Mary Otis

Published April 04, 2023 


Longlisted for the Joyce Carol Oates Prize

Winner, Independent Publisher Book Awards, Silver Medal - Literary Fiction


Featured on PBS NewsHour 

Named by Good Morning America, New York Post, and Los Angeles Daily News as one of the Best Books of Spring 2023


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A deeply moving debut novel from the award-winning author of Yes, Yes, Cherries (“Funny, brave, and amazing”—Lorrie Moore) that explores the relationship complexities between mothers and daughters, the desire to escape, and the longing to connect. Viva has always found ways to manage her mother’s impulsive, eccentric and addictive personality. She’s had to—for her entire life, it has always been Viva and Charlotte against the world. After accidentally discovering an innate ability for dance, Viva chases her new passion with the same fervor with which her mother chases the bottle.

Over the years, Viva’s talent becomes a ticket to a life of her own, and as she moves further away from home to pursue her dream, Charlotte struggles to make peace with her own past as a failed artist and the effects of her addiction. When tragedy strikes, Viva begins a downward spiral and must decide whether she will repeat her mother’s mistakes or finally take control of her life. Told from interwoven perspectives with lyrical prose as deft as a choreographed dance.

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Selected by Publisher’s Marketplace as a Buzz Book for Spring/ Summer 2023.
In lyrical language that expresses both Viva’s and Charlotte’s perspectives, Otis portrays a mother and daughter caught in a tense pas de deux, perpetually pushing one another away before returning to each other. This author continues to impress.
A new spin on the theme of entwined mothers and daughters.
Put these 10 books from local authors on your must-read list
A brief but spectacular take on finding your voice.
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What people are saying...

“Mary Otis delivers a psychologically acute vision of a mother and daughter and their haunting waltz in which allegiance, dreams of escape, the desire for dignity and the urge for self-destruction play their part in a dance that spreads over three decades. A powerful debut.”

Janet Fitch

author of White Oleander and The Revolution of Marina M.

“When it comes to stories of mothers and daughters, Mary Otis's Burst is up there with Mona Simpson's Anywhere But Here and Elizabeth Strout's Amy & Isabelle. Otis writes with complexity and heart. We are all richer and wiser after reading her work.”

Natalie Baszile

author of Queen Sugar and We Are Each Other’s Harvest

“The mysterious bond that occurs between troubled mothers and their daughters has been written about endlessly, but almost never with such perfectly-modulated electricity, such humor and deep wisdom, such enveloping–but utterly unsentimental–tenderness. Burst is a taut, economical novel that nonetheless contains multitudes. Its interrogations of what we owe ourselves and one another, how we love our parents and struggle to escape their shadows, and how we reconcile our dreams with our disappointments, is wonderful indeed.”

Matthew Specktor

author of Always Crashing in the Same Car and American Dream Machine

“A profound, propulsive exploration of what it means to be a mother, a daughter, an artist, and an addict. A transfixing, singular evocation of the precarious, terrifying predicament that constitutes being a woman alone in the world. BURST made me think deeply about my own choices and compulsions and changed, forever, the way I see myself and the world.”

Joanna Rakoff

author of My Salinger Year and A Fortunate Age

“Beautifully written, propulsive, and utterly transcendent, this is a mother-daughter story for the ages.”

J. Ryan Stradal

author of Kitchens of the Great Midwest and The Lager Queen of Minnesota

"Mary Otis writes about the ineffable—the high of being a dancer, the terrible closeness of mothers and daughters—with clarity, soul, and grace. BURST is a radiant first novel, its characters impossible to forget in their individual vividness and their complicated love for one another."

Sarah Shun-lien Bynum

author of Likes and Madeline is Sleeping

“Mary Otis is so gifted at giving us two full and complicated women in this captivating novel, allowing each her brokenness and her dignity. Plus, the gorgeous writing about dance! I was making a list in my head of readers I want to give it to."

Aimee Bender

author of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake and The Butterfly Lampshade

“Burst is a wallop of a novel—it is about risk and pleasure, the way a body or mind can feel like a boundless possibility and a small prison, the way a mother and daughter set loose in the world can make everything shine, even if the shiny things also have teeth.”

Ramona Ausubel

author of Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty and Awayland

Why Zibby Loves It…

BURST is an absolutely beautiful novel. Mary Otis paints a complicated portrait of a unique and yet universal mother-daughter relationship, one infused with love, drama, trauma, hope, disappointment, and ultimately, permanence. 

Viva is a memorable character, one who turns to dance and realizes that she is gifted in ways she would never have imagined. Dance is a perfect metaphor here: unpredictable at times, graceful, original, emotional, and vibrant. Just like BURST itself. Charlotte, as a flawed and complicated mother, tries, perhaps, to do her best and yet can’t get out of her own way, her demons infusing and infecting everything she loves.. 

Mother-daughter relationships, at their core, are the most interesting, interwoven threads in the family maypole and this duo, Viva and Charlotte, spin a moving tale. 

Dark yet warm, disturbing yet hopeful, the relationship between Charlotte and Viva is a literary masterpiece.

I hope you enjoy BURST as much as our team at Zibby Books did. It is a quiet yet powerful story with a dart of poignance that will lodge in your heart.