Say Say Say: A novel (Hardcover)

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July 2019 Indie Next List


Say Say Say is a small and subtle debut novel that packs an emotional wallop. Lila Savage’s writing is so beautiful and vulnerable it’s impossible to put down. This is the kind of novel that shines with such honestly and compassion you feel the need re-evaluate your life right along the main character, Ella. I eagerly await reading anything else Savage writes.”
— Katerina Argyres, Bookshop West Portal, San Francisco, CA

Description


"A gem of a book . . . lyrical, tender, and profoundly insightful."--Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone

A beautiful, bracingly honest debut novel about the triangle formed between a young woman and the couple whose life she enters one transformative year: a story about love and compassion, the fluidity of desire, and the myriad ways of devotion.


Ella is nearing thirty, and not yet living the life she imagined. Her artistic ambitions as a student in Minnesota have given way to an unintended career in caregiving. One spring, Bryn--a retired carpenter--hires her to help him care for Jill, his wife of many years. A car accident caused a brain injury that has left Jill verbally diminished; she moves about the house like a ghost of her former self, often able to utter, like an incantation, only the words that comprise this novel's title.

As Ella is drawn ever deeper into the couple's household, her presence unwanted but wholly necessary, she is profoundly moved by the tenderness Bryn shows toward the wife he still fiercely loves. Ella is startled by the yearning this awakens in her, one that complicates her feelings for her girlfriend, Alix, and causes her to look at relationships of all kinds--between partners, between employer and employee, and above all between men and women--in new ways.

Tightly woven, humane and insightful, tracing unflinchingly the most intimate reaches of a young woman's heart and mind, Say Say Say is a riveting story about what it means to love, in a world where time is always running out.

About the Author


Lila Savage is originally from Minneapolis. Prior to writing fiction, she spent nearly a decade working as a caregiver. Her work has appeared in The Threepenny Review. She is the recipient of a Wallace Stegner fellowship and graduated from the Iowa Writers' Workshop in 2018. She lives in San Francisco.

Praise For…


“Quietly wonderful . . . a rare novel.  Ella [is] an unforgettable main character. The novel centers on her part-time work looking after Jill, [who has] brain damage brought on by a head injury, so that Jill’s husband, Bryn, can occasionally get out of the house. As Ms. Savage depicts the small misadventures that occupy Ella's afternoons with Jill, she stages an inquiry into the conundrum of goodness in an age that does so little to reward it, yet needs it desperately. Where, she wonders, do you draw a line between selflessness and servility? The questions deepen in profundity and emotional power . . . Say Say Say will likely make you cry, but in [this] novel such responses feel clean and ennobling, free from manipulation. It is a book written for the better angels of our nature. ‘Wasn’t there beauty in the practice of love and the roll and sweep of it?’ Ella thinks. Yes yes yes.” Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

Riveting, subversive . . . Familial tensions feed Ella's richly articulate consciousness [in this] meditation on work, loss, intimacy, and desire." —Ottessa Moshfegh, GQ

“Lyrical, deeply felt but unsentimental . . . Say Say Say explores the charged dynamic between a paid companion and the couple she serves--a knotty web of emotion and obligation. Ella finds herself at the apex of a triangle of compassion and confusion. Savage’s insight comes through on every page in incisive and beautiful language . . . the narration is intensely reflective and psychologically revelatory. As the assignment draws Ella into Bryn and Jill's orbit, she has to revise her own notions about duty and love. And in this deceptively simple book, the reader, too, receives an honest and empathetic opportunity to consider loneliness and the people whose labor gets bought to alleviate it.” Kathleen Rooney, Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Poetic, elegant. . . Lila Savage’s novel Say Say Say transport[s] you—and it teaches several valuable lessons: How to be present with grace and dignity. How not to look away. How life goes on. It begins when Ella, a Minnesota-artist-turned caregiver in her 20s is hired by a retired carpenter to take care of his wife, Jill, who suffered a head injury. Ella is well trained in the awkward two-step of gently inserting herself into a family at its most difficult time. Savage follows the opposite arcs of these two women with such kindness (that’s the only word for it), even the most difficult moments of the story feel buffered by grace.” Elisabeth Egan, San Francisco Chronicle 

“A bright spot in the maelstrom: a book called Say Say Say. It’s a smooth and assured portrait of a character’s interior world, as well as a meditation on our assumptions about care work, and heterosexual relationships.” —Emily Gould, author of Friendship

“An emotional masterpiece . . . Bryn, a retired carpenter, hires Ella, an artist in her late 20s, to take care of his wife. In their house, Ella witnesses a level of love and passion she's been bereft of in her day-to-day life. Say Say Say is a heartbreaking book [told in] bracingly honest, unflinching prose . . . it meditates on empathy and finding human connection even in the worst of circumstances.” --Liz Moody, Mind Body Green

“A gem of a book. A lyrical, tender, and profoundly insightful dive into the act of caregiving and its highly charged nexus of love, duty, and longing. Lila Savage is an enormous talent; Say Say Say is a mesmerizing tour de force.” —Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone

Say Say Say is something quite special, unlike anything else I've ever read. Lila Savage’s voice is distinctive, perhaps the timbre of a new generation—its deadpan; its fascination with randomness and accident; its lack of interest in making rounded meaning. I love the way Ella's intense thoughts and feelings on one page are contradicted by different intense thoughts and feelings (and certainties) a few pages later. Which is like life. Yet there's no show of anomie or alienation, no effort to shock (even though the material is shocking). Lila Savage’s imagination is warm and generous. Her novel is haunting, original, intelligent.” —Tessa Hadley, author of The Past

“Luminous . . . A startling, tender debut. [As] Ella, a young caregiver, finds herself gradually immersed in Bryn and Jill’s lives, her role as Jill’s companion evolves into something more intimate and complex . . . What Ella witnesses between [the couple] challenges her ideas of love, spirituality, and empathy. Quietly forceful, Say Say Say will stay with readers long after the final page.” Publishers Weekly [starred, boxed review]

“Caregivers occupy a unique role during life’s most fraught times. Despite being strangers, they quickly become central within a family, working to temper a patient’s illness and debility while affirming her dignity. Lila Savage, through the experience of the caregiver Ella, vividly illuminates what sustains us when facing suffering and loss: relationships based on trust, honesty, humility and, most of all, the tenacity of love. Say Say Say stirs the reader’s mind and heart, and resonates long after the book is closed.” —Jerome Groopman, MD, author The Anatomy of Hope 

“I cannot think when I Iast read a novel which moved me so deeply. Savage is almost supernaturally alert to the little gestures and transactions we all make as we negotiate our place in the world, and our relations to each other. Her approach is both unflinching and extraordinarily tender, so that I came away feeling I had undergone an examination which was somehow both painful and kind. I loved it, and it has remained with me in a way few other books have ever done.” —Sarah Perry, author of The Essex Serpent

“Powerful, thought-provoking—an impressive and affecting debut that had me reflecting on compassion, gender roles—and what it means to love.” —Claire Fuller, author of Swimming Lessons

“Brilliant, compelling—an extraordinarily good book, one that allows you deep into someone else’s world. I loved that it’s about a relationship that wasn’t a partner or lover relationship, but one that is nevertheless very intimate. Say Say Say is a joy to read.” —Philippa Perry, author of How to Stay Sane


Product Details
ISBN: 9780525655923
ISBN-10: 0525655921
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: July 9th, 2019
Pages: 176