Book Talk: Say Say Say: A novel by Lila Savage
“A gem of a book . . . lyrical, tender, and profoundly insightful.”
―Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone
This is the story
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.
Reviews and What Readers Say
“ 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
“ Brisk, intimate—traces the complicated interior life of a young woman who works as a caregiver.”
―New York Times Book Review
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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.