There Are No Saints by Stephen Kanicki is an engaging and subtly humorous tale set in the mid-1800s in Titusville, a tiny village in Pennsylvania. Like overgrown corn stalks, or macabre grand cathedrals, oil derricks sprouted from farmland. “oil… is the new religion of Titusville”.
She had rounded hips that swayed as she sauntered, and “her chest practically spilled from her dress like rising dough from a pan.” Long golden curls piled and bounced on top of her head. Dexter attached himself to Leslie Reed, a woman who was not as she seemed. A paradox. An enigma or Dexter’s demon?
Kanicki’s ability to involve the reader is evident in sensory imagery. Dexter’s lungs are caught by the muggy air, but a cooling breeze made the long journey bearable. He basked in the sight of the “flora and fauna” and the sounds of singing birds. The sun warmed his face as he drew in the smell of manure.
The story’s plot of exorcism and morals is enhanced by the skillful characterization of Boo, a young, uneducated but intelligent twelve-year-old, and Glad, a minor demon who was stubborn but short on brains. Then there is Becky, a young polio victim, and Anna and others who may or may not have benefitted from the rites of exorcism and conflicts with the local parish priests.
Told with humor, the novel is an entertaining peek into the climate of the past when sudden wealth and optimism created a materialistic mindset with declining morals and social problems. Alcoholism is on the rise as oil gushes into the sky. Gambling and prostitution cause alarm. Does Dexter make his fortune or find his calling?