by Maggie Stiefvater (Goodreads Author)
If you have never had a miracle performed on you, you cannot quite imagine what it feels like to have your invisible darkness suddenly given flesh.
All The Crooked Saints is probably Maggie Stiefvater’s most daring book to date, especially when it comes to narrative structure. The entirety of this novel is written in a third person omniscient voice, and that is not something that is easy to read for many a person — I’ve seen a handful of reviews note how it made the novel more difficult to get through. I, personally, did not struggle with the narrative structure, though I certainly was intrigued by it; it’s not something Stiefvater has ever attempted before, and certainly not with this style.
Saints is written in the style of a myth or a fable; it’s wandering and meandering and takes its time in slow unfurling its story. But I don’t mind, not in the slightest: I don’t expect a myth to rapid-fire me with its story. I expect it to wander the desert, to slowly tell me everything about all the characters, regardless of whether or not they’ll play a major role in the main story, and I expect the main story to not be nearly as important as all the things occurring to all the characters.
The intention of every Soria miracle was the same: to heal the mind.
Characters and atmosphere are where Stiefvater truly shines as a writer, and All The Crooked Saints is no exception. There is a vast cast of characters, ranging from terribly minor to overwhelmingly vital, and yet I’d wager just about any reader could find a character that represents some kind of dark mirror of themselves. As with myths, the characters are not often characters so much as personifications of abstract concepts — again, I want to repeat that I don’t mind this at all. I actually revelled in it. I loved the idea that these were very much people, but also they were also representations of things that any person can struggle with every day, except that their first “miracle” has made such anxieties and troubles flesh.
My personal favourites were, without question, Beatriz, Pete, Tony, and Joaquin. I suppose this isn’t all that surprising as at least three of those four jockey for the most page-time within the novel — but I still loved them. From the girl who claims to be “without emotions”, to the complete outsider that’s loved by the desert who doesn’t need or want a miracle, to the DJ who fears people looking at him while he eats, and finally to the aspiring DJ who manages to inadvertently foster change (for the better) in his family and their set-up. I fell in love with these four the most, and eagerly followed Stiefvater’s winding road which she concocted for them, as well as the rest of the Saints and Pilgrims along the way.
She didn’t realise that she was being torn to shreds inside.
But as I mentioned: Stiefvater is some kind of witch who has the power to peer into my darkest soul and the walls of my family home to reflect it all back at me. I cannot tell you how many times one particular subplot of this weaving narrative left me choked up and forced me to (however briefly) stop my reading to gather myself. And it all goes back to the Soria family, specifically, how Beatriz deals with the fraught emotions between her parents, Francisco and Antonia.
As someone who, along with my siblings, long-ago became the collateral damage of forever simmering household tensions, the entirety of that storyline hit me hard. It didn’t hit me in a way where suddenly I understood what was going on in my own world, but in the way where it was like somebody else had somehow walked into my life, observed it, and then reported back, while also perfectly articulating the complicated relationships and emotions that exist between spouses and between parents and children.
Beatriz deals with her world by closing herself to it; she does not acknowledge emotion to anyone for fear of seeing it destroyed, and she has done this for so long that she now believes herself as being without feelings — that she can never get upset. And what, for me, was also hardest to read, was not only how this very clearly, as Stiefvater noted, tore her to shreds inside, but also how Beatriz felt she could not speak to both of her parents about this. She could speak with one…but not both.
“Do you still love Mama?” She asked. This was a longer sentence in their language than it was in English or Spanish, as Francisco and Beatriz had developed several phrases to indicate all of the different forms of love they had identified in their study of humankind. The musical phrase that Beatriz used roughly translated to need of the sort that can only be fulfilled by one thing.…”I’m not asking if you will move back in with Mama. I just want to understand why it doesn’t work.”
“Have you asked your mother this same question?”
She imagined this scenario. Antonia, angry, and Beatriz, merely puzzled, both of these expressions feeding the other. It was exactly the kind of conversation that Beatriz spent much time avoiding.
“That is why it doesn’t work,” he said.
I don’t think anybody can truly comprehend just how muchthis scene, in particular, left me weeping internally. Just internally, mind, ‘cause I was on my lunch break, and the last thing I need is to suddenly start weeping at work. I’ve done that before, and it’s not the most dignified thing to be caught doing. I may have culled the quote a great deal, but I think anyone who’s endured tensions between parents understands what Steifvater gets at in this scene, and in this subplot as a whole. It’s raw, truthful, heartbreaking, and yet also filled with the hope all children hold within their hearts when it comes to their parents.
Of course this was not the only plot line that left me choked up because, frankly, the entirety of the novel did that. I found myself wandering the desert that Stiefvater had dropped me into, with only her story, like my own owl, to guide me.
His journey before now had felt like a dream, and a dream can always be changed into something else. But when you are awake, the truth is bright and stark, not as willing to bend to the mind’s will.
By the end of this book, it took everything within me to not just fall to my knees and start praising some sort of God because GODDAMN…this book took me on a journey. It really was something like a religious experience — or, at least, about as close to one as I think I’ll ever get. Stiefvater took a big swing for the fences with this book and, for me, she just blew it well out of the park. This is a modern myth in the best sense of that phrase, and this book has now well-earned its spot as probably my second-favourite Stiefvater book, and that’s just behind The Scorpio Races, so I mean…tough competition to go up against.
Just…well done. Well. Done.
We almost always can point to that hundredth blow, but we don’t always mark the ninety-nine other things that happen before we can change.