Privilege and Secrets in "Saint X"

The Fiction Addiction
Saint X(cover art from the publisher)

Saint X, by Alexis Schaitkin, is the story of a disappearance and unexplained death. It feels like a familiar headline: the teen daughter of a family vacationing on a beautiful (fictional) Caribbean island goes out on the last night of vacation, is seen drinking and dancing with two men who work at the resort, and then is never seen again. At first, it feels like a fairly familiar headline, about a pretty girl who goes out partying and is then found dead. I was actually a bit nervous about starting Saint X after reading a book review that mentioned a true crime element. I'm not a fan of the amateur-investigation murder podcasts. But that turned out to be ok, because feeling kind of squicked at tragedy-entertainment is part of this novel.

The mystery is front and center, I was always reading to discover what else characters could reveal about the mystery of Allison's last night. But there is a constant awareness of race and racial privilege in this novel. Saint X begins on a beautiful tropical resort, where some characters are enjoying sun and sand on their vacation, and others are carrying beach chairs and drinks to resort visitors. As the story moves on (and moves back, in a series of complex flashbacks), this gap remains and is constantly part of the mystery.

There's a lot of tragedy entertainment about beautiful girls meeting horrible ends, and Allison is just one part of it. There's almost a gleeful moralizing about whether Allison should have known better, whether she was complicit in her death, whether she deserved it. In the novel, there are signs that Allison's highly sexual, which either means she's the wild and slutty girl who dies first in a slasher movie (and deserves what she gets, of course) or she's a teenager experimenting in teenage ways.

This novel quietly questions who gets to have teen experimentation. While Allison imagines a wild night that will become a fun memory years later, a different night of sexual exploration on Saint X leads to a child and a lifetime of providing for that child. Later, although Clive and Edwin, the two resort workers last seen with Allison, were released from prosecution in Alison's death, the cloud of suspicion over Clive, plus a minor pot charge, cost him his job and most of his Saint X life. It's clear that a pot charge wouldn't have harmed Allison, Claire, the Connecticut boy, or any of their friends the same way.After Allison's death, the novel focuses on Claire, who was only 7 when her sister slipped out of their room and was never seen again. Claire switches to her middle name, Emily, as the family physically moves away and tries to move on.

In New York, Claire/Emily is working the kind of entry-level publishing job where the pay comes in lifestyle and connection, because she doesn't have to worry about her income. Her apartments are intentionally dive-y, and Claire/Emily is sooooo proud of living in a non-white neighborhood, in rich white kind of way, that's both cringy and realistic. I absolutely knew people in New York who were exactly that kind of proud of living in undiscovered (by wealthy white people, that is) neighborhoods and eating in authentic ethnic restaurants.

Clive is exiled in New York, after his connections to Allison's death make it hard for him to stay in Saint X, but his New York involves renting half a room and leasing a night taxi share. When Claire/Emily randomly gets in Clive's taxi, her curiosity and suspicion sends her on almost an obsessive mission to find out more.

Saint X is a compelling mystery about how Allison spent her last hours, and then a compelling mystery about how Allison, Clive and Edwin ended up on that night. But it's also an engaging, realistic look at class, race, and privilege.

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