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Fiction Literary

Say This

Two Novellas

by (author) Elise Levine

Initial publish date
Mar 2022
Literary, Family Life, Psychological
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Mar 2022
    List Price

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Two crystalline novellas linked by one devastating crime: Say This is an immersive meditation on the interplay between memory, trauma, and narrative.

It’s a cold spring in Baltimore, 2018, when the email arrives: the celebrity journalist hopes Eva will tell him everything about the sexual affair she had as a teen with her older cousin, a man now in federal prison for murder. Thirteen years earlier, Lenore-May answers the phone to the nightmare news that her stepson’s body has been found near Mount Hood, and homicide is suspected. Following Eva’s unsettling ambivalence towards her confusing relationship, and constructing a portrait of her cousin’s victim via collaged perspectives of the slain man’s family, these two linked novellas borrow, interrogate, sometimes dismantle the tropes of true crime; lyrically render the experiences of grief and dissociation; and brilliantly mine the fault lines of power and consent, silence, justice, accountability, and class. Say This is a startling exploration of the devastating effects of trauma on personal identity.

About the author

Contributor Notes

Elise Levine is the author of the story collection This Wicked Tongue, the novels Blue Field and Requests and Dedications, and the story collection Driving Men Mad. Her work has also appeared in publications including Ploughshares, Blackbird, The Gettysburg Review, and Best Canadian Stories. Born in Toronto, she lives in Baltimore, MD, where she teaches in the MA in Writing program at Johns Hopkins University.

Excerpt: Say This: Two Novellas (by (author) Elise Levine)

Everything Has Already Happened




The fog and its clearing. The fog again, a clouded mirror. Eva’s cousin. His slender back.



Eva’s cousin, his slender back. She washes it twice. The first time, the bathroom steams. She applies the worn terrycloth to the mole near the base of his spine, as best she can make out. Just above his crack. She drips water along his neck. Exactly as his dead sister did. The knobs along his spine seem to flex as he speaks. Eva stops. She hadn’t known about a dead sister. Exactly the same. Eva dips the cloth again into the tub. She strokes his forearms and chest. Am I hurting you? Rain hisses against the roof. Eva’s cousin falls asleep in the cooling water while she crouches on her heels. His long lashes, full lips. The rain stops. A car crunches on the dirt drive. A car door slams. Eva closes the bathroom door behind her.



The second time Eva washes her cousin, she is high from the bowl he’s offered after parking his own car. Which makes her fourteen. Or twelve. Or eleven, same summer as the first time.



Sixteen would be right—when on a cloud-jammed July afternoon her cousin sweeps aside his curtain of long hair, leans across the kitchen table and plants a swift kiss. He is twenty-one. He still lives in this old house on a hill with his stepmother who works and works. His nose upturns to a point. He is slight, not tall. It is the house that is tall and taller that afternoon in the kitchen. The ceiling shoves up and the air thins and Eva and her cousin grow tiny, turn into small amazing children. His laugh foams. Outside the kitchen window, the steeply serried streets of Astoria, Oregon. Whitecaps curl on the river below town. Freighters and distant forests bear crowns of mist. If she’s sixteen, it’s 1993. Let’s go for a drive.



She’s sixteen, sure. The songs he’ll write about her when he gets famous, providing he can sweet-talk his stepmother into buying that red guitar. His collection of seven silver dollars he’ll split with Eva once their value jacks. Loopy grin each time he takes his gaze from the wet road. Clogs her throat so hard it’s like dying except probably better. It’s raining hard when he turns onto an old logging road and the car shudders into the woods. Trees splash above. He brakes and turns off the engine. Smokes, pops the top on a brew. The windows glaze. The air thick. He hikes her thin skirt and lifts the band on the leg of her underwear with an inquisitive finger and hunches over her. Spilled beer pools on the floor mat. His cat tongue makes sticky sounds. So much rain. Eva comes hard. Really hard. He kisses her bare, beer-sticky soles. He rubs himself on her, all over her. He gentles her head down.



The clouds haul off. Purple sky. Eva’s cousin drives along the river. Just drives. The radio busted. For once Eva feels loose in herself. A new sensation. She is someone she can admire. Really something. Big girl.



After, Eva’s cousin sits propped in the tub like a pale boy-king tired from a long day of chasing puppies and tying ribbons in girls’ hair and chewing meat soaked in milk.



The white-flower cups of his knees. The bathroom window wide open, a fat moon. Eva covers her cousin’s face with the ratty washcloth. As if admiring her handiwork, she takes in his narrow chest, the delicate neck. Slick with water, his thatch of brown hair resembles the fur of a sleek animal that changes with ease. She wonders if she can. Is she already? In a strangled voice he says, Still like me?



Do you? Eva thinks, though not often, over the course of the next twenty-five years. Or twenty. Or twenty-two. She can never be sure. Her mind blurs. She only knows the affair was their last summer together, before she flew back east for the last time. Left for good. Still like me? Miss me. Think of me.



Editorial Reviews

Praise for Say This

"Say This is a breathtaking, daring exploration of that constancy, of the lingering power of trauma, and the roots and branches of violence and despair."—Toronto Star

"Levine addresses questions of identity and the impact of violence as well as addiction, consent, and society’s exploitation of trauma, and does so in gorgeous, surprising, and utterly gripping prose."—Elizabeth Hazen, Baltimore Fishbowl

"Elise Levine is a taut and musical writer who experiments boldly and beautifully with form. The fragments of story here refract like a prism, bending and catching the complexity of her characters’ experiences. This is an arresting and powerful book."—Alix Ohlin, author of Dual Citizens and We Want What We Want

"Every page of Elise Levine's Say This is a meticulously crafted, crystalline work of high art. These two novellas, fragmented and fractured in a manner that perfectly captures our present reality, are sharp and poetic, suspenseful and engaging. Everything one requires of the best narrative fiction is here, all told in gorgeous prose that commands your attention at every turn."—Robert Lopez, author of All Back Full

"Elise Levine's brilliant Say This examines the damage inflicted by one man's life and another man's death, as experienced by the people they left behind. Intimate, provocative, and deeply unsettling in their power, these interconnected novellas showcase Levine's gift for telling stories that readers can't look away from, wrapped in prose so beautiful and precise." —Jung Yun, Author of Shelter and O Beautiful

Praise for Elise Levine

“Levine offers a vision and a language so poetically visceral and fiercely poignant—so uniquely intelligent—that story after story I was in awe of her courage and artistry.” —Barbara Gowdy

“Elise Levine writes with a new and exciting type of lyric rhythm. These are stories with the beating heart of poems.” —Rion Amilcar Scott, winner of the 2017 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction

“Elise Levine’s startling sentences alternate between serrated sentiment and lyrical reverie, offering readers that rarest commodity—genuine surprise.” —Jeff Jackson, author of Destroy All Monsters

“Elise Levine uses language like a scalpel to cut to the nervy core of our inner life. There’s a restless desolation in these stories, perfectly poised against a wily, wry wit. This Wicked Tongue is wicked smart.” —Dawn Raffel, The Strange Case of Dr. Couney

“Taut, musical sentences…a stylish, experimental collection.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Levine demonstrates a boisterous command of language and an ability to seize the reader’s attention…her stories pry us open, revealing our secretly wounded places, finally acting as balm and salvation. Lucky us.” —Toronto Star

“Reading Elise Levine is akin to a wild ride down a dark road at night…Bold and startling…Precipitous and exhilarating.” —Globe and Mail

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