Did she not realize that “people do not care how much you know unless they know how much you care.” Had she not heard that you “catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” sometime in her life?
So, I would have preferred if a few certain characters might have been less reactive and stubborn. It became a bit frustrating– though true-to-life to some degree– as we can “miss” each other even with the best of intentions.
I have read many lighthearted books lately in which the last chapters took on a vastly more profound and somber subject or tone. There was some warning [of a sort] when I looked back over the stories in detail. However, they felt disjointed and out of step with the rest of the narrative.
Much to my chagrin, Mrs. Saint and the Defectives wound up this way. My thought on the semi-surprise “Cause” ending is that the book, though seemingly lighthearted in tone, is quite serious in its way. The plight of these people is enough– more than enough to my way of thinking– to give it importance, relevance and whatever other weighty “ance” word you can imagine. This tale is about the human condition.
There is no end of books written about the subject that is broached in the last pages about a certain character’s back story. I would not discourage significant themes. I find them when others may not, in fact. This tale of a pushy but well-meaning neighbor with a houseful of eccentrics under her roof and their dealings with the near agoraphobic single mom and her angsty son is ENOUGH.
The ending seems a reach in a few ways. The explanation feels like a betrayal of the personality and traits of the title character. It does not go with what came before. Also, it seems like a reach — like that of an overachiever holding a pen, who always pushes for more and is rarely satisfied– and never believes that others without that ultra-critical eye, simply marvel at the beauty that was inherent in their words already.
I wish I could have assured the author that just as these quirky, beautiful people she lovingly detailed in these pages have intrinsic worth and are not “defective,” so too would this book be worthy enough without the ultra-serious turn. If it is not broken, it does not need fixing.
What Julie Lawson Timmer has done with her work has touched me greatly, without a doubt, and I am grateful for it. I just would have liked to have maintained the same particular sentiment and tone from the start through to the story’s conclusion. As this is art, though, it is the beholder’s eye that matters. Your perspective may differ.
Here is the link to download the Kindle version of Mrs. Saint and the Defectives on Amazon.