Set against the lush backdrop of the fictional Caribbean island of Saint X, the narrative unfolds a gripping tale of mystery, class, and privilege, subverting traditional thriller tropes through its deep dive into complex social themes.
The affluent Thomas family’s vacation turns tragic when 18-year-old Alison Thomas is found dead. The night before her death, locals Edwin and Clive, both Black men, were seen with her.
Despite suspicions, the authorities do not charge them, leaving the possibility of Alison’s death being an accident open.
Years later, the novel explores the lives of Alison’s younger sister, Claire, now going by Emily, and Clive through their alternating perspectives.
Clive battles with his past on Saint X and his disrupted dreams due to the suspicion surrounding Alison’s death, which forces him to New York City to work as a cab driver.
Meanwhile, Claire, having moved with her family to Pasadena for a fresh start, evolves from a reclusive, anxious child into a sociable individual.
After college, she lands a job in New York City and coincidentally moves into Clive’s neighborhood in Flatbush.
Their paths cross when Claire rides in Clive’s cab and deliberately leaves her phone behind.
They meet again at the Little Sweet restaurant, sparking Claire’s obsessive quest for the truth about her sister’s death. She befriends Clive under a false identity, diving deep into the past to unravel the mystery, all while her compulsive childhood behaviors resurface.
Clive shares his struggles of making a living in New York and his failed attempts to reconnect with Edwin, who marries the mother of Clive’s child and later dies of AIDS.
Despite their complex backgrounds, Claire and Clive form a unique bond, dining together at the Little Sweet, where they share their isolated lives.
The turning point arrives when Clive, recognizing Claire’s compulsive behavior, reveals the truth about the night Alison died.
He recounts a night of intoxication with Edwin and Alison, leading to a sexual encounter between the men and Alison witnessing it before running off. Claire pieces together that Alison must have tried to reach Faraway Cay, slipped, and fell.
Claire’s journey for truth ends with her relocating to Charlotte, North Carolina, embracing a stable life and accepting the past.
Interspersed throughout the novel are first-person passages from individuals indirectly connected to Alison’s death, culminating in a confession from the blond boy Alison flirted with.
He admits to lying to the police, redirecting suspicion towards Clive and Edwin, and confirms Claire’s theory about Alison’s final moments.
Alison is an enigmatic figure whose death is the catalyst for the novel’s events.
Though her presence is largely through the memories of other characters, she represents the complexities of youth, privilege, and the desire to escape societal expectations. Her death exposes the fragile intersections of race, class, and justice on Saint X and within her own family.
Claire (Emily) Thomas
Claire, Alison’s younger sister, undergoes significant transformation throughout the novel. Initially depicted as an anxious and introverted child, she evolves into a determined woman obsessed with uncovering the truth about her sister’s death.
Her journey reflects a deep struggle with identity, grief, and the quest for closure, highlighting the impact of trauma on personal growth and the search for self.
Clive is a character marked by his circumstances and the suspicion cast upon him following Alison’s death. His life story, from a hopeful young man on Saint X to a struggling cab driver in New York, illustrates themes of racial and social injustice. Clive’s experiences reveal the lasting consequences of being wrongfully implicated in a crime and his complex relationship with the concept of home and belonging.
Edwin, Clive’s friend and a pivotal character in the story, acts as a bridge between the island’s local community and the tourist facade. His ambitions and actions significantly influence Clive’s life and decisions. Edwin’s character explores themes of ambition, friendship, and the harsh realities of socioeconomic disparities.
Sara, the mother of Clive’s child, plays a smaller yet significant role. Her life choices and relationships with Clive and Edwin provide insight into the personal ramifications of the novel’s central tragedy and the interconnected lives on Saint X.
1. The Complexity of Identity and Transformation
“Saint X” intricately explores the theme of identity and the transformative journey individuals undergo in the aftermath of tragedy.
Through the character of Claire, who rebrands herself as Emily, the novel delves into the concept of identity as both a refuge and a prison. Her transformation from an antisocial, anxious child into a confident adult in a new city highlights the fluidity of identity and the lengths to which people will go to escape the shadows of their past.
Similarly, Clive’s life story showcases the impact of societal judgment and suspicion on one’s sense of self, driving him from his home and into a life of anonymity in New York.
The novel suggests that identity is not fixed but is continually reshaped by our experiences, memories, and the narratives we construct about ourselves.
2. The Pursuit of Truth and Its Consequences
The relentless pursuit of truth serves as a pivotal theme in the narrative, propelling the characters into a complex web of obsession, discovery, and introspection.
Claire’s obsessive quest to uncover the details of her sister’s death illustrates how the pursuit of truth can consume one’s life, leading to isolation and the revival of compulsive behaviors. This theme is mirrored in the investigative narrative style of the novel, where the truth about Alison’s death is pursued not only through the protagonists’ eyes but also through the confessions of tangential characters.
The novel posits that the pursuit of truth is a double-edged sword, offering closure and understanding at the cost of personal peace and relationships, questioning whether some truths are better left undiscovered.
3. Class, Privilege, and Their Social Implications
Schaitkin’s novel critically examines the dynamics of class and privilege, particularly how they intersect with race and justice within the setting of a Caribbean island and the cosmopolitan streets of New York.
Alison’s death and the subsequent suspicion cast upon Edwin and Clive highlight the stark contrast between the privileged tourists and the local inhabitants, whose lives are deeply affected by the tourists’ actions and the inequities of the justice system.
The novel scrutinizes the superficiality of privileged lives, juxtaposed against the harsh realities faced by those living on the margins of society.
Through its depiction of Clive’s struggles and Claire’s unearned ease in transitioning identities and locales, “Saint X” underscores the profound impact of socioeconomic status on individuals’ paths and the systemic injustices that perpetuate these disparities.
“Saint X” is a compelling narrative that goes beyond the traditional confines of a thriller or suspense novel by bringing in themes of class, privilege, and the impact of tragedy on human lives.
Alexis Schaitkin skillfully subverts genre tropes, focusing instead on the nuanced and often painful ways individuals cope with loss and the elusive nature of truth. Through the intersecting lives of its characters, the novel explores the complexity of human relationships and the lengths to which people will go to find closure.