4 out of 5 Stars
When Markie’s marriage falls apart after her husband has an affair that goes public (if he had just kept it quiet, they could have worked it out!) Markie packs up her things and her son Jesse and moves to a small bungalow that is complete with no room, and a very nosy neighbour to make that cramped space seem even more cramped!
“Markie’s property was tiny—there were only a few feet of lawn space between the house and the property line. This meant that neither Markie nor Mrs. Saint could have a conversation in their yards, or even inside their houses if the windows were open, without the other hearing. Markie had taken to whispering to Jesse when they spoke on the patio and to making sure her kitchen window was closed before she called down the basement stairs to let him know the pizza was ready, or that she was going up to her bedroom to watch TV, or any other announcement that might elicit a disapproving finger wag from her neighbor. She made work-related phone calls from the patio from time to time but never personal ones—those she took inside, from the corner of her bedroom farthest away from her neighbor’s house.”
Mrs. Saint Denis (or just Mrs. Saint to those who will just butcher the pronunciation of her name), complete with her Defectives (what she calls those who work for her) are on a mission to take charge of Markie’s life. From trying to hang her artwork, to giving her advice about how to raise and feed her Son, Markie can’t seem to get what she thinks she wants in life… which is just some peace and quiet. She doesn’t need these strangers pushing their way into her life… or does she? And why is Mrs. Saint so secretive? She wants to pry into all aspects of Markie and Jesse’s life, but she will not give anything in return. Is she really who she says she is?
From the closer vantage point, Markie could see she had been generous in her estimate of seventy-five years and one hundred pounds—she should have added ten years and subtracted as many pounds. The woman wore an expensive-looking linen suit, and diamonds flashed from her ears, collarbone, and a few fingers, making Markie wonder if part of the reason she seemed so cross was that she and her equally well-dressed husband were being kept from some important event. Before Markie could tell the woman they needn’t have disrupted their plans, a jeweled finger wagged in her face. But only barely—the tiny woman had to stretch her arm high to get it close to Markie’s chin.
“The small boxes, I was prepared to let you take,” she said in a thick French accent. “Even avec la pluie—with the rain. And then les autres petites choses—the other small things. Those lamps, the pillows, your suitcases, and the such.”
Markie and Jesse exchanged glances. It was clear their new neighbor had been watching as they unloaded the truck.
“Mais, une table?” she continued. “Et . . .” She leaned around them, peering into the truck at the couches and bed frames waiting to be carried inside. “Non. Ce n’est pas raisonnable!” She put one blue-veined hand on Markie’s arm, the other on Jesse’s, and steered them to the giant oak tree on the lawn beside the driveway. They could hear the rain pelting the canopy of leaves above, but not a drop made it through. “We will wait here,” she said, “in the underneath, and let them finish.”
Jesse seemed thrilled for the break, but Markie checked her watch and said, “I appreciate the help. I really do. But I have to get the truck back in less than an hour. So we need all hands on deck here, including the four of ours.” She indicated her hands and her son’s, and motioned for the boy to go with her to the truck. He widened his eyes in protest, and she was about to snap, “Jesse—now!” when the hand on her arm clamped more tightly.
“Non,” the woman said, with a single hard shake of her head. “This will not help. You will be getting in their way only.”
She pointed to the walkway leading to the bungalow, where the older man was practically running with Jesse’s futon mattress on his head while the younger one trotted along behind with an ottoman balanced on a TV stand. The elder worked his way into the house and was outside again, holding the screen door wide, by the time his partner reached him.
“Thanks,” the younger man said.
The other responded, “De rien,” before jogging back to the truck.
As much as Markie resented being held hostage under her own (for the length of her lease term) tree, she realized the woman was right—she and Jesse would only interrupt the men’s choreography. She could see inside the truck, and she was amazed at the progress they had made already. Thanks to them, she was certain to make it back to the rental place in time. Plus, her son was enjoying the rest, and the truth was, she and her aching muscles were, too. So she stood under the oak tree with Jesse and their petite captor and allowed her weary body to enjoy the break.
From time to time, she saw the older man look over at the woman, who lowered her chin or turned her head or raised a shoulder, each gesture garnering an understanding nod from him, after which he issued a soft-voiced command to the younger one. She’s an ancient infield coach in jewels and pumps, Markie thought. Even better: she’s Yoda in a St. John suit.
Smiling to herself, she tried to catch Jesse’s eye to let him know she had something funny to tell him. She could picture his slow, tilted nod and half grin as he said, “Nice one, Mom.” But he was staring down the street, and when he turned back to her, his lips were twisted, his way of cutting off a frown before it could take hold.
Markie realized, too late, that he must have been on watch again for Kyle, and that the self-congratulatory grin on her face was not the right response for a boy whose father was now more than two hours late. He untwisted his lips, allowing his frown to fully form before it morphed into a scowl, and Markie could hear the words he wasn’t saying: We wouldn’t have needed his help moving in the first place if you hadn’t divorced him and then sold my childhood home!
