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March 19, 2010

Book Notes - Victor Lodato ("Mathilda Savitch")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Victor Lodato's Mathilda Savitch is an exceptional debut novel told through the eyes of its unforgettable (and unreliable) young narrator as she comes to terms with the loss of her sister. Critically hailed as one of 2009's outstanding novels, the book is now available in paperback and I cannot recommend it strongly enough.

The Globe and Mail wrote of the book:

"The voice, social relevance, exuberance and varied accuracy of this novel all make it very strong; when its emotional and social wisdom get delivered through Mathilda's unforgettable voice, we're in the grip of a truly great novel."

In his own words, here is Victor Lodato's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel, Mathilda Savitch:

I never listen to music when I'm writing, as it seems to interfere with the rhythm of the language in my head. But now, paging through the completed novel, certain music does come to mind: songs that seem particularly suited to the character of Mathilda, and the spirit of the book.

"Chopsticks" – Liz Phair

"It was four a.m. and the light was gray, like it always is in paperbacks

He asked if I liked playing jacks

I told him that I was good to sixes

But all hell broke loose after that

I told him that I knew Julia Roberts when I was twelve at summer camp

We didn't say anything after that."

This song reminds me of precocious thirteen-year-old Mathilda's emotional makeup: a mixture of innocence and world-weariness, of toughness tinged with sadness: a child who has been forced to grow up too fast.

"I Want To Marry a Lighthouse Keeper" – Erika Eigen

"I want to marry a lighthouse keeper
And keep him company
I want to marry a lighthouse keeper
And live by the side of the sea.
I'll polish his lamps by the light of day
So ships at night can find their way
I want to marry a lighthouse keeper
Won't that be okay!"

The crazy longing of this song speaks to Mathilda's wild, and sometimes preposterous, musings about her own future. More than anything, she wants to be somewhere other than the "here and now." She burns with endless ideas, and longs for a life big enough to contain her passion.

"Prima Nina in Ecstasy" – Nina Hagen

"I love myself and I know who I am

Don't you be afraid, doc

I'm a Queen of Punkrock
My name is Nina Prima Ballerina

I'm a Queen of Punkrock
I'm the mother of punk, so what the funk!

I'm the mother of punk, so what the funk!"

Mathilda gets turned on to a number of punk bands by her blue-haired next-door neighbor, Kevin. All the bands in the book are invented. Mathilda is particularly attracted to a female singer called Phunka. Mathilda tells us that Phunka has "the voice of cats and dogs." Queen Nina comes to mind.

"Midnight Train to Georgia" – Gladys Knight & The Pips

"He's leavin'
On that midnight train to Georgia
Said he's goin' back
To a simpler place and time

And I'll be with him
On that midnight train to Georgia
I'd rather live in his world
Than live without him in mine"

A year before the book begins, Mathilda's beloved older sister, Helene, is killed—pushed in front of a train by a man still on the loose. Over the course of the novel, Mathilda hunts for clues about her sister's life, and her death—and one of the things she discovers is that Helene had an older lover. This man lives a fair distance away, and Helene would often travel to him, by train. Ultimately, Mathilda boards this train, in a quest to solve the mystery of her sister.

"Romulus" – Sufjan Stevens

"Once when we moved away,
She came to Romulus for a day.
Her Chevrolet broke down.
We prayed it'd never be fixed or found.

We touched her hair, we touched her hair.
We touched her hair, we touched her hair."

For most of the book, Mathilda is at odds with her mother, whom she loves desperately, but at whom she's furious for having abandoned her, physically and emotionally, after Helene's death. This song about a distant mother lives in that same heartbroken territory.

"Helpless" – KD Lang's version of the Neil Young song

"There is a town in north Ontario,

With dream comfort memory to spare,

And in my mind

I still need a place to go,

All my changes were there."

This song makes me think of the landscape of childhood, a place that exists inside most of us like some mythical country. Writing Mathilda Savitch, I spent a lot of time thinking about my own boyhood: its terrain, its language, its customs; and the huge emotions that ruled it.

Victor Lodato and Mathilda Savitch links:

the author's website
the book's website
excerpt from the book
the book's video trailer

Austin Chronicle review
The Book Studio review
Bookishly Fabulous review
A Bookworm's World review
Brink Magazine review
Christian Science Monitor review
Daily Mail review
Dallas Morning News review
The Globe and Mail review
Guardian review
The Indextrious Reader review
The Keepin' It Real Book Club review
Library Journal review
Miss Print review
Ms. B's Book Extravaganza review
Oprah review
Presenting Lenore review
Publishers Weekly review
S. Krishna's Books review
Time Out New York review
The Trinity Tripod review
Washington Post review

Wall Street Journal interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly highlights of comics & graphic novels)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly highlights of new books)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from this week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists

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