The Patron Saint of Ugly
Mariner Books, June 2014
After chomping at the bit for months, finally, at long last, I get to tell you: I have read 2014’s Best Novel and it is The Patron Saint of Ugly. Created, crafted and chronicled by the magnificent Marie Manilla, this written work of art will capture your mind, tug your heart-strings and enrich your very essence. This is Garnet’s story, and what a tale it is. The intricacy of layers within, akin to hand-made lace: have been painstakingly woven to be lovely, seemingly delicate; but actually quite strong.
Growing up in Sweetwater, WV, Garnet has simple desires and dreams; to be like everyone else. Things that come so easily to others: quick conversations, best friends, flirting; all seem elusive to the girl covered in port-wine stains; looking as if a globe exploded, scattering land masses and constellations randomly over her entire body. But, this isn’t a simple story of an ugly duckling and inner beauty. Rather, it is a narrative of a family comprised of Old World Sicilians, blue-bloods able and willing to trace lineage all the way back to the Mayflower, small-town socialites, bad people, despicable people, heart-ache, hope and unconditional love.
As she begins, and throughout her memoir, Garnet’s tone is generally light; however, an undeniable sense of foreboding lurks. There is little to no doubt that Garnet’s words are most honest and sincere; just as surely as the reader realizes: Garnet is not telling us everything. As she relaxes in her role of story-teller, the whole, sordid truth begins to seep out; foreshadowing was very subtle, yet tangible. I actually got butterflies in my stomach when Garnet explained why she no longer ate penny candy. I didn’t want to keep reading, but I couldn’t stop. Sometimes, I really, truly, did not want to turn the page…..but I had to. A feeling of dread would swell up inside of me; I anticipated something bad, but the truth was never, ever, what I expected.
Continuing to provide the unexpected, Ms. Manilla’s wisdom shines as she allows Garnet to share her story orally, via recorded cassettes: pure genius. Living as an outcast, in the shadows, Garnet is privy to many secrets. Coupled with her uncanny observing skills, she simply must serve as narrator. Of course, the ladies closest to Garnet have well-guarded, deep secrets, too. Bits and pieces divulged in stolen moments, whispering into the recorder are poignant, heart-felt and sometimes…down-right shocking.
I love absolutely everything about this unique, sad, hopeful, strong, sweet story. Ms. Manilla’s craft is unparalleled, evoking tears, laughter and hope.
Reviewed by jv poore, May 2014.