I wasn't expecting to read or even review Mathilda Savitch. But I was lucky enough to interview the author, Victor Lodato, for Experience Toronto, which meant that I obviously had to read the book. So the night before I was furiously (in between a rock show and a houseguest, indeed!) reading as much of the novel as I could while trying to come up with half-way intelligent questions.
"I want to be awful." Mathilda Savitch declares as the novel opens. She's ballsy, self-deprecating, intelligent and more than a little odd. In many ways, she's a semi-typical teenager, but in many ways she's also not -- she's sharper and has been through something traumatic enough to effect her for the rest of her life. In fact, the tragic death of her sister has marked her entire family: her mother refuses to get dressed, drinks, and acts a little like Mathilda's not even there; her father's barely holding the family together. And to make sense of the tragedy, Mathilda acts out in many different ways. It's a complex thing, finding yourself in the world, being okay with yourself. This act of individuality that's so much a rite of passage when you're an almost teenager becomes even more complicated when you add impossible situations to the mix.
Her prepossessed nature questions everything naturally, and this comes through clearly in the story. She's been damaged by the loss of her sister and needs to work through it -- even if the process is destructive to herself, to her family, to her friends. The author, in his interview with me, mentioned that the voice of Mathilda was so strong that he just gave in and let her take him where she wanted to go. As a playwright, Lodato seems comfortable with listening to the voices that invade his head, and it's truly Mathilda that drives this novel. You can't seem to get her out of your head, kind of like Owen Meany, she's that strong of a character. One part Goldengrove and more than one part The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mathilda Savitch also stands on its own simply for this incredible sense of voice.
What a nice surprise.