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Victor Lodato 

A playwright creates a coming-of-age novel about growing up with grief

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Opening lines: “I want to be awful. I want to do awful things and why not? Dull is dull is dull is my life.”

Debut novel: Mathilda Savitch, which is about a 14-year-old girl who deals in cynical-vulnerable style with puberty, fear of terrorism and her grief-numbed parents — one year after her older sister Helene’s death. See review on page 30.

Mathilda’s strategies for getting through to her alcoholic mother and zombie-like father: Play recordings of Helene’s voice. Wear Helene’s clothes. Break into Helene’s account and send Ma an e-mail from her dead daughter.

Why reviewers compare Mathilda to Holden Caulfield: “Sometimes I think I’d like to be a person with brain damage, with nothing but the whale of joy jumping around inside of me. They used to make people forget their bad thoughts by sticking ice picks in their heads.... Now it’s all done with pills supposedly. But obviously the pills don’t work too hot because if they did everyone would be walking around like zippity-doo-dah.”

Liz Phair, Sufjan Stevens and k.d. lang: Contributors to Lodato’s imaginary soundtrack for Mathilda (at largeheartedboy.com).

In a Catholic church, Mathilda contemplates the crucifix: “I give Jesus the up down, since he’s basically flaunting himself. He doesn’t have a bad body. Skinny but there’s muscles. You could imagine his routine was jogging or swimming. He’s dressed pretty skimpily in like baggy speedos. It’s not a great look, it’s a little diapery. There’s the blood and the crown of thorns, which is pretty shocking when you see it in person.”

Lodato’s play that’s closest to Mathilda in theme: Lodato has written a dozen plays and seen them produced nationally and internationally; several (including a work in progress) are about children. In Motherhouse, a delusional man unexpectedly revisits his home — three years to the day after his sister’s child was murdered.

Why Mathilda, as a narrator, is unreliable: She day-trips from home, writes down her destination’s address for safe-keeping with a friend, then sees the friend crumple up the paper and toss it. “At first I feel sick,” Mathilda thinks, “but then I realize what she’s doing. She’s memorized the address too and now she’s discarding the evidence. Good girl, I think. Good girl.”

Victor Lodato reads from Mathilda Savitch in a “Coming of Age” event (joined by novelist Randall Platt) on Saturday, April 17, from 11:30 am-12:30 pm at Auntie’s Bookstore, 402 E. Main Ave.

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