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Mathilda Savitch

A Novel

Victor Lodato


Mathilda Savitch Download image

ISBN10: 0312430035
ISBN13: 9780312430030

Trade Paperback

304 Pages


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Winner of the PEN USA Literary Award
Shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing
Finalist for the Virginia Commonwealth University's Cabell First Novelist Award

Fear doesn't come naturally to Mathilda Savitch. She prefers to look right at the things nobody else can bear 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 been sleepwalking ever since. Mathilda has made it her mission to shock them back to life, and she's going to do it by behaving badly. Stealing, drinking, lying; she thinks, "I want to be awful. I want to do awful things and why not?"

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. But she must risk a great deal—in fact, she has to leave behind everything she loves—in order to discover the truth.


Praise for Mathilda Savitch

"Part offbeat coming-of-age story and part suspense novel . . . Lodato skillfully, and often rather poetically, navigates the minefield of growing up."—The Boston Globe

"A fierce and funny debut novel . . . What makes this coming-of-age story so compelling is the tough, furtively loving voice of its narrator."—O, The Oprah Magazine

"Have you met Mathilda? If not, prepare to be—in equal measures—charmed and haunted . . . A darkly humorous, aching tale of adolescence."—The Christian Science Monitor

"This is a delight and a devil of a book, a tale that fills you with despair and pleasure, often at the same time."—Time Out New York

"Lost in a grieving household, the title character of Victor Lodato's debut novel, Mathilda Savitch, is a teenage girl struggling to cope with her sister's suicide and navigate the perils of puberty. While her parents cannot pull themselves out of depression and remorse, Mathilda seeks solace by impersonating her sister. With a charming first-person narrative, Lodato weaves a familiar story with a poignant, graceful touch . . . What imbues Mathilda Savitch with a great degree of charm is not, however, its plot, but rather its voice, a combination of childish naiveté and heart-breaking vulnerability. Here's her description of her classmates at school: 'Sometimes I watch them and it's like Animal Planet. If I listen too long, it starts to bother me. It's probably what hell sounds like. I saw hell once in a movie, and it was pretty incomprehensible. I had to turn it off.' Mattie seeks the reasons behind Helene's suicide, but there are no revelations or tidy answers. Ultimately, she learns a sense of forgiveness, for herself and her parents, and that the way we deal with tragedy is to go on, to survive."—William J. Cobb, The Dallas Morning News

"I don't know how one is meant to pronounce the last name of the titular Mathilda—a long 'a'? an uptick on the—itch?—but in my mind, it rings close to 'savage.' That sounds about right for preteen Mathilda, who narrates: She can be vicious, yes, but, in the more primal sense, she's a wild child, wracked by grief and bewilderment over the death of her radiant older sister, Helene, and furiously acting out. Her parents—a kind but ineffective father, a bathrobed mother with bottles stashed around the house—are practically zombies. And as if growing up wasn't complicated enough, Mathilda's already uneasy puberty is colored by the nightly news of terrorist attacks, which engenders a constant state of anxiety and peril that she internalizes and even sexualizes, even though she admits she doesn't entirely understand what's going on (of a recent suicide bombing, she says, 'It's getting to be a big problem over there in one of those problematic countries'). In many ways, Mathilda is a child putting on like she's an adult, and Lodato, a poet and playwright in his fiction debut, creates in her an unforgettable voice. His Mathilda is an acerbic wit, yet is capable of great rushes of compassion; she is plainspoken, but given to the most lovely, left-field reflections. Recalling the way her parents were before Helene's death, Mathilda says, 'Da gave Ma the kind of kisses that linger, and afterwards she looked like someone who'd just had a bath' . . . A marvel of observational acuity and lyrical phrasing."—Kimberley Jones, The Austin Chronicle

"Lodato's writing is lush and dense. We spend our time in Mathilda's mind, and it's not a boring place. She's a reader. In a time of 'terror,' she finds solace in Anne Frank's diary. The child of secular parents, she searches for explanations and expiations through religion—any religion. She assembles a personal pantheon consisting of Krishna, the crucified Christ, a pretended Protestant allegiance and the collection of 'watchers' she imagines overseeing her life. Mathilda's need for divine intercession grows as the plot tightens. That would be 'plot such as it is' tightens. The action meanders for much of the book, through Mathilda's interactions and through plans related to the anniversary of Helene's death—and the book sags a bit in the middle. Fortunately, Lodato pulls out some suspense, tautens it with a sense of threat, and throws in a surprise by the end. We realize only after the fact how precisely he's spun out the action. Mathilda Savitch is a fine debut novel. Lodato's writing is as tight as tapestry—with no thread loose. His central character is funny, flawed, multifaceted and fully realized."—Christine Wald-Hopkins, Tucson Weekly

"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)

Reviews from Goodreads


Read an Excerpt


I want to be awful. I want to do awful things and why not? Dull is dull is dull is my life. Like now, it's night, not yet time for bed but too late to be outside, and the two of them reading reading reading with their eyes moving...

About the author

Victor Lodato

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.

© Michael Crouser

Victor Lodato

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