Saint X, the debut novel by Alexis Schaitkin (Grad ’13), begins like most Caribbean vacations do—with an aerial view of the beauty below. An azure sea. Emerald islands. Snow-white sand.

Cover of Saint X

But the fade-in to a tropical paradise and the family of four spending a week at a posh resort along the coast of fictional Saint X belies the storyline to come. Those lazy beach days turn to terror when Alison, the family’s college-age daughter, is found dead.

What follows is an impossible-to-put-down story that tracks Claire, Alison’s younger sister, who years later meets one of the original suspects in the case. As Claire attempts to uncover the secret of her sister’s death, her life unravels. Meanwhile, Schaitkin sprinkles in glimpses of a cast of characters whose own lives were changed after that single week in paradise and the sensational coverage that followed the death of a beautiful teen in the Caribbean.

“At its core,” says Schaitkin, “it’s really a book about the aftermath and how this one life and one death creates this whole chorus of characters who are forever after living their lives in the aftermath of what happened.” 

The genesis of the book was a short story Schaitkin wrote while working on her master’s of fine arts in fiction at UVA. “Remember This” focused on a teenager on a high-end family vacation in the Caribbean and her desire to get out of her bubble of privilege. Some of those themes come through in Alison’s character.

“She didn’t get to grow up,” Schaitkin says of Alison. “She was struggling with thinking through all these things, and she didn’t get to finish thinking through any of it.” 

Saint X was released in February 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic started to turn the world upside down. It wasn’t an easy time to debut a book, but the novel has racked up rave reviews from The New York Times, The Washington Post and Rolling Stone, among others.

“It’s been a dream come true,” says Schaitkin, who lives in Massachusetts, “and it’s very strange to watch that dream happen and then the world completely changes.”