"Offering Kindness in the Most Improbable Situations": Victor Lodato on "Edgar and Lucy"

­­­­­­­You'll Edgar need to steel yourself before settling into Victor Lodato's dazzling but dark novel, Edgar and Lucy. In it, a precocious 8-year-old boy makes a friend with dubious intentions, a mysterious man in a green truck who parks near his school...Is your skin crawling yet? While this development introduces a seeping menace into this epic literary thriller, all is not quite as it seems. Here, Lodato explains how the plot developed, and his soft spot for certain characters, particularly the story's improbable hero.

I never expected Edgar and Lucy to take me so long to write.  I’d been working on it for about five years when I told everyone I loved that I was heading out to Oregon for six months or so to finish it.  Those six months turned into nearly another five years.

In many ways, it was good to work slowly—to feel as if the story was growing organically, sentence by sentence, chapter by chapter.  I prefer not to play puppet master too much.  I think I’m at my best when I’m writing from inside the characters—when every twist and turn of the story seems to be dictated by what a certain character is feeling. Maybe that’s because I’m also a playwright.

As I’m working on a piece, I never know what’s going to happen next.  In Edgar and Lucy, a family drama that turns into a sort of thriller, there are many secrets and revelations: What happened to Edgar’s father?  Who is the mysterious man in the green truck? During the years of working on this novel, Edgar and Lucy and I edged toward the answers together. It’s this sort of detective work that keeps me interested as a writer—and hopefully it does the same for a reader.  I think at the core of all writing and reading is mystery—the ultimate mystery being, who are other people? One writes—and reads—in an attempt to answer this question, or at least get closer to an answer.  It’s a very humanizing endeavor.

At a certain point, I understood that the world of Edgar and Lucy was a kind of a mirror-land of my childhood in 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 nonna.

I don’t set out to write books with children in them—but children keep showing up.  And I’m glad they do.  I find it liberating to write in the voice of a child, from the perspective of someone who is still learning the world and interpreting its complexities for the first time.  It enables me to address my own fears and anxieties and confusions in a very innocent and open way.  I don’t have to pretend to have all the answers.

Frightening things happen in this book, and Edgar and Lucy go through some harrowing times.  Writing the novel was a difficult undertaking, physically and emotionally. But, somehow, in being able to access the love I had as a child from the two grandmothers who raised me—well, it got me through.

At its core, Edgar and Lucy is a love story—and the unlikely hero is Edgar.  His power isn’t physical strength or even overt bravery, but rather an uncanny ability to love ferociously and to offer kindness in the most improbable situations—and to offer it to people who don’t seem to deserve it.  While working on this novel I realized how strangely rare real kindness is, when it’s such a simple thing and should be so easy to offer.

And so, as I wake from a ten-year dream of writing this book into a world in which there is suddenly so much unkindness, I feel good about sharing a love story with readers at this particular moment.

I don’t take fiction writing lightly. I really do believe that fiction, both the writing of it and the reading of it, is a very civilizing thing. In it, there’s the possibility of learning to love people who are nothing like you—and that’s where the miracle of art happens, and you change.

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