Picks and Pans Review: Liars and Saints

updated 07/14/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/14/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

By Maile Meloy

The Santerres, a family of Catholic Californians, rack up enough misdeeds over half a century to go straight to hell without passing purgatory. But in her first novel Meloy redeems the brood with her deft touch and elegant portrayal of a family's spiritual and emotional crises. The lapses snowball over generations, from a wife's extramarital kiss during the Korean War to kinky underage sex in the 1970s and worse. It's dysfunction verging on soap opera, but Meloy reins it in with astutely drawn characters who pool their faith in love and family. (Scribner, $24)

BOTTOM LINE: Colorful family saga

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