B&N Audiobooks Subscription = SAVINGS. Sign Up Today for a Free Book!


by Suzanne Matson


View All Available Formats & Editions
Usually ships within 6 days


Named a Best Book of the Year by Real Simple

"This unostentatious yet intricate novel follows the women of a family across nearly a century . . . Domestic scenes emit blasts of emotional life, as the women grapple with the 'swooning collapse and then the expanding distance' between their interior lives and the outside world." —The New Yorker

Suzanne Matson’s engrossing and intimate new novel, Ultraviolet, centers on Kathryn—the daughter of Elsie and mother of Samantha— while illuminating the lives of three generations of women, each more independent than the last.

Their stories open in 1930s India, where Elsie lives with her authoritarian missionary husband and their children. Returning to the American Midwest as a teenager, Kathryn feels alienated and restless. When she loses her mother prematurely to a stroke, she escapes to Oregon for a fresh start. Disappointed that her education was cut short by her father, and dreaming of becoming a writer, she supports herself as a waitress in wartime America, dating soldiers, then meeting and marrying Finnish–American Carl. A construction worker sixteen years her senior, he is an unlikely match, though appealing in his care – free ways and stark difference from her Mennonite past. But Kathryn ends up feeling trapped in the marriage, her ambitions thwarted. Samantha, who’s grown up in the atmosphere of her mother’s discontent, follows her own career to teach at a university in faraway Boston, where she maintains a happy family of her own.

When Kathryn starts to fail, Samantha moves her mother near her to care for, and then to watch over her deathbed, where “something in the room— the spell, the cord knitting them together—is cut. Or no, that can’t be right, either.” Ultraviolet is a lyrical novel of great emotional depth. Suzanne Matson recognizes both the drama that is within every existence and the strengths and fragilities of our relationships with others. She shines a brilliant light on the complexities of marriage, motherhood, aging, and the end of life.

Related collections and offers

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781936787951
Publisher: Catapult
Publication date: 09/04/2018
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Suzanne Matson was born in Portland, Oregon, and studied at Portland State University and the University of Washington. Her first novel, The Hunger Moon, was a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick. Her third, The Tree–Sitter, was short–listed for the PEN New England/L. L. Winship Award. She has published two poetry collections with Alice James Books, teaches at Boston College, and lives in Newton, Massachusetts.

Read an Excerpt

She can think of a lot of good reasons not to go with him. She can think of a new one every few seconds, and she tells them all to him as they come to her. He doesn’t try to shoot down a single one, even though she can also think of the ammunition he might fire back: She’ll find another room, another job. It isn’t her brother’s life to live, or her father’s. If she wants to see California, live for three months in Los Angeles with him, why shouldn’t she?

But all he says is, “let me know,” and that’s infuriating. She’s aware that she can’t even deploy the biggest reason of all: that it’s a sin. After the dancing they became a couple, and it was the dancing that showed her what, physically, a couple could be. He drove from Jantzen Beach to a small, neat-looking motel on the road back. He pulled into the lot, engaged the brake without turning off the motor and asked, “How ’bout it?”

She was not wholly inexperienced. There were passes made by other men, and there were other flasks. What struck her was Carl’s absolutely straightforward approach, compared to the wheedling and sulks of the soldiers. It was a real choice he was offering—after all, he hadn’t cut the engine.

The whiskey made her feel loose and warm, but it didn’t do the talking for her. So who was she when she answered yes? Kay, she supposed, who seemed daily to belong more and more to this man who one night determined that it was his job to keep her out of the rain, and one afternoon appeared to feed her ripe fruits almost still warm from the sun. A man who could make her so graceful that even Harry James had to take notice. Who christened her someone else, somebody freer. It’s also true that the soldiers were back in their hometowns now, out of uniform so they couldn’t be spotted, even the one whose engagement ring she wore for a month. There was no one to be loyal to except herself, and that elusive person didn’t seem to be protesting.

Was it so much of a step, then, to move from Sunday nights of dancing and stopping off at the Columbia Motel (which smelled wholesomely of soap and crisply laundered sheets) to saying, yes, she’ll go to Los Angeles while he works on a new bank tower? She very much wants to see Los Angeles and palm trees. She likes trailing her elbow out the window with a lit Parliament when he drives her places. She likes when he puts the receipt that says Mr. and Mrs. on the motel dresser. She likes, more than she thought she would, the press of his embrace, of being so urgently wanted. The bare skin of the encounter, the sharpness of smell, then the warm shower after, their clean clothes still clean on the chair. He takes care of her with his precautions, he takes care of her in all ways. Though he hasn’t raised the topic of Mr. and Mrs., she supposes they would travel that way. And it is partly a relief, not to have to make a decision like that, but to try it out for a time.

