The Patron Saint of Pregnant Girls
I was charmed by The Patron Saint Of Pregnant Girls – by its breathtaking setting, its wild assortment of characters, and the challenges they face. Ultimately, though, it left me unsatisfied. I’m still trying to figure out why.
Set in the late 1800s on an island in the North Sea off the coast of Germany, the plot revolves around three mothers – one who loses three of her children to a freak tidal wave, one whose child is taken from her when she is barely a child herself, and one who loses the dreams she had when her daughter proves to be simple-minded.
This is a story of love and loss.
Sound dark? It really isn’t. These three mothers have their bright moments as they grow and adapt. And the characters surrounding them are lively and bright, many belonging to a traveling circus that is as colorful as colorful gets. Some reviews tout this book as a story of women supporting women, and it is. But there are wonderfully compassionate and likable male characters as well.
Hegi’s earlier book, Stones From the River, centers on a dwarf. In The Patron Saint of Pregnant Girls, her supporting cast includes not only a dwarf, but a runt, a simple-minded child, and homosexuality well before its time. There are little gems of magic here, involving bees, spiders, and a disappearing island. And the nuns in the home for pregnant girls are lovable human and spirited. They are wonderfully drawn, if not quite finished.
That, perhaps, is the problem I had with this book. With so many threads, many remained loose when the book ended. It’s not that I need everything tied up in a bow, but to become emotionally involved with characters who just seem to … fade away? Frustrating. A paring down of the story might have helped.
Same with POV. One character speaks in the first person, the rest in the third. I’m still trying to figure out why the author chose to do this. Likewise, her speedy, if lukewarm, resolution to the slightly bizarre plot twist at the end.
I can’t help but feel that The Patron Saint of Pregnant Girls offered too much … yet not enough.