Before she could readjust her mouth into a more sympathetic shape, he let out a huff and turned, and she could tell he was about to walk away. Distance and silence: Jesse’s two answers to any conflict lately. He took a step, but before he could take a second, the old woman reached out her other hand and caught him by the back of his shirt, and to Markie’s surprise, Jesse took a step backward, returning to his original position.
“Oui,” the woman said, patting his arm. “You will stay.” He nodded obediently, but he didn’t look at her, and he would not meet his mother’s gaze.
To break the tension, Markie tried to introduce herself and her son to her new neighbor, but she could only get out “By the way, my name is—” before the other woman gave a quick, emphatic shake of her head and raised an index finger to her lips.
“See-lonce,” she whispered, gesturing with her chin to the men on the ramp as though they were competitors at a golf tournament and any noise might cause them to miss the championship shot.
My God, she’s bossy, Markie thought, more amused than irritated. It was one thing for the woman to assume Jesse would obey; he was a child. But for her to expect another adult to accede, particularly an adult who (unbeknownst to the older woman) had spent decades perfecting the art of ignoring her own parents’ commands, was so unreasonable it was funny. Markie flashed the woman a magnanimous smile. She has no idea who she’s dealing with.
“I really must get back to it,” she said, taking a step toward the house. She wasn’t eager to resume carrying things, but she could hold the door open for the men, at least, direct them where to set things down, clear a path for them among the boxes and other items she and Jesse had tossed haphazardly inside the door earlier.
The grip on Markie’s arm tightened. “Attendez. Wait.”
Had it sounded like another command, Markie might have laughed and walked off, but the woman’s words were quiet this time, with no hard edge of instruction. Her mouth was softer, too, no longer set in a ferocious line, and as she tracked the men’s movements, Markie could see a certain brightness in her eyes, the kind Markie’s own took on when she watched Jesse do something clever.
“Attendez,” she said again, even more quietly, the word more a declaration of wonder than a command, and because Markie knew how lovely it was to feel what the other woman seemed to be feeling, she stopped trying to talk or move. Instead, she looked down at the gray-white curls, immaculately set, of the person forcing her and Jesse to stand there together, and she smiled.
The “common” in “common enemy” was a start. It would give Jesse and her something to talk about later, at least. Something to shake their heads at and laugh about: the crazy old neighbor lady who spied on them for who knew how long before bolting out of her house to bark orders at them in French. How she held them captive for so long despite being half Markie’s weight and a quarter Jesse’s height. The way she managed, with nothing more than a series of well-timed nods, one or two words, and the grip of a hand, to choreograph both the rapid unloading of a moving truck and a brief détente between a reticent teen and his mother.”
What a beautiful, funny book!! I love Mrs. Saint and all of her “Defectives” Even though, as Markie points out, that may not be the nicest thing to call them! Ronda, the cook who can’t cook, Bruce, the gardener who takes more time re-planting things than doing anything else, Patty, the maid who spend more time sitting outside smoking than actually cleaning ANYTHING and Frederick…. no one really knows what he does! They are characters who just get more and more lovable as the story delves deeper and deeper into their lives and how they came to work for the mysterious Mrs. Saint. Even characters who hold little importance were AMAZINGLY written! One of my favourite characters was Markie’s boss, Gregory. He’s not in it a lot, but everything involving him had me laughing out loud!!
““So . . . ,” he said, and when no other words came to him, he rocked on his heels and balled up his fists, holding them a foot or so apart. Stepping forward, he took what she believed was meant to be a golf swing. “I’ve been looking at your numbers from the past two weeks,” he said. He looked past her, pretending to watch his invisible ball land, then flattened a palm and used it as a visor to shield his eyes from the imaginary sun. “Ah, there it is,” he said. “Right near the, uh, cup . . . thing. With the, um, flag.””
“Gregory clasped his hands over his head and attempted a side bend, but the weight shift put him off balance, and he had to thrust an arm out against the wall of a nearby cube to catch himself. Recovering, he patted the cube wall as though he had been making a planned inspection of it all along, and then he shuffled back into the center of the hallway. He wiped a great deal of sweat from his forehead, checked his step-counter again, and smiled.”
This book made me laugh, and it made me cry. It was an amazing story with even better characters! There is so much to reveal and so much growth within it that you never want it to end!
Mrs. Saint and the Defectives is Best Served with
A French 75 Cocktail
This was the PERFECT COCKTAIL for this book! Not only is it classic and refined like Mrs Saint, it’s also French and 75 is Mrs. Saint’s EXACT AGE!! ….or IS IT?? Lol! You’ll have to read it to find out!!
- 1 or 2 ounces gin (depending on your taste)
- 1 teaspoon simple syrup
- 1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
- 4 ounces Champagne
- Pour the liquor, juice, and syrup into a cocktail shaker with ice cubes.
- Shake well.
- Strain into a chilled Champagne flute that is at least half full of ice.
- Carefully fill with Champagne