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The title characters of folksinger-songwriter Suzzy Roche’s appealing first novel, Wayward Saints, are a mother and a daughter who haven’t seen each other in years.

Mary Saint left small-town Swallow as a teenager, escaping from her abusive father and gaining fame and fortune as the lead singer of the alt-rock band Sliced Ham. But that was 20 years ago, and in the last decade, Mary’s life has dwindled. Following the accidental death of her lover and bass player, a a stint in rehab, and the break-up of the band, Mary retreated to San Francisco, where she’s working in a coffee bar thanks to her roommate, a self-professed “chocolate tranny” named Thaddeus.

Mary’s mother, Jean Saint, lives quietly in Swallow, dutifully visiting her stroke-disabled husband in a nearby nusing home. She tends to think of her daughter in the abstract, although she cherishes the letters Mary has written to her over the years, the exception being the strange missive sent from rehab. Now, however, she has to confront the reality of her 36-year-old daughter, who is unexpectedly coming back to Swallow to give a concert at the high school she hated.

Roche reveals all this in a series of scenes that move between past and present and among the perspectives of Mary, Jean and a handful of other quirky characters. Despite Roche’s nice way with words, the narrative feels ragged and moves unevenly. I wanted more of Mary, Thaddeus and her music, less of Jean and her frenemies, and could have totally done without the immature high-school teacher who arranges the concert and his Nashville buddy. The book is underwritten in parts, overwritten in others, but it still kept me reading.

It also sent me to iTunes to enjoy once again the music of the Roches, and where I also discovered Suzzy Roche’s song “Wayward Saints.”  She sings compassionately of “fallen angels,” and the lyrics nicely complement her novel of life-bruised characters seeking to connect with one another.

Natalie Wexler’s  diverting The Mother Daughter Show is another backstage story, with the spotlight on three mothers — Amanda, Susan and Barb — whose daughters are classmates at an elite D.C. prep school. Tradition demands that the moms put on a musical revue for and about the graduating seniors, and thus the stage is set for all sorts of complications as the women juggle personal and professional problems.

Wexler obviously knows what she’s writing about, and the relationships — between the women as friends, the mothers-and-daughters, the teenagers seeking independence — ring true, although events are predictable. I kept thinking the book would make a good Lifetime TV movie, but I also wondered if I hadn’t already seen it.

Open Book: I read an ARC of Wayward Saints by Suzzy Roche (Hyperion Voice) that I received as part of a web promotion. A publicist sent me a review copy of Natalie Wexler’s The Mother Daughter Show (FUZE).

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