Saint Maybe by Anne Tyler
The Goods: The Bedloe's are one of those families who seem to go through life with perpetually good nature, turning even the bad times (which are never really that bad) into cute little anecdotes that become part of the happy family narrative: "How Ian Got Suspended From First Grade," or "How Claudia Totaled the Car."
Therefore, nothing in life has prepared them for the episodes entitled:
"How Our Eldest Son Married a Woman With Two Small Children and a Third On the Way Which May or May Not Be His," followed by
"How Both He and His Wife Died Unexpectedly and Our Youngest Son Blamed Himself for Causing It," and finally,
"How Ian Joined a Storefront Holy Roller Church and Convinced Himself That the Only Way to Make Amends for What He'd Done Was to Drop Out of College and Raise the Orphaned Children."
Number of Years I've Been Re-Reading This Book: 12
Why I Keep Coming Back To It: While it's Ian's story, several of the chapters are told from the children's perspective, and their thoughts on having the teachings of a low rent, slightly pitiful church thrust upon them hit rather close to home. Plus, in keeping with the idea that redemption takes a long damn time, the book follows the family for about 20 years. Everybody knows that what Anne Tyler does best is write amazing characters, and the Bedloes are her very best ones - warm, complex, and surprising - and 20 years is not really a long enough period of time to spend with them.
If you like...: coming of age stories about growing up crazy religious like Blankets by Craig Thompson, or family stories with engaging characters like Anywhere But Here by Mona Simpson or Pigs In Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver, this book is for you.