Book Review: Say Say Say by Lila Savage

Say Say Say – Lila Savage (Alfred A. Knopf, 2019)

I received an Advance Readers’ Copy of this book. It is available for sale now.

I liked this book a lot. It was not at all what I expected but was filled with thoughtful, unexpected moments and descriptions.

It wasn’t the chivalry that had appealed to her but the convenience of it. At last, she’d sighed to herself, a bit of the patriarchy working in my favour, disregarding, for the moment, how inconvenient it was to live in a culture that discouraged mechanical aptitude in women

At just over one hundred and fifty pages, this book is short and an easy read. It covers approximately a year in the life of Ella and we observe only from her perspective, with a third person narrator. There isn’t much of a plot, instead the focus is relationships. It is Ella, on the cusp of a change, possibly, in her life and what that might look like. I’d say the novel is character driven except that we never really get a good look at any character except for Ella. Everyone else is seen through Ella’s eyes so while the view is honest, it is one-sided.

Ella has been working as a caregiver for several years. She enters people’s lives with an unusual intimacy for a certain amount of time, usually until there is a death or the person needs to move to a greater level of care. She is closer to her clients than any one else and yet there is always a boundary of professionalism that she is happy to maintain.

Until she is hired for her latest job. Ella is hired as a caretaker for Jill. However Jill is not elderly, like most of Ella’s clients. Jill is in her early sixties, having suffered a traumatic brain injury ten years earlier. Her husband, Bryn, has cared for her all this time but has Jill’s condition worsens, he finds it more difficult to do so. Ella is immediately drawn to both Bryn and Jill, to the dedication Bryn has to his wife and to the life they once shared together.

Parallel to the relationship she is forming in her job, is Ella’s relationship with her girlfriend, Alix. We see how the two women met and how they were drawn together, what Ella enjoys about being with Alex and how she might view their future. Ella is thoughtful and self-possessed. It would be easy for this story to dip into the sleazy or find an easy shock value but Savage never resorts to that. Instead, she uses these character and this unique situation to examine what it means to be in a relationship. What commitment looks like, in all its many forms, and what it is to be a young woman, on the cusp of thirty, still figuring out the form of your life.

9 thoughts on “Book Review: Say Say Say by Lila Savage”

    1. I seem to be on a streak of reading books about young women figuring out their lives lately and I think this one is the most approachable so far.

  1. I’m not sure that I will read this book, as personal care assistants do such a hard job and reading about them make me sad and afraid. However, one book that I did take a chance on was The Gifts of the Body by Rebecca Brown. What appears to be semi-autobiographical is a collection of short stories from the POV of a narrative who is never described, not even his/her/their gender. This person is a caregiver to people who are dying from AIDs during the 1980s. It’s a short collection, about the size of this book, one that struck me deeply.

    1. That’s fair, it’s such a difficult yet important job. The book is not really about the job so much; it doesn’t go into great detail about what such a job entails, although apparently the other did work as a caregiver. It’s more about the intimacy that such a job creates and how such a traumatic injury changes a relationship, especially a marriage. That does still make it a difficult read at times.

      I haven’t heard of Gifts of the Body before but it’s bringing to mind an article I once read about a woman who cared for (mostly) men who were dying of AIDS and had been rejected by their families. I can’t remember all the details but she sounded like an amazing person.

    2. Yes! I think I read that article, too! She was basically taking in many homeless AIDs victims, and all I could think was how shameful it was that their families didn’t want to even see them. I think the article even went on to describe how some men cried because their missed their mothers. Awful. Just truly hideous.

    3. I searched and found an article about her (not sure if it was the same one I read originally) and she met the first man because she was in the hospital visiting someone else and heard him crying for his mother. I cannot imagine being in that situation and not being with my child. Like, even if it were their fault (and I don’t think AIDS is) I would want to be there doing everything I could to comfort them.

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