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Say Say Say: A novel

by Lila Savage

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594348,565 (3.38)4
"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.… (more)
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Showing 4 of 4
"In all honesty, even the things about him that irritated her could be endearing, for love, as far as Ella was concerned, could not exist without the presence of imperfections. Not just because people couldn't exist without the presence of imperfections but because love wasn't two charmed vessels bumping rhythmically until they chimed, rang true. Love had everything to do with the ache of vulnerability."

(Summer reading: a staff pick.) ( )
  beautifulshell | Aug 27, 2020 |
I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher (Knopf Publishing Group).

I was very excited to read this book because the prose is compared to Sally Rooney (who I love) but it didn’t live up to my expectations.

The main issue I had was that the prose is incredibly wordy. Usually I don’t take issue with that, but this novel went overboard with it. A lot of the wording would end up being awkward and hard to read.

For example, there was one part that ended up being (unintentionally) casually racist. When talking about a high school friend, the main character states, “Dai had spoken perfect unaccented English, but Ella had known that his family still spoke Vietnamese at home…Ella felt him watching her absorb the foreignness of his house, the unfamiliar food smells…” (pg 118). This could have been worded differently so that it could have avoided using the perpetual foreigner Asian stereotype. I get that she was trying to paint a picture of how different his house was, but there’s a way to say that without falling back on stereotypes.

This book wasn’t all bad. I did find that it explored the life of a caregiver in a very interesting and thought provoking way. It was very intimate.

Also, every once in a while, the wordiness would pay off, and something profound would be said. One line that stuck with me was, “She believed if she looked at it squarely, her own shoulder would throb unbearably, that his suffering might be contagious, that there might not be any cure, that she would leave his house, return to her ordinary life, and suddenly find she could no longer lift the knowledge that Alix would one day die, that Ella would, too, her shoulder would strain against this once-manageable dread, mirroring the weeping of Bryn’s wound” (pg 89).

Overall, this book had some good parts, but ultimately just didn’t resonate enough with me. ( )
  oddandbookish | Jun 3, 2020 |
A short painful stunner, this one. Ella works as a caregiver to Jill -- a woman in her sixties that was in a car accident with slowly deteriorating memory loss to the point where she can't communicate and has lost much of her sense of self and agency. Lila Savage has worked as a caregiver so she has the ability to bring a level to this novel that other writers might not be able to -- I trust her with this book. She was caregiver before she thought to be a writer. This makes it easier for me to cope with this book being more about Ella, the caregiver and Jill's grieving husband Bryn, than the wife who is being cared for. My first reaction is: how could this book NOT be about the woman in this impossible, unimaginable situation, especially as she has almost no voice of her own? But the caregivers certainly must share that pain, especially as they have more of an awareness than Jill might. The book might be TOO painful if more of the focus is on Jill. What we see of Jill's situation is almost unbearably too much. I tear up just thinking about it. The book isn't really about Jill's inability to communicate and function but the caregiver Ella's inability to help in the ways she wants to help or even communicate that. The book is painful in a way that I can't tell if it's quietly heartbreaking or screaming at everything unjust, like Jill's frustration with her memory injury. Maybe both at the same time. "It was love as anticipation of loss, it was love as shared burden of pain..."(page 154). The entire book really encompasses this and I can't help but feel that as painful as the book is to read, the pain crystallized and made me love the book even more. Point taken. Well done. ( )
  booklove2 | Dec 10, 2019 |
An interesting book, which in some ways I wanted to give a high rating, but which just couldn't capture enough involvement from me. I found it to be perhaps too much of a thinking person's book - and I don't rate very high on that scale myself. Quite a few times I found myself re-reading sections, trying to work out what Savage was saying. OK, I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I wonder if maybe the author bears some of the responsibility for my lack of understanding. As a long time carer herself, Lila Savage is probably working through some of her own issues, as well as enlightening the readers.The basic concept of the book is good - exploring the complex relationship between the carer, the person she cares for, and the person's partner - as well as the carer's partner. I just think it was dealt with too much at the intellectual level. ( )
  oldblack | Dec 3, 2019 |
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"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.

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