Around the Press in 80 Books: Lives of the Saints

In celebration of LSUP’s 80th anniversary the staff selected 80 of our most memorable titles. Adding to our “Around the Press in 80 Books” blog series, Acquisitions Editor Margaret Lovecraft writes about Lives of the Saints.

Lives of the SaintsWalker Percy called Lives of the Saints “a lovely nutty book about a lovely nutty girl. . . . Hilarious, haunting, poignant.” Susan Larson describes Nancy Lemann’s writing as “almost incantatory” in The Booklover’s Guide to New Orleans.

When LSU Press published Lives of the Saints in the Voices of the South paperback series in 1997, it was my job as senior publicist at the time to write the cover copy and to suggest illustration possibilities for the front cover. Artist Dave Ross took the supplied verbal cues and produced what to me is a perfect visual summary of this slim, intoxicating novel. It may be my favorite cover of Dave’s.

Shown floating in random proximity and relation to each other, are

The green foliage:

“Everything was green and sumptuous and still. . . The garden was an overgrowth, a profusion of green. . . . It was balmy old New Orleans weather in the tropic spring, and everything was green and overgrown. . . The lush green of the banana trees and the elephant ear.”

The shattered heart:

“He was saying something about not being able to love just one person, but only being able to love about a hundred, because his heart was constantly breaking into a million pieces on the floor.”

“He had the sweetness of the town itself. . . . I had to steel myself, or my heart would break, like his, into a million pieces on the floor.”

“Things fade away from most people’s hearts. . . But Claude, whose heart was constantly breaking into a million pieces, was different.”

The stars:

“It was a night in the spring, though in New Orleans you can hardly tell the season. . . . In the garden in the glittering night, under the monumental palms and oaks.”

The matchbook:

“He had a little habit of calmly and obliviously shredding napkins, matchbooks, and cigarette packages, and he had filled about three ashtrays with shreddings. You could always tell a room in which Claude had recently visited.”

The magnolia:

“He went off to stand on the front lawn of his mansion, where he called to passersby—‘My daughter is a delicate magnolia blossom’ . . . She was finally resolving her troubles, and the havoc she had wrought, by matrimony.”

“In the evening, the blasts of the tropic spring swept through gardens and windows. . . . We socialized in the garden, by the magnolia trees.”

The novel is a gem of a New Orleans story:

“It is true, New Orleans was never normal. Being normal was one quality New Orleans just never had.”

“Everyone had breakdowns at this wedding. . . . Especially the bride and groom. . . . ‘That’s what we’re all about down here,’ he said. ‘Breakdowns.’ “

Lives of the Saints turns thirty this year, and though it evokes New Orleans of an earlier generation,  distilled characteristics of the Crescent City that tincture the decades, even centuries, are present. “In this atmosphere you may understandably complain of a lack of plot or design, but that is the plot, that is the crisis—the crisis of youth and aimlessness.”

See if you agree about the cover illustration!

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