Victor Lodato is a New Jersey-born playwright, novelist and poet who has made Ashland, Oregon, his home base. A Guggenheim Fellow, as well as the recipient of a number of prominent fellowships, including one from National Endowment for the Arts, Lodato joined us to discuss his work and, more specifically, his new book, "Edgar and Lucy."
JG: Victor, tell us about "Edgar and Lucy."
VL: "Edgar and Lucy" is my second novel. It traces the fates of a mother and son over the course of their lives, but focusing largely on a particularly trying year when Edgar is 8. I’ve playfully referred to this book as “a New Jersey Gothic” novel. In many ways, I think it’s a true Gothic, in that it’s about Edgar and Lucy’s complicated connection to the past, and there’s definitely a sense of the past as a source of malignant influence. And of course all of this is happening in an updated version of the ruined castle, which is the dilapidated Fini house, certainly a haunted place. What starts out as a family drama becomes a sort of thriller. Most thrillers focus on plot, at the expense of characters — but I wanted to ground the story in the emotional truth of this family, so that when things got rolling, plot-wise, the reader would truly care about these people.
JG: What led up to this book?
VL: My first novel, "Mathilda Savitch," was written in the voice of a 13-year-old girl. "Edgar and Lucy" is more symphonic, in that there are a lot of characters and various intersecting stories. At a certain point, I recognized that the new book was a sort of mirror-land of my childhood in Hoboken, New Jersey, and of my hot-blooded, working-class, Italian-Polish family. Ultimately, there’s a lot of invention in Edgar and Lucy, in terms of the story, but some of the emotional dynamics between the characters are very much based on my life — especially Edgar’s relationship with his grandmother. I had the luck of growing up in a house with both my grandmothers. The character of Florence is basically a combination of these two women — as if I’d stuffed my tiny Polish grandmother inside the larger body of my Italian grandmother.
JG: How do you figure out what type of tone and structure to use in a book that you’re writing?
VL: That sort of happens naturally, intuitively. But I suppose I could say that once I realized that the book had a somewhat Gothic feel, it gave me the freedom to go for a more heightened kind of storytelling. Also, more than being a Gothic, I sensed early on that "Edgar and Lucy," at its core, was a love story — and not just one story, but a series of love stories that were all connected. I was very aware that the emotional temperature of the book was hotter than anything I’d ever written before; the emotions were bigger, balder, crazier. And there was a certain point when I actually felt embarrassed by this, almost ashamed, to be writing in such a way. Ultimately, though, I knew that in order to be true to this story and these characters, I had to just dive into the water and go for the big opera of it.
JG: What upcoming projects are you excited about?
VL: I’m looking forward to traveling around the country on book tour, reading from "Edgar and Lucy." Coming from the theater, as a playwright, I hear my characters’ voices very clearly in my head — so it’ll be fun to share this with readers. As for other book projects, I’m working to finish a collection of short stories. My most recent story will appear in The New Yorker in late March. Also, after publishing a personal essay in the “Modern Love” column of The New York Times just last week, I’m interested in trying my hand at some other non-fiction pieces. Finally, I’m thinking of going back to my roots and writing a new play. After the huge undertaking of "Edgar and Lucy," writing a play actually seems like a vacation.
— Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is a Daily Tidings columnist, arts reviewer and freelance writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.