Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Review: Saint X - Alexis Schaitkin

Saint X
by Alexis Schaitkin
Published February 18th 2020 by Celadon Books

Claire is only seven years old when her college-age sister, Alison, disappears on the last night of their family vacation at a resort on the Caribbean island of Saint X. Several days later, Alison’s body is found in a remote spot on a nearby cay, and two local men – employees at the resort - are arrested. But the evidence is slim, the timeline against it, and the men are soon released. The story turns into national tabloid news, a lurid mystery that will go unsolved. For Claire and her parents, there is only the return home to broken lives.

Years later, Claire is living and working in New York City when a brief but fateful encounter brings her together with Clive Richardson, one of the men originally suspected of murdering her sister. It is a moment that sets Claire on an obsessive pursuit of the truth - not only to find out what happened the night of Alison’s death but also to answer the elusive question: Who exactly was her sister? At seven, Claire had been barely old enough to know her: a beautiful, changeable, provocative girl of eighteen at a turbulent moment of identity formation.

As Claire doggedly shadows Clive, hoping to gain his trust, waiting for the slip that will reveal the truth, an unlikely attachment develops between them, two people whose lives were forever marked by the same tragedy.

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4 Stars

Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin was THE book for me, the one I heard about and then sort of pined after, like a crush, until I finally got my hands on it. 2020 has a lot of promising new releases, Saint X is one of them and after reading it, after anticipating it and joining in on all the hype for it, I can say it is well deserved. Far more literary than I anticipated, Saint X is a lush, atmospheric suspense novel that will have you wondering if the truth will ever be known.

"The island is a lovely nowhere suspense in gin-clear water."

From the perspective of several narrators, Saint X takes readers on a journey to the Caribbeans where beautiful, 18-year-old Alison disappears, leaving behind her much younger sister Claire. We follow the sisters on their vacation, young Claire as she grows, older Claire as she goes from missing Alison to obsessing over her, and several of the secondary characters that were also impacted by the disastrous events of Alison's death. I hated Claire and yet I understood her plight, her desperate need to know more. She derails her life for answers, willing to forego the fine, easy lifestyle she maintained for the truth. The characters, though certainly not all likable, are in many ways relatable. I could feel their emotions from the pages; Schaitkin really created an incredible complex set of narrators.

Okay, yes, I got bored reading. 50%-70% are just...hard chapters to get through. I didn't connect to the characters, there were a lot of words, and it didn't feel like we were getting anywhere. It was the slowest downward spiral for a character I had ever read, but I still couldn't stop reading. The story I couldn't put down was still there and I had to have my answers. Like the synopsis promises, Saint X is engrossing, the slow parts are certainly slow, but the mystery is so unique, the location so beautiful, that you must keep up with it.

"Don't you understand? My sister was an innocent, blameless in her horrific fate. And it was all her fault."

Well-written and fascinating, Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin is an interesting dive into the perception people have of themselves and of others. There is a magnifying glass in this book, highlighting the impact that race and privilege ultimately played in Alison's life before her death and after. I found myself thinking while reading, both about my experience and my perception of others, how often a story I see on the news is tainted by those perceptions. Far more than just a book of life and loss, Schaitkin doesn't shy away from exploring themes of race, sexuality, and class in her debut novel, Saint X.

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