Valerie Sayers—the middle child of seven siblings, five sisters and a brother—had ample opportunity in her native town of Beaufort, South Carolina, to grow up learning about the complexities of navigating human relationships, choices, triumphs, and compromises. Influenced powerfully as a Southern Catholic woman writer by the inexorable vision and style of Flannery O’Connor—who once quipped that “the truth shall make you odd”—Sayers figured out quickly while learning her art that the challenge of Southern fiction is in rendering the grotesque, that startling convergence of willful, radical character; dark comedic drama; and the burden of history and religious tradition in the “Christ-haunted” landscape of the South, as O’Connor puts it. Predictably, then, Sayers has declared that she is “interested in pursuing people in trouble; I’m not just interested in looking at perky, well-adjusted people” (Farrell, p. 24).
Born on August 8, 1952, and raised a feisty Irish Catholic girl in the fundamentalist, Protestant South, Sayers also acquired an acute sense of what it means to be a stranger because of her anomalous religion and because of her rebellious proclivity to question the prescribed roles for women in Southern culture. As one critic notes, “[Sayers] is a Catholic, which is to say an outsider in the overwhelmingly Protestant rural South, and the characters who most clearly interest her are those whose relationship to the majority is uneasy and ambiguous” (Yardley, p. 3). In Who Do You Love (1991), for example, Dolores Rooney—a transplanted Catholic New Yorker in Due East, South Carolina, Sayers’s fictional setting modeled after the author’s low-country home-town—feels as if visitors from up north could identify her “as surely as if they wore radar and she beamed signals that said: ‘Outsider. Stranger Just Like You’” (p. 6). In both published and unpublished essays, interviews, and letters, Sayers has made much of her Catholicism and regional stakes; for in-