Book of the Month Club: The Women of Saturn by Connie Guzzo-McParland

When we finally walked out into the street to wait for our ride, I watched car after car move smoothly and quietly with lights flashing in the sleek wet pavement. All the tiredness left my body as I raised by face to the night sky and closed my eyes to feel snowflakes falling lightly on my face.”

Catarina, or “Cathy”, is a woman living a seemingly normal, if not a bit hectic, life in 1980s Montreal when her life is turned over by the news of the situation of one of her friends, Lucia. What follows in the next four hundred pages is an interesting turn of events, culminating in a sudden and shocking conclusion involving characters past and present, and in a little more than a month, Catarina’s life is very different from what it was when the novel started.

The Women of Saturn is the sequel to The Girls of Piazza d’Amore, but I did not feel as if I needed to read the first book to understand this one. Catarina’s story is divided into two major segments: her story as she and her family and acquaintances immigrate to Canada and settle into Montreal in the 1950s and 1960s and her own story later as a teacher at Wilfrid Laurier High School in the 1980s. The actual women of Saturn—Catarina, her mother Teresa, and her friend (and bride-to-be) Lucia—came to Canada on the Saturnia, and once they land in Montreal, each of them attempts to adapt to a new land and a new culture.

Women has lively characters on either side of the story. Characters to watch for include the lively Lucia, who figures as an important person from Catarina’s early life as she immigrates with her to Montreal but who also looms over the novel’s present-day story. Antonio (“Antoine”), the snobby writer of La Presse and Catarina’s former mentor, is also one of the characters who is drawn well and figures importantly into one of the novel’s more important scenes. Catarina’s young students, who she teaches hairdressing to, pepper the novel with youthful attitude. Angie, Lucia’s daughter is of interest as she comes into Catarina’s care after Lucia’s tragic predicament.

Story-wise, both segments of the story are very interesting, though the story set in the late 1950s and 60s interested me more due to the theme of immigration and it functioned as a backstory to the characters. Portions of the story in the bulk of the novel set in the 1980s were also very interesting and I found Catarina’s interactions with Antoine to be some of the highlights of the novel. Early on, the prose suffers from too much of an historical litany to tell the reader that the story is set in 1980s Montreal, with one too many references to current events to set the scene for the story. Strangely enough, even though it may seem that the story about Catarina’s family’s immigration might need even more of a set up than 1980s Montreal, the overload of information is not as apparent in that segment of the story. As the story moves on, however, the prose flows more naturally. The story seems to flow a bit more easily in the immigration segment than it does in the “present-day” segment, and some of the novel’s memorable passages (as quoted here) come from the immigration part.

The novel, however, suffers from some structural issues. During the first few switches from the present-day story to the immigration story, I did not feel as if I had enough time in each “world” to gain an attachment to the characters involved in each segment. The middle half of the story lags slightly, filled in with domestic drama between Catarina and her live-in boyfriend, Sean, and his run for politics in the provincial Liberal Party, ending abruptly at around the two-thirds mark and did not feel like it had enough of a conclusion. It is the ending, however, is marred by a very hasty conclusion to the story. The climax of the novel, which felt sudden but explainable, was resolved a bit too quickly and a confrontation between Catarina and another important character of the novel was almost pure dialogue without any description. One of the scenes trying to resolve one of the character’s motivations and journey during the climax was written in the third person even though the rest of the novel was written in Catarina’s perspective; this switching of perspective was jarring and her explanations were not as satisfying as I would have hoped.

An engaging novel, The Women of Saturn is an almost-epic that could have used further development to end the story. It is worth checking out for some very well-written passages.