Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin

5 stars

A literary page turner is a rare bird, and an even rarer visitor to bestseller lists, but Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin defies the odds and delivers both a compelling read and language so expressive that writers and readers alike will find themselves wondering, how did she do that? Too often readers must elect compulsive page turning or linguistic beauty, but Schaitkin’s debut does not force such a choice.

Saint X takes place on an eponymously named Caribbean island and New York City, the two locales linked by the death of Princeton student Alison Thomas on the last night of a family vacation at an exclusive resort. When two employees are arrested, the story becomes a news sensation that will impact the family members’ lives long after they are saddled with unresolved grief. When Claire, Alison's sister, moves to New York years later, she comes face to face with one of the accused and embarks on an obsessive search for the truth. Does such a thing even exist? And what will it cost Claire to uncover?

Saint X is a story of townies and tourists; lovers and fighters; insiders and outsiders; winners and wannabes, all navigating a surface gorgeous landscape, yet one under which trouble brews like an incoming hurricane.

The story is told in so many points of view that the author on a recent podacast failed to remember exactly how many voices we hear through the course of the twisted tale. But while Schaitkin has an MFA, she resists burdening the story with the overly crafty technique frequently seen in works by recent graduates keen on strutting their stuff. But what she does do so well is to put character development before style and atmosphere before clever language, all in a setting so well-drawn you’ll swear you can smell the coconut oil wafting off the page.

Saint X is surely a genre bender. Is it a mystery? Literary fiction? Is it social commentary? Is it a work engineered to show off the author's superlative skills? The answers will rest with each reader, yet one thing is clear—Alexis Schaitkin knows how to make us turn the pages, be it for their pitch perfect prose, escalating drama, or just to know what happens.

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