Wayward Saints

By Suzzy Roche

(Hyperion, $24.99, 272 pages)

Who is this author?

Yes, she’s that Suzzy Roche – how many could there be? One of the three sisters who comprise The Roches, a great folk-rock singing trio, has written a novel, and it’s earning good reviews.

Suzzy and her sisters’ debut recording was named Album of the Year by the New York Times, and she has been performing live, making recordings and writing songs for more than 30 years. “Wayward Saints” is her first novel.

How did this book come about? Here’s what Suzzy told the Barnes & Noble website:

“Honestly, the Roches were not touring and I had no job and no prospects, but I did write a children’s book for Random House (due out in 2013) and I figured I had enough money to live for six months. It was one of those now or never moments. I had to depend entirely on myself, sit down and create something out of absolutely nothing, and hope that it would mean something to someone, including myself.

“Maybe because I was trained as an actress, I’ve always loved working with characters and realized how, through them, you can express ideas. Even when I perform music onstage, I think of myself as a character. I had been writing stories for years, but didn’t really have the nerve to try to write a novel. I took a short story I had written and set about expanding it. I spent the summer in my pajamas working on the book every day as if it were my job. I kept it to myself because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do it. But I figured if I put in the hours, something would happen. It turned out to be a magical experience. I started to live and dream the book, and once I finished a first draft, it was a joy to spend the next year revising. I probably could have worked on it forever.”

What is this book about?

The main character, once the lead singer in an “almost-famous” band with the great name Sliced Ham, discovers that, pace Thomas Wolfe, you can indeed go home again, but you never know what you’ll be getting into when you do. When Mary Saint, the singer-turned-barista who hardly lives up to her last name, heads from San Francisco to Swallow, N.Y. to perform at her old high school, her mom, Jean, is excited but a little nervous, and with good reason. Soon people from Mary’s past – pretty much the whole town – begin to play roles in the story and we learn a lot about family matters, friends and frenemies, and the weirdness of the music biz.

Why you’ll like it:

This novel is peopled by piquant characters and the plot is driven by the urge to re-connect with the past and come to terms with those who helped to form your life, an experience to which many readers can relate.

They also may assume that Suzzy is basing “Wayward Saints” on her own life, but she told her interviewer that is not the case.

“…Though there are little snippets of reality woven throughout the book, the story is by no means autobiographical. But I have experienced the music world from many angles, and I wanted to show as many of them as I could,” she says.

But she does believe valid comparisons can be made of her musical and writing styles.

“For me, one important similarity between writing music and writing a novel is the way time slows down in the process,” she says. “When you catch that creative wave, there’s nothing like it, you become super aware of everything that’s happening around you. Maybe it’s a bit like meditating. Of course, the wave ebbs and flows, so when it ebbs, you feel lost. But constructing a sentence is very similar to constructing a melody. It’s trial and error, attention to detail, a good deal of luck, and some whimsy. I consider myself a beginner as both a novelist and a musician. These are lifelong pursuits. There is no end to what I have to learn, and practice is the only way I know how.”

What others are saying:

Says Grammy-winning songwriter Loudon Wainwright: “Wayward Saints” is full of wonderful observations about family, fame, guilt, aging, the stupid music business, and the power and glory of performing and creating. Most importantly, Suzzy Roche has written a book about love and redemption. And it’s funny! I loved the little details and the big surprises.”

“If you’ve ever had the privilege of hearing Suzzy Roche sing, you know all about her perfect pitch, her angel’s voice, her subtle wit. Her masterful debut novel Wayward Saints (Voice) mines these same prodigious gifts. When Mary Saint, a once-promising indie rocker, is invited to perform in her hometown, where her mother Jean still holds court, the two are forced into a long-deferred reckoning: with each other and with the demons of their past. This is a golden-threaded tale of redemption, of the transformative powers of art, and of the mysteries, pains and sacrifices of love,” says Deborah Copaken Kogan, author of “Hell Is Other Parents.”

“In her debut, Roche—one of three sisters who make up the folk-rock group, the Roches—shows that her narrative skills aren’t just limited to lyrics….Jean hasn’t seen her daughter in years, and the two remain wrapped in their own lives until an English teacher (who has idolized Mary) contacts Jean with an invitation for Mary to perform at her old high school. Jean worries that the locals may not appreciate songs like “Feet and Knuckles” and “Sewer Flower.” Meanwhile, people from Mary’s past are working on projects that will affect her future. Roche’s empathy for these broken souls allows readers to feel the depth of their pain and savor the novel’s happier twists,” says Publishers Weekly.

When is it available?

You can borrow it now from the Hartford Public Library.

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