By Victor Lodato
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Hardcover, 9780374204006, 304pp.)
Publication Date: September 15, 2009
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A fiercely funny and touching debut novel about a young girl trying to find out the truth behind her sister’s death
I have a sister who died. Did I tell you this already? I did but you don’t remember, you didn’t understand the code . . . She died a year ago, but in my mind sometimes it’s five minutes. In the morning sometimes it hasn’t even happened yet. For a second I’m confused, but then it all comes back. It happens again.
Fear doesn’t come naturally to Mathilda Savitch. She prefers to look right at the things nobody else can bring themselves to mention: for example, the fact that her beloved older sister is dead, pushed in front of a train by a man still on the loose. Her grief-stricken parents have basically been sleepwalking ever since, and it is Mathilda’s sworn mission to shock them back to life. Her strategy? Being bad.
Mathilda decides she’s going to figure out what lies behind the catastrophe. She starts sleuthing through her sister’s most secret possessions—e-mails, clothes, notebooks, whatever her determination and craftiness can ferret out. More troubling, she begins to apply some of her older sister’s magical charisma and powers of seduction to the unraveling situations around her. In a storyline that thrums with hints of ancient myth, Mathilda has to risk a great deal—in fact, has to leave behind everything she loves—in order to discover the truth.
Mathilda Savitch bursts with unforgettably imagined details: impossible crushes, devastating humiliations, the way you can hate and love your family at the same moment, the times when you and your best friend are so weak with laughter that you can’t breathe. Startling, funny, touching, odd, truthful, page-turning, and, in the end, heartbreaking, Mathilda Savitch is an extraordinary debut. Once you make the acquaintance of Mathilda Savitch, you will never forget her.
Victor Lodato is a playwright, poet and novelist. He is the recipient of Guggenheim and NEA fellowships, and has won numerous awards for his plays, including one from the Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays. Mathilda Savitch, his first novel, received the PEN USA Literary Award and was named a Best Book of 2009 by The Christian Science Monitor, Booklist and The Globe and Mail. He lives in Tucson and New York City.
“From page one, the outrageous, pitch-perfect voice of this book grabs you up and won’t let go. A bravura performance.” —Mary Karr, author of The Liars’ Club and Cherry
“Mathilda Savitch is a hilarious, self-deprecating, and outrageously openhearted creation—an oracle struggling to under stand her own proclamations. Mathilda’s cluelessness and brilliance are captured in a language so true, it will make you feel like you are right back in the madness and squalor that is the schoolyard. And you will be forced to confront, once again, the truth that all adolescents grapple with, that the lunatics have indeed taken over the asylum.” —Heather O’Neill, author of Lullabies for Little Criminals
“The first novel from poet and playwright Lodato is a stunning portrait of grief and youthful imagination. Narrator Mathilda Savitch is an adolescent girl negotiating life after the death of her older sister, Helene. Her parents, especially her alcoholic mother, are too traumatized to give her the comfort she needs, so she lives in an elaborate world of her own invented logic. Mathilda evaluates sex, religion and national tragedy in language that is constantly surprising, amusing and often heartbreaking. She speaks with the bold matter-of-factness of a child, but also reveals a deep understanding of life far beyond her year s: ‘I wondered why god would unlock a door just to show you emptiness,’ she says. ‘It made me wonder if maybe he was in cahoots with infinity.’ Lodato chooses every word with extreme care; Mathilda’s observations read like a finely crafted epic poem, whose themes and imagery paint an intricate map of her inner life. She’s a metaphysical Holden Caulfield for the terrifying present day.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)