Mathilda Savitch

In this first novel, we find an adolescent Mathilda Savitch all abuzz with urgent questions and unsettling emotions. She lives with her parents sometime in the near future, an age during which acts of terrorism have increased in number and horror. The sense of anxiety and menace afoot in the world has been compounded in the Savitch home by the death, over a year ago, of Mathilda’s 16-year-old sister. She fell—was she pushed? did she jump?—under a train and her parents are still crippled with grief: her mother drinking, her father distracted, both neglecting Mathilda, now their only child. Mathilda, who narrates the story, is angry and confused. She wants to be called “lufwa”—”awful” spelled backwards. She acts out in shocking ways. She also seeks to know the precise nature of her sister’s death—and perforce of her life. She scrutinizes letters from an apparent lover which she has found squirreled away and sets about cracking the password to the dead girl’s email account. I shall not divulge what ensues, except to say that events are placed before us refracted through a series of lenses shaped by the stages of grief. But for all the creative distortion of this device, an air of abstractness, aggravated by the theoretical near-future setting, pervades the novel. There is a portentous, sacramental quality to events: a cutting off of hair, a burying of a garment, a kneeling reconciliation. In the end, the novel never quite delivers on all this fraughtness.