“I hope to read another novel as strong and wise and beautiful and heartbreaking as J. Courtney Sullivan’s Saints for All Occasions this year, but I’m not sure I will.”
A sweeping, unforgettable novel from The New York Times best-selling author of Maine, about the hope, sacrifice, and love between two sisters and the secret that drives them apart.
Nora and Theresa Flynn are twenty-one and seventeen when they leave their small village in Ireland and journey to America. Nora is the responsible sister; she’s shy and serious and engaged to a man she isn’t sure that she loves. Theresa is gregarious; she is thrilled by their new life in Boston and besotted with the fashionable dresses and dance halls on Dudley Street. But when Theresa ends up pregnant, Nora is forced to come up with a plan—a decision with repercussions they are both far too young to understand. Fifty years later, Nora is the matriarch of a big Catholic family with four grown children: John, a successful, if opportunistic, political consultant; Bridget, quietly preparing to have a baby with her girlfriend; Brian, at loose ends after a failed baseball career; and Patrick, Nora’s favorite, the beautiful boy who gives her no end of heartache. Estranged from her sister, Theresa is a cloistered nun, living in an abbey in rural Vermont. Until, after decades of silence, a sudden death forces Nora and Theresa to confront the choices they made so long ago. A graceful, supremely moving novel from one of our most beloved writers, Saints for All Occasions explores the fascinating, funny, and sometimes achingly sad ways a secret at the heart of one family both breaks them and binds them together.
Entertainment Weekly interviews J. Courtney Sullivan about Saints For All Occasions
“Sullivan has a gift for capturing complicated sibling dynamics, especially in a family ruled by Catholic repression…Sullivan’s quiet ending is a satisfying conclusion to this rich, well-crafted story.”
“On a terrible night in 2009, Nora Rafferty is woken with the news that her eldest son, Patrick, has died in a car crash, likely the result of his own drunken driving. In a haze of grief and rage, she telephones her long- estranged sister—a cloistered nun—and leaves a message informing her of his death. Sullivan’s fourth novel is a quietly devastating look at the power a secret, in this case the secret of Patrick himself, can wield over an entire family for generations. The story jumps through time, from the 1957 arrival of sisters Nora and Theresa Flynn from Ireland to the present, each part narrated by a different member of the family, elegantly woven together to form a more complete, if not quite intact, picture of how the consequences of choices made by Nora and Theresa 50 years earlier came to define not only the two of them but each of Nora’s now-grown children, who love and loathe their mother in equal measure. Sullivan once again expertly delivers a messy and complicated family story with sharp yet sympathetic writing.”
— Magan Szwarek, Booklist
“Of Catholic guilt, silences, and secrets: an expertly spun family drama, a genre Sullivan has staked out as her own. Theresa and Nora, Irish sisters, have long since parted company, the break an event that neither has spoken of for half a century. Now, as Sullivan’s latest opens, Nora’s son Patrick has died, and as the family comes together to see him off, long-hidden secrets are unveiled. A whole constellation of them swirls around Theresa, explained away as “nothing more to Patrick than a distant aunt.” But how to explain the truth? How to make up for all the choppy water that has passed between the two sisters, separated by an unbridged Atlantic? How to forgive one another?…Sullivan steers clear of the sentimentality that might easily have crept into a tale of regret and nostalgia. Sullivan is a master at making a sideways glance or a revealed detail add to a larger picture that she takes her time in building, one that might just as easily bear as its title a wise remark in passing: ‘Loving and knowing weren’t the same.'”
“Here to fill the Brooklyn-sized hole in your heart is the story of sisters Nora and Theresa Flynn, Irish Catholics who journey to America full of hope until Theresa winds up pregnant. Soon, the sisters are faced with a decision that will have consequences for generations to come.”
—Elizabeth Logan, Glamour’s Best Books to Read in 2017
“Utterly unputdownable… A beautiful novel about family, secrets, and the ties that bind us to each other.”
—Brenda Janowitz, PopSugar’s Hot New Books You’ll Want to Get Your Hands On
“Best-selling author Sullivan (Commencement) brings her characters to life, capturing the complexities and nuances of family, tradition, and kept secrets.”
—Joanna Burkhardt, Library Journal