A fiercely funny and touching debut novel about a young girl trying to find out the truth behind her sister’s death
I have a sister who died. Did I tell you this already? I did but you don’t remember, you didn’t understand the code . . . She died a year ago, but in my mind sometimes it’s five minutes. In the morning sometimes it hasn’t even happened yet. For a second I’m confused, but then it all comes back. It happens again.
Fear doesn’t come naturally to Mathilda Savitch. She prefers to look right at the things nobody else can bring themselves 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 basically been sleepwalking ever since, and it is Mathilda’s sworn mission to shock them back to life. Her strategy? Being bad.
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. More troubling, she begins to apply some of her older sister’s magical charisma and powers of seduction to the unraveling situations around her. In a storyline that thrums with hints of ancient myth, Mathilda has to risk a great deal—in fact, has to leave behind everything she loves—in order to discover the truth.
Mathilda Savitch bursts with unforgettably imagined details: impossible crushes, devastating humiliations, the way you can hate and love your family at the same moment, the times when you and your best friend are so weak with laughter that you can’t breathe. Startling, funny, touching, odd, truthful, page-turning, and, in the end, heartbreaking, Mathilda Savitch is an extraordinary debut. Once you make the acquaintance of Mathilda Savitch, you will never forget her.
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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.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
PART ONEThis page intentionally left blank
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 like the lights inside a copy machine. When I was helping put the dishes in the washer tonight, I broke a plate. I said sorry Ma it slipped. But it didn’t slip, that’s how I am sometimes, and I want to be worse.
I’ve hurt things, the boys showed me this. Pulling legs off spiders and such. Kevin Ryder next door and his friends, they let me come into their fort. But that was years ago, I was a child, it didn’t matter if I was a boy or a girl. It would be against the law to go into their fort now I suppose. The law of my mother. Why don’t you stay home? she says. Be careful out there, every time I walk out the door. But is it just words I wonder, how much does she really care? Who is she really thinking about when she thinks about me? I have my suspicions. And anyway, do the boys even have a fort anymore? It was probably all destroyed a long time ago. It was a fort in the woods made from sticks and blankets and leaves. Things like that don’t last forever.
And besides, now I know things about my body I didn’t know back then. It’s not the innocence of yesteryear, that’s for sure.
Awful is easy if you make it your one and only. I pinch Luke sometimes. Luke is our dog. You can’t pinch all dogs, some will bite. But Luke is old and he’s a musher, he’s all about love love love and so he’d never bite you. I pet him for a few minutes all nice and cuddly and then all of a sudden I pinch him and he yelps and goes circling around the room looking for the mystery pincher. He doesn’t even suspect me, that’s how blind with love he is. But I suppose if you held a gun to my head—did I love him, didn’t I love him?—I guess I would have to say I loved the stupid dog. He’s been with us forever and he sleeps on my bed.
If you want to know, I was born in this house with this dog and those two, teachers of all things. A blue house. If you look at it from the outside, you’d swear it had a face, the way the windows are. Window eyes, a window nose, and a door for a mouth. Hi house, I say whenever I come home. I’ve said this for as long as I can remember. I have other things I say, better than this, but I don’t tell anyone. I have secrets and I’m going to have more. Once I read a story about a girl who died, and when they opened her up they found a gold locket in her stomach, plus the feathers of a bird. Nobody could understand it. Well, that’s me. That’s my story, except what are they going to find in my stomach, who knows? It’s definitely something to think about.
For a second as I watch them reading, I think Ma and Da have turned to stone. So where is the woman with snakes in her hair, I ask myself. Is it me? Then I see the books moving up and down a little and so I know Ma and Da are breathing thank god. Luke is a big puddle of fur on the carpet, off in dreamland. Out of nowhere he farts and one eye pops open. Oh what’s that? he wonders. Who’s there? Some guard dog, he can’t tell the difference between a fart and a burglar. And he’s too lazy to go investigate. As long as they don’t steal the carpet from under him, what does he care. I can pretty much read his mind. Animal Psychic would be the perfect job for me. The only animals I’m not good at getting inside are birds. Birds are the lunatics of the animal world. Have you ever watched them? Oh my god, they’re insane! Even when they sing I don’t a hundred percent believe them.
I hate how quiet it is. One smelly dog fart and then nothing, you almost think you’ve gone deaf. A person in my position begins to think about things, death even. About death and time and why it is I’m afraid sometimes at night sitting and watching the two of them reading and almost not breathing but for the books moving up and down like something floating on top of the ocean. And is Ma drunk again is the other question, but who’s asking. Shut up and mind your own business, I think. She’s a free man in Paris. Which is a song Ma used to sing when there were songs in the house. Ancient history.
