“Live long enough, and life teaches you that God is not your lucky rabbit foot.” So says Nora Rafferty in J. Courtney Sullivan’s new novel, Saints for All Occasions. She should know: Nora and her sister Theresa emigrate from Ireland to the U.S. in the 1950s, recalling Colm Tóibín’s 2009 best seller, Brooklyn. When Theresa gets pregnant, Nora quickly gets married and persuades her husband to raise the baby boy as their own. Fifty years later, their son’s true parentage remains a secret to almost everyone in the growing Rafferty family. By then, plenty more secrets have accumulated.
The Raffertys love one another, but their secrets turn them into strangers. Misunderstandings ricochet through the family’s generations like so much shrapnel. Sullivan lets readers in on these secrets even as most of her characters stay in the dark, elevating the novel above the average family drama. With tenderness and a knack for depicting Irish grandmothers that anybody who has one will appreciate, Sullivan celebrates ordinary people doing their best to live saintly lives. They may fail, but they keep trying.
This appears in the May 22, 2017 issue of TIME.
- Volodymyr Zelensky and the Spirit of Ukraine: TIME's 2022 Person of the Year
- Mickey Guyton Is TIME's 2022 Breakthrough Artist of the Year
- The 10 Best Nonfiction Books of 2022
- Column: What Elon Musk Gets Wrong About Free Speech
- The Forgotten Story of One of the First U.S. Soldiers Killed Overseas After Pearl Harbor
- Why You're More Likely to Get Sick in the Winter, According to New Research
- Column: What the Protests Tell Us About China's Future
- 18 Last-Minute Gifts for Everyone on Your List