Say Say Say: A novel (Hardcover)
"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.
“Riveting, subversive . . . Familial tensions feed Ella's richly articulate consciousness [in this] meditation on work, loss, intimacy, and desire."
—Ottessa Moshfegh, GQ
“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
“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