Ten Thousand Saints is a whirling dervish of a first novel — a planet, a universe, a trip. As wild as that may sound, wonder of wonders, the book is also carefully and lovingly created, taking the reader far into the lives and souls of its characters and bringing them back out again, blinking in the bright light ... [Henderson's] little band of four wounded kids forms the heart of the novel and Henderson bonds her readers to her characters by exposing their vulnerabilities right up front ... Henderson knows a lot about various music scenes in the late 1980s and the 1990s. She knows a lot about rural poverty, about the need to escape. She writes with great compassion but does not flinch — some scenes are amped up so loud a reader looks away. Sometimes the aimless frenzy of these kids’ lives is hard to bear ... It’s a natural law: The better you know a character, the more deeply you see their vulnerability and the odds stacked against them, the more you want them to succeed. What makes Ten Thousand Saints so deeply satisfying is that possibility and the slow, painful steps to get there.
Full-throttle and hell-bent, Henderson captures the dark, gritty milieu of 1980s New York – in the throes of the Aids epidemic – while exploring the relationships between friends, lovers, parents and children, and how these connections are made, broken, strengthened and twisted by circumstance. Ten Thousand Saints is a beautiful, elegiac, relentless novel that knocks the wind out of you. Take a deep breath before you dive in.
The ambition of Ten Thousand Saints, Eleanor Henderson’s debut novel about a group of unambitious lost souls, is beautiful. In nearly 400 pages, Henderson does not hold back once: she writes the hell out of every moment, every scene, every perspective, every fleeting impression, every impulse and desire and bit of emotional detritus. She is never ironic or underwhelmed; her preferred mode is fierce, devoted and elegiac ... By delving as deeply into the lives of her characters as she does, tracing their long relationships not only to one another but also to various substances, Henderson manages to catch something of the bloody, felt intersection of lives and cult bands, of overindulgence and monastic refusal, of the dark, apocalyptic quality of the ’80s. She gets extremes, and people who gravitate toward them. If there is sometimes, perhaps, a little too much here, if the volume gets a little high, it’s understandable: the writer seems to want to make sure that we can hear the sound she presumably hears so clearly herself ... The dial might go to 11, but keeping it there for 400 pages can be tough on even the most sympathetic reader. But if these are flaws, they are the flaws of not knowing quite when to stop, of never wanting to stop, of being able to play all night, of, no, wait, you just have to hear this one. As flaws go, I’ll take them.
The book's territory – the mid-80s hardcore and straight-edge scene in which scores of punk-rock loving kids renounced drugs, drink, eating animals, and promiscuous sex, in reaction to the perceived excesses of the time, is as central as any character ... Ten Thousand Saints portrays the chaos of the post-nuclear family in the hands of former hippies, but Henderson never judges her characters, and rarely sentimentalises them. At its best, this high-octane ensemble novel evocatively charts the way teenagers' lives interconnect ... At the same time, the novel's events feel as though they take place at the far end of a telescope, rather than right outside our window. Too much of the writing feels studied, and the result is more like a bus tour through the East Village than a dispatch from the streets. After its powerful opening section, the book becomes choppy and overly plotted, and there's curiously little writing about punk rock itself. Still, Ten Thousand Saints has an intuitive grasp of the hungering souls of adolescents, and Henderson cannily illuminates the contradictions at the core of straight edge ... This isn't, finally, so much a book about music or New York as about the possibilities that are passed by, both as a culture and as individuals. It's too bad, then, that Henderson gets tangled up in her plot and loses sight of her best qualities.
...[a] sad, funny debut novel ... Henderson...captures the fraught, incomplete stories that teenagers manufacture about their lives ... Henderson's novel reminds us of how blunt teenagers are, and, by extension, how honest. She has a perfect ear for conversation between siblings — the way a lazy spat can turn into a grudging moment of closeness. And the euphoria of the straight-edge movement that Jude and Johnny embrace suffuses the novel with a reckless, glib joy ... At times, Ten Thousand Saints feels overplotted, as if the author had let her cast of love-and-drug-besotted misfits take the reins. But that haphazardness paired with the sometime painful teenage rites of passage, adds up to a bittersweet, lovely book.
