A publication announcement by Alden Hunt for the Princeton Alumni Weekly.
The book: On a vacation to the Caribbean island Saint X, 7-year-old Claire Thomas’ sister Allison goes missing and is later found dead. Two local resort employees are arrested but released due to a lack of evidence.
Many years later, Claire is working in New York City when she has a chance encounter with Clive Richardson, one of the men initially accused of her sister’s murder. The meeting sparks a obsession for Claire — to connect with Clive, find out what happened to her sister, and more meaningfully, determine who Allison really was as a person. Saint X (Celadon) is funny and thrilling, a compelling story about family, personality, and class.
The author: Alexis Schaitkin ’07’s short stories and essays have appeared in Ecotone, Southwest Review, The Southern Review, The New York Times, and elsewhere. She lives in Williamstown, Mass., with her husband and son. Saint X is her debut novel.
Opening lines: Begin with an aerial view. Slip beneath the clouds and there it is, that first glimpse of the archipelago—a moment, a vista, a spectacle of color so sudden and intense it delivers a feeling like plunging a cube of ice in warm water and watching it shatter: the azure sea, the emerald islands ringed with snow-white sand; perhaps, on this day, a crimson tanker at the edge of the tableau.
Come down a bit lower and the islands reveal their topographies, valleys and flatlands and the conic peaks of volcanoes, some of them still active. There is Mount Scenery on Saba, Mont Liamugia on Saint Kitts, Mount Pelée on Martinique, the Quill on Saint Eustatius, La Soufrière on Saint Lucia and also on Saint Vincent, La Grande Soufrière on Guadeloupe’s Basse-Terre, Soufrière Hills on Montserrat, and Grande Soufrière Hills on tiny Dominica, which is beset by no fewer than nine volcanoes. The volcanoes yield an uneasy sense of juxtaposition—the dailiness of island life abutting the looming threat of eruption. (On some islands, on some days, flakes of ash fall softly through the air, pale and fine, before settling on grassy hillsides and the eaves of rooftops.)
Roughly in the middle of the archipelago lies and island some 40 kilometers long by 12 wide. It is a flat, buff, dusty place, its soil thin and arid, the terrain dotted with shallow salt ponds and the native vegetation consisting primarily of tropical scrub: sea grape, cacti, wild frangipani. (There is a volcano here, too, Devil Hill, though it is so small, and the magma rises to its surface so infrequently, that it is useless as both a threat and an attraction.) The island is home to 18,000 residents and receives some ninety thousand tourists annually. From above, it resembles a fist with a single long finger pointing west.
The north side of the island faces the Atlantic. Here, the coast is narrow and rocky, the water seasonally variable and sometimes rough. Nearly all of the residents live on this side, most of them in the tiny capital town, the Basin, where cinder-block schools, food marts, and churches mingle with faded colonial buildings in pastel hues: the governor-general’s petal-pink Georgian mansion; the mint-green national bank; Her Majesty’s Prison, eggshell-blue. (A prison next to a bank—a favorite local joke.) On this coast, the beaches’ names bespeak their shortcomings: Salty Cove. Rocky Shoal. Manchineel Bay. Little Beach.
Reviews: “Richly atmospheric, by turns coolly satiric and warmly romantic, Alexis Schaitkin’s brilliant debut novel Saint X imagines a chorus of voices in the aftermath of the alleged murder of a privileged American girl vacationing in an exotic Caribbean country. Part ‘true-crime’ thriller and part coming-of-age novel narrated by the deceased girl’s younger sister, Saint X is irresistibly suspenseful and canny.” — Joyce Carol Oates