Oh, and infinity! That’s in my head again. That will keep you up all night, the thought of that. Have you tried to do it? Think of infinity? You can’t. It’s worse than the thoughts of birds. You say to yourself: okay, imagine that space ends, the universe ends, and at the very end there’s a wall. But then you go: what’s behind the wall? Even if it were solid it would be a solid wall going on forever, a solid wall into infinity. If I get stuck thinking on this, what I do is pull a few hairs from the top of my head. I pull them out one at a time. It doesn’t hurt. You have to have the fingers of a surgeon, separating the hairs and making sure there’s only one strand between your fingers before you pluck it. You have to concentrate pretty hard on the operation and so it stops you from thinking about other things. It calms you down.
He’s reading a book about China and she’s reading the selected prose of Ezra Pound, that’s the long and the short of it. She’s got her shoes off and he’s got them on. Venus and Mars, if you ask me. And I’m the Earth, though they don’t even know it.
When I get a little bunch of hairs what I usually do is flush some of them down the toilet and then the rest I keep in a jar. I know this is dangerous because if someone found the hair they could use it to make a doll of me and then I would be under their power forever. If they burned the doll I would die, I would disappear. Infinity.
“What are you doing?” Ma says. “Stop picking at yourself.” She crosses her legs. “Don’t you have something to read?”
Books again. I could scream. I mean, I like books just fine but I don’t want to make a career out of it. “I’m just thinking,” I tell her.
She says I’m making her nervous staring at her like that, why don’t I go to bed.
Ma was beautiful once, before I knew her. She’s got pictures to prove it. She was a beauty nonpareil, my Da says. Now she looks like she’s been crying, but it’s just the reading, and the writing too. Grading papers all the time and scribbling her notes. If she cries I don’t know anything about it, I’m not the person to ask about that. If she wanted to cry I wouldn’t hold it against her. She has plenty of reasons.
“What are you writing?” I said to her once. “The great novel,” said she. I didn’t know she was joking. For a long time I thought maybe she really was writing the great novel and I wondered what sort of part I had in it.
“Go upstairs,” she says. “Your hair could use a wash, when was the last time you washed it?”
She likes to embarrass me in front of my father, who has managed to keep his beauty, who knows how. He doesn’t care if I have dirty hair or not but still, you don’t want to be pointed out as a grease-ball in front of someone like him. Impeccable is what he is, like a cat.
“I washed it yesterday,” I say.
Ma turns to me and does that slitty thing with her eyes, which means you’re a big fat liar, Mathilda.
“Good night Da,” I say, running up the stairs.
“Good night,” he says, “sweet dreams.” This is his standard but it’s still nice to hear it. At least it’s something.
“And wash that hair” is the tail of Ma’s voice following me up the stairs.
Ma is funny, she either says nothing or else she has to get in the last word. You never know which Ma to expect and I can’t decide which one is worse. Lately it’s mostly been the silent Ma. Tomorrow I’m going to break another plate. It’s already planned.In my room I look in the mirror. It’s amazing how you have the same face every time. Or is it only a trick? Because of course you’re changing, your face and everything. Every second that goes by you’re someone else. It’s unstoppable. The clock ticks, everything is normal, but there’s a feeling of suspense in your stomach. What will happen, who will you become? Sometimes I wish time would speed up so that I could have the face of my future now.
After the mirror I line up a few papers and books on my desk so that they’re even with the edge. I also make sure not one thing touches another thing and that everything is equal distance apart. It’s only an approximation, I don’t use a ruler or anything. I’ve been doing it for about a year now, the lining up of things. It’s like plucking the hair. Basically it’s magic against infinity.
When Da comes in my room I’m sitting on the bed. Maybe I’ve been here for an hour, who knows.
“I meant to take a shower,” I say. “I forgot.”
He sits next to me and he tries to look at me, except he’s not so good at it anymore. His eyes go wobbly, almost like he’s afraid of me. He used to pet my hair, but that was practically a million years ago, when I was a baby. Still, it’s a nice moment, just the two of us sitting next to each other. But then all of a sudden she’s there, sticking her head in the door.
“I know,” I say, without her having to say anything. I know, Ma.
“Are you okay?” she says. But it’s not even a real question. I wish it was but it’s not.
Da gets up to go and he pats my dirty hair and I suppose I should be ashamed, but what do I care about anything anyway. That’s part of being awful, not caring. And then what’s part of it too is the thought...
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Descripción Fourth Estate, 2009. Hardcover. Estado de conservación: New. Nº de ref. de la librería DADAX0007322224