Wednesday, July 29, 2015
Review: THE PATRON SAINT OF UGLY, by Marie Manilla
I came across The Patron Saint of Ugly during one of my forays into the bookstore after dinner; it appealed to me because it's about a redhead with a physical disfigurement, which is one description of myself. It also appealed to me because it's about Catholic mysticism and saints, a subject I find endlessly fascinating. The story focuses on Garnet Ferrari, born in Sweetwater, West Virginia, to an Italian father and Wasp mother. She's born covered in constantly-changing portwine stains that cover her entire body, and a head of flaming red hair, harkening back to an ancestor who died a Catholic martyr.
The book interleaves her growing-up story with the various myths, legends and secrets surrounding her family, especially her Italian grandmother's difficult relationship with Garnet's grandfather. Along the way we meet both sides of Garnet's family and some of her neighbors. Garnet's appearance makes her either an object of pity or condescension; her father adores Garnet's golden-blond brother Nicky, as do most of Garnet's community, and Garnet grows up feeling unwanted and unloved. Her grandmother believes that Garnet has healing powers and over the course of her young life many other people come to believe it too, until she becomes an unwitting celebrity and center of controversy.
This is a bittersweet light read that reminded me of The Little Giant of Aberdeen County and other books about misfits. Garnet is appealing and richly developed and the mythology around her was fun and intriguing. Mostly though her story is kind of sad, about a lonely girl who becomes even more isolated as she becomes more famous. Eventually she gathers a small group of misfit women around her, forming a sweet kind of family-by-choice. It's not a perfect life, but it's not so bad, and it's a quick, enjoyable and colorful read.
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.