... empathetic ... romances and battles play out during the twilight of the Reagan 1980s, near the end of the sketchy New York of Ed Koch’s reign, but not quite in the gentrified Manhattan that became the hallmark of Giuliani Time. Henderson’s novel pays tribute to this transitional period and the seemingly marginal people who inhabited it. Hers is a book where minor characters play the major roles ... Henderson proves herself to be an expert ethnographer; her detail work is phenomenal...Henderson’s witty, offhand observations and throwaway lines are worthy of Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers ... But her characterizations demonstrate Henderson’s greatest skill. Even the ones who receive comparatively little stage time are always precisely defined ... Not all of these characters are particularly appealing, but they’re memorable, and Henderson’s affection for them is palpable ... Whether readers will share the author’s sympathies for her vividly realized characters, however, is debatable. Their interactions could have benefited from a bit more of the historical and political context ... at times, the experience of reading about Jude and Henderson’s other 'saints' recalls that of meeting a close friend’s significant other who doesn’t quite live up to the billing ... may provoke more ambivalence than nostalgia. Nice place to visit, this Manhattan, but you might feel glad you don’t live there.
Given the title of Ten Thousand Saints, Eleanor Henderson’s entertaining and readable debut novel, and the fact that its protagonist is named for Saint Jude, you might reasonably conclude that the book is about goodness, sainthood, moral transformation. And in some ways it is ... the book is less hagiography than Peter Pan, a band of orphans fighting their own way through a land of make-believe ... Because [Henderson's] writing never approaches surrealism or fable, the unrealistic elements of the story tend to feel instead like young adult fiction ... Henderson’s skillful and occasionally beautiful writing...goes a ways in mitigating the gimmicks, but good prose can’t wrap up a story. Happily, the end did redeem them in some measure ... When the dream ended and morning came, Ten Thousand Saints finally earned my trust. But isn’t that a little late?
In Eleanor Henderson’s proudly unsentimental debut novel, a teenager who ODs on New Year’s Eve unknowingly pulls together the friends and family he left behind. Ten Thousand Saints threatens to get cluttered at times, but Henderson reins in her sprawling cast with a series of contrasts and a neighborhood as a supporting player ... Rather than letting the time hang the plot, Henderson parcels out its history in tantalizing images and snatches of conversations, holding back where her protagonists might themselves miss the significance of their surroundings. Eventually, Ten Thousand Saints lifts Jude and his friends from myopia to compassion, but so subtly, it’s hard to notice a difference.
It's been difficult to ignore the lavish praise doled out to Ten Thousand Saints, the debut novel by Eleanor Henderson ... As best I could, I entered with an open heart ... I experienced a sprawling, noisy, sweaty, multilayered, ambitious, occasionally belabored work. It's overlong, dense and bighearted. Read on ... Pay attention to [the] music: It will serve as the book's blood supply, relentlessly carrying characters and events, coloring in any unclaimed spaces. In fact, the novel may be read as a documentary and testament - to a way of life, and an all-consuming raison d'etre ... Against the scorching backdrops of these cultures - a reader smells the sweat, blood, urine, beer; hears the crowds screaming; feels herself at times flung into the mosh pit - Henderson shepherds her characters with blatant affection. All are blinkered: touchingly, maddeningly ... All finally possess a good heart - or at least a well-intentioned one. In result, so does this story: raucous, wounded, sweet, spasmodically desperate, it comes to feel like a modern, drug-and-rock-riddled version of Peter Pan, ... Not exactly a bad thing - but a tiny part of this reader's brain wonders how likely such a depiction may be. Would all these characters actually be this endearing, this just-by-a-squeak redeemable, in the context of the worlds we've been shown? Whatever the answer, I'll prefer Henderson's spin to a grimmer alternative.
...an odyssey encompassing the age of CBGB, Hare Krishnas, zines, and the emergence of AIDS. Henderson is careful, amid all this youthy nostalgia, not to sideline the adults, who look upon the changing fashions with varying levels of engagement. Still, the narrative occasionally teeters into a didactic, researched tone that may put off readers to whom the milieu isn't new—but the commitment to its characters and jettisoning of hayseed-in-the-city cliché distinguish a nervy voice adept at etching the outlines of a generation, its prejudices and pandemics, and the idols killed along the way.
Screwed-up parents beget screwed-up kids. So it’s no surprise that an ill-omened teen pregnancy is the centerpiece of this bold debut, a heady witches’ brew ... All this could be depressing, but it’s not, thanks to the barbed language and fast pacing. And Henderson’s just getting started ... Henderson loses the thread, wobbling uncertainly between Jude, Johnny and Eliza while doing double duty as a counterculture guide to the straight-edge scene. Context overwhelms characters, the unwieldy cast now including Johnny’s AIDS-stricken lover and Teddy’s Indian father. Henderson displays a powerful moral imagination; all that’s missing is discipline.