cover image Ultraviolet


Suzanne Matson. Catapult (PGW, dist.), $26 (256p) ISBN 978-1-936787-95-1

Matson (The Tree-Sitter) follows the disappointments and dilemmas of the women of one family across 80 years in this fascinating and stirring novel. Born in 1930s India, Kathryn sloughs off her austere Mennonite missionary upbringing after returning to America. Kathryn moves to Portland, Ore., and dates a string of servicemen until she meets Carl, a former communist sheet metal worker who’s 16 years older than her. She follows him to a temporary work assignment in Los Angeles, where they marry. After returning to Portland, Kathryn struggles with miscarriages; Carl’s sprawling, Finnish-speaking family; and Carl’s irregular work. Kathryn’s second child, Samantha, grows up amid her mother’s curdling resentment and is forced to care for her elderly father after her parents’ long-postponed divorce. Matson glides through her characters’ lives in almost self-contained chapters punctuated by explosions of burnished emotion: the quick fracturing of a family sledding trip, the casual cruelty of a spoiled neighbor girl, the awkwardness of a mother-daughter trip to Vegas. History minimally intrudes and is generally used to heighten sentiments, such as the Black Dahlia case, which serves to highlight Kathryn’s vulnerability, and a Vietnam War protest that captures Samantha’s shaky coming-of-age. Readers will latch onto the unforgettable characters of this accomplished saga of the shifting personal and historical complications of American womanhood. Agent: Emily Forland, Brandt & Hotchman Literary Agents. (Sept.)