So she never actually says yes but falls into talking about it first as a possibility. Then when he shifts the terms of the discussion to an actual plan, she doesn’t correct him. The date approaches and she is all of a sudden packing and delivering notice at her rooming house and at the restaurant.

“A wedding?” Helen asks, her eyebrows raised in cautious surprise.

“Elopement,” Kathryn says, telling Mrs. Johnson the same, which causes her to go up to her room and sob for a full hour one night, not because of telling the lie, but because of telling it to the two women who have taken a motherly interest in her. When she kisses little Lucy’s damp curls, getting her up on her last morning, the little girl points to her and says, “Bide.” Bride. And Kathryn goes to her room and cries again, to the point where she needs to wear dark glasses, descending the stairs wearing them while Mr. Johnson follows with her suitcase and Carl with her trunk.

To her brothers in Oregon and Ohio, and her father in Illinois, she writes that she is taking a vacation with a friend, and might see what the jobs are like in California. In the course of telling five lies she snips the threads to all the people who keep track of her, making herself invisible to them—no forwarding address, no telephone number—and visible to only one man, whose apartment she has never seen, whose family she has never met, and whose history, though told to her, is uncorroborated.

They drive down the Oregon Coast, removing their shoes in the velvet sands at Seaside, eating corn dogs on the prom, buying a bag of saltwater taffy to keep on the seat between them in the car.

They lean against the cement wall at Coos Bay, feeling the sea spray in their faces and watching the boat traffic. Carl chases down Kay’s kerchief when it blows away in the whipping wind and when he returns it to her the wind comes between them and snatches it again. They watch it sail in corkscrews over the rocks before being abandoned by a sudden stillness. It floats down between some boulders below them where she thinks it might be claimed for a bright flowered layer in a gull’s nest.

When they drive inland to the freeway there is the greenness of farmland, then the tawny stretches of ranch country, then the climb into mountains with thin, medicinal air, then down the other side into—suddenly—California.

She claps and lets out a little squeal, caught up by the glamour of change and migration, and the very word on the highway sign, California. He looks at her sideways and smiles at what he caused.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Praise for Ultraviolet

"Acutely, elegantly, Suzanne Matson traces her characters' paths from the hills of colonial India to the suburban American West to the dislocated excesses of an Alaskan cruise ship. Here are the women in a family and the impact they have—or fail to have—on one another. And here, in the silences between vivid moments, we see how years pass, how lives pass, how a century passes." —Joan Wickersham, author of The News from Spain and The Suicide Index

"From its wonderful opening in 1930s India, Suzanne Matson's beautifully accurate and illuminating Ultraviolet follows the fates of three generations of American women along the shifting borders of safety and freedom. As time carries them past risks and refuges, the reader is left with a shimmering sense of lives lived." —Joan Silber, author of Improvement

"Capacious, unsentimental and yet forgiving, Ultraviolet brings us both the intimacy of women's lives and their trajectories across continents and generations. This is Suzanne Matson at her wisest and deepest—wonderful." —Gish Jen, author of The Girl at the Baggage Claim

"Acutely, elegantly, Suzanne Matson traces her characters' paths from the hills of colonial India to the suburban American West to the dislocated excesses of an Alaskan cruise ship. Here are the women in a family and the impact they have—or fail to have—on one another. And here, in the silences between vivid moments, we see how years pass, how lives pass, how a century passes." —Joan Wickersham, author of The News from Spain and The Suicide Index

Praise for Suzanne Matson

“With its vivid characters, suspenseful plot, and moral complexity, this is a wonderful and very timely novel.”
—Margot Livesey, author of Mercury , on The Tree-Sitter

“A compelling, unpredictable narrative that moves beyond its calm suburban setting into darker social and psychological territory. Suzanne Matson’s gripping second novel only confirms what readers of The Hunger Moon already know: she is a writer of uncommon wisdom and emotional depth.”
—Tom Perrotta, author of Mrs. Fletcher , on A Trick of Nature

“Like Ann Hood and Sue Miller, Suzanne Matson captures average people reevaluating their once comfortable domesticity as middle age slowly approaches. In delivering the Goodmans’ stumbling marriage, A Trick of Nature plumbs the attractions and terrors of giving up the familiar for an uncertain freedom.”
—Stewart O’Nan, author of City of Secrets , on A Trick of Nature

“In this fast-moving, elegantly crafted novel, Suzanne Matson traces the arch and swoop of women moving through each other’s lives.”
—Pagan Kennedy, author of Inventology , on The Hunger Moon

Customer Reviews