Named a Best Book of the Year by Real Simple
"This unostentatious yet intricate novel follows the women of a family across nearly a century . . . Domestic scenes emit blasts of emotional life, as the women grapple with the 'swooning collapse and then the expanding distance' between their interior lives and the outside world." —The New Yorker
Suzanne Matson’s engrossing and intimate new novel, Ultraviolet, centers on Kathryn—the daughter of Elsie and mother of Samantha— while illuminating the lives of three generations of women, each more independent than the last.
Their stories open in 1930s India, where Elsie lives with her authoritarian missionary husband and their children. Returning to the American Midwest as a teenager, Kathryn feels alienated and restless. When she loses her mother prematurely to a stroke, she escapes to Oregon for a fresh start. Disappointed that her education was cut short by her father, and dreaming of becoming a writer, she supports herself as a waitress in wartime America, dating soldiers, then meeting and marrying Finnish–American Carl. A construction worker sixteen years her senior, he is an unlikely match, though appealing in his care – free ways and stark difference from her Mennonite past. But Kathryn ends up feeling trapped in the marriage, her ambitions thwarted. Samantha, who’s grown up in the atmosphere of her mother’s discontent, follows her own career to teach at a university in faraway Boston, where she maintains a happy family of her own.
When Kathryn starts to fail, Samantha moves her mother near her to care for, and then to watch over her deathbed, where “something in the room— the spell, the cord knitting them together—is cut. Or no, that can’t be right, either.” Ultraviolet is a lyrical novel of great emotional depth. Suzanne Matson recognizes both the drama that is within every existence and the strengths and fragilities of our relationships with others. She shines a brilliant light on the complexities of marriage, motherhood, aging, and the end of life.
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.