My enormous thanks to Flora Willis for sending me a copy of Say Say Say by Lila Savage in return for an honest review.
Say Say Say
Ella is nearing thirty, and not yet living the life she imagined. Her artistic ambitions as a student have given way to an unintended career as a care worker. 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.
As Ella is drawn ever deeper into the couple’s household, 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 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.
My Review of Say Say Say
Ella takes on a new client as she looks after Jill for Bryn.
I found Say Say Say an incredibly difficult book to read despite its brevity because it reignited my grief at my father’s stroke and prolonged death as I read about Jill. When we no longer knew what Dad understood, and before he lost the ability to make any sound at all, he would utter a sibilance so similar to Jill’s repetitive ‘say, say, say’ that at times I found it almost unbearable to read Lila Savage’s writing.
Say Say Say is a beautifully written, searing, intimate and personal portrait of Ella’s personality, of Jill’s suffering and of Bryn’s grief so that it is difficult to articulate my thoughts into a coherent review. The quality of language used is sometimes stark, frequently poetic and always compelling. There is almost as much meaning between the lines – in what isn’t written – as there is in what is on the page. Sometimes the sentence structure is quite difficult to follow and I loved that about the text. I had to reread and think precisely what the meaning was; just like Ella as she tries to understand herself and those around her. I thought this technique was brilliant.
The plot is marginal in Say Say Say. I can imagine those who are looking for fast paced thrilling writing not appreciating it at all, but what happens is far less important than the way Ella reacts as she struggles to understand herself. I can’t say I liked Ella, but my goodness I was given a profound understanding of who she is. I think my reticence to warm to her stems from Lila Savage’s incredible ability to lay bare human imperfection. She presents a portrait so unflinching, so acutely observed and somehow so tender that I felt an almost physical response. There were some uncomfortable echoes for me as a reader. Have I been as lacking in kindness to others as Ella feels she may have been for example?
Say Say Say is an unusual read. It is as if Lila Savage has looked into the soul of humanity and laid it bare on the page. I think Say Say Say will polarise readers. For some it will be the perfect book. Others will find it too uncomfortable a read. Some will want more action. I thought it was a finely crafted, emotional and fierce portrait of grief, loss and character that touched me completely.
About Lila Savage
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.