In these stories, Aitken manages to write prose that sings along the page, leading us through pain, tragedy, and finding oneself in the most beautiful way possible. On top of the wonderfully winding prose that keeps us turning the page, the book contains an abundance of extremely specific images as well as metaphors that serve the point of the text while giving insight to Mary’s lifestyle and character.
The world has been aching for a piece of literature that touches upon the topics that Aitken covers throughout the collection.
Although each piece can stand entirely on its own, together these brief glimpses weave a rich tapestry of a life, incorporating themes of family and romance, work and destitution, inspiration and addiction, determination and loss. Even the simplest moments have a sense of gravitas and quiet beauty ... Indeed, Mary’s complexity as a protagonist will make it easy for readers to forget the work’s fictional nature. Whether she’s struggling to find fulfillment in a career or attempting to navigate a romantic landscape full of bittersweet choices, her emotions resonate with aching familiarity. What makes her exceptional is the strength that she demonstrates in the face of adversity ... Overall, the author delivers these stories with poetic grace, resulting in a book that will linger in the reader’s mind long after the final page. A moving work that demonstrates a nuanced understanding of the human condition.
Each statement compels readers to soak in and reflect upon the protagonist's observations and life. This literary device takes the opening paragraphs of the first story and makes them shine with gripping impressions and a sense of change and excitement: "In August, when the cicadas burned and the lawnmowers sounded like industrial bees, we couldn't stop. In the bedroom, on the couch, on the floor. Afterwards we would lie there, reading the paper or letting the television taunt us like a car salesman. Paul would wiggle his toes against mine, and we'd look at one another for a long time. His face was like a catcher's mitt, warm and beaten. He reminded me of one of those boys who had moved away when I was little, but Paul had returned a man. Then it would start all over again, and I felt like one of those cicadas, burning up from something that had no name. The dog licked our legs. The mail fell through the slot. But we didn't move. Even a smile felt like it would slice through us. I don't know if we were fragile or potent or both, but one conversation dangled on us like an ornament."
In capturing these observations and bringing them to life, Maureen Aitken has produced a masterpiece highly recommended not only for fans of literary fiction (and most deserving of being the Nilsen Prize for a First Novel Winner), but for anyone seeking a winning, accessible and compelling portrait of growing up female in Detroit in an era where everything familiar is changing.
There are more than a few moments of reckoning in this fine collection of linked stories, but one seems especially to the point. When, after tangling with the weather, the law and tricky logistics, three friends finally get a pet rat buried in a wintry park in the wee hours, Mary, our narrator, says, “It touched something in me I knew was there for good. It wouldn’t fade away with a new place, or the next year. … Life just added up on itself, and then you were you and there was no turning back.”
Each story, in its way, seems to enact this recognition as Mary describes the events and circumstances that situate her in the world. That world, initially and for much of the book, is a working-class family in a “neighborhood that mixed a Black Power vibe with the Business Dad thing,” in a down-on-its-luck Detroit that Maureen Aitken manages to make as homey and familiar as it is broken and blighted.
Read the review
By Ellen Akins
Special to the Star Tribune
September 28, 2018
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Maureen Aitken’s The Patron Saint of Lost Girls pretends to be a collection of short stories but is not. Instead, advantages of both short-story and novel formats are fused into a mutation which is neither. By the time this subterfuge is exposed, it is more deserving of a standing ovation than an apology…. Metaphors, dialogue, playful cynicism, and suspense spur plots, characters, and relationships toward their unexpected (but, in hindsight, inevitable) conclusions. Rainy days are “bruised,” Grandfather’s car is “stale but kind,” and lawns catch fire “as if they were monks protesting the war…” One story’s brushstrokes paint over the next without obliterating what came before or distorting what comes after. While no story’s completeness requires ghost images to bleed through, the final one could never be the masterpiece it is without them.