Book Review: Mrs Saint and the Defectives by Julie Lawson Timmer

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A DISGRACED socialite unwittingly joins a community of “defectives” when she rents a bungalow next to a meddling woman with a French accent and a secret past.

Ashamed of her ex-husband’ s affair and financial failure, Markie tries to start a quiet life reviewing insurance claims from her home office to escape the scrutiny of her former friends and neighbours.

But her new home, in addition to being less glamorous than the one she left, is not the sanctuary she was hoping for.

Her new neighbour Angeline St. Denis — “But you will call me ‘Mrs. Saint’ if you are not prepared to pronounce ‘Denis’ correctly” — has other plans for her time.

Before long, Markie and her teenage son, Jesse, are roped into helping Mrs. Saint’ s many domestic employees, whom she refers to as “defectives,” with everything from babysitting to yardwork, and it’s unclear whether they are really defective or if Mrs. Saint’s meaning is lost in translation — all Markie knows is that Mrs. Saint is infuriatingly intrusive.

She’s constantly turning up uninvited to offer a home-cooked meal, good advice, and help with home repairs just when Markie needs them most. The nerve!

But Timmer (Untethered, 2016, etc.) inserts a sly dose of reality into this adult fantasy.

Markie’s fractured relationship with her controlling and disapproving parents has left her wary of people who meddle, and she knows she’s partly to blame for allowing her irresponsible, cheating husband to ruin both their lives while she looked the other way.

So every time Mrs. Saint dodges a personal question or refuses to explain why she wants Markie to help a neighbour with a particular task, Markie feels justified in keeping her distance. But is she really?

Together, the so-called defectives, who include a little girl, her troubled mother and grandmother, an elderly handyman, and an absent-minded cook, seem to form a functioning community of helpful neighbors who look out for Mrs. Saint as well as she looks out for them.

Where Markie fits into the neighbourhood is the question of the story, and its answer is thoughtful and bittersweet.

Ultimately, Mrs. Saint turns her neighbour’s guilt trip into an uplifting journey to interdependence — one that will leave readers ready to move next door.

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