WESTAF Shoebox Arts

Interview: Victor Lodato, author of ‘Honey,’ on art, wish fulfillment, and living in Ashland

In Lodato’s new novel, the elderly daughter of a New Jersey mobster struggles with her family’s legacy of violence and finds salvation in art.

|

Victor Lodato says “Honey,” with its 82-year-old hero, is a kind of tribute to the women in his working-class family in New Jersey. “I grew up around a lot of bullies,” he says, “but there were very strong women in my life who protected me.”

Honey Fasinga, the 82-year-old protagonist of Victor Lodato’s newest novel, Honey, moves home to New Jersey after decades spent in New York and Los Angeles, where she’d escaped her mafia family’s violent past and reinvented herself as an aesthete and artistic patron. When she returns, the indefatigable Honey makes new friends, tries to mend old relationships and grapples with the possibility of forgiveness, “a grain of sand from which she’d never managed to make a pearl.”

“Honey was this avatar for me of a survivor,” said Lodato, who is from New Jersey and now lives in Ashland. “And how, throughout a really difficult life that had some traumatic experiences, she could still opt for fighting for beauty.”

We talked with Lodato about his book, which was released this spring by HarperCollins. He will be reading from Honey on Tuesday, June 4, at Roundabout Books in Bend; Friday, June 7, at Waucoma Bookstore in Hood River; Saturday, June 8, at Sunriver Books & Music; and July 11 at Powell’s Books in Portland.

What was it like spending so much of your mental energy in a place reminiscent of your home? Did it reaffirm choices you made? Did it make you nostalgic?

Lodato: Honey’s story of escaping New Jersey and finding herself through art is sort of my story, too. On my book tour, I did have a New Jersey event, and my favorite moment was when some stranger asked me a question about family and my Uncle Frank, who was in the audience, shouted, “Victor, take the Fifth!”

It’s always weird because it does feel like home, but it also is not. It’s like I’m a different person than the person who was formed by that experience. But when I go back, it pulls me into it, just like it pulls Honey in.

Sponsor

MYS Oregon to Iberia

You wrote plays before you wrote novels. How was it for you, going from dialogue to such interiority, especially a deeply interior book like Honey? Do you like providing more of that internal information and direction?

It was a natural evolution, and I absolutely love it. Now the idea of just writing dialogue seems a little dull to me.

In your previous books, Edgar and Lucy and Mathilda Savitch, the protagonists were younger. Now we have Honey, who is 82. Which perspective did you prefer to write from?

I think I’m fairly intelligent, but I also feel like most of the time, I really am confused by the world. Writing the voice of a child is very liberating, because even though I have to make it a sophisticated novel in terms of the voice, I don’t have to pretend that I understand everything. I can use the child as a way to discuss the way the world baffles me, and the way I’m still trying to figure out other people.

Maybe the leap from child characters to an octagenarian with nothing in between had to do with the pandemic, which really had me thinking about mortality. I saw some of the older strong women from my working-class family leaving the Earth during that time. Even though I wasn’t thinking of it when I was writing it, when I look back, I see that the book is kind of a tribute to them. I grew up around a lot of bullies, but there were very strong women in my life who protected me. Honey is still dealing with the bullies of the world and protecting other people from them.

Honey finds peace and salvation through art, particularly pieces she owns by Redon and Morandi. What piece of art would you say serves a similar function for you?

Well, actually, those are two artists I adore. To give you some background, I have lived on and off with a painter for about 35, 40 years now. Art has always been a part of my life. The painter that I live with is color blind, and so often when he brings a painting home from the studio, I’m sort of the seeing-eye dog. He’ll say, look at this, and I’ll say, “Well, there’s a lot of green right here. If you mean the face to be green, that’s fine.” He’ll say, “No, I didn’t mean it to be green. Show me exactly where the green is.”

Sponsor

All Classical Radio James Depreist

Even when I was a playwright in New York, I did see a lot of plays, but I spent just as much time in museums. I’ve always taken great solace from visual art. It might have something to do with what Honey says, that paintings create this belief that we can stop time into this single moment and preserve it forever.

My growing up in a working-class family in a kind of tough environment where there’s some toxic masculinity, and then, finding my identity and my voice through the agency of art … I was telling that story, too. Honey was able to reframe the trauma of her childhood by investing her life fully in these ideas of beauty, and even to some sense — maybe a false — heroic view of what art is. But it was enough to lift her up and to allow her to change her life and to escape her past. I think artists are often doing that, trying to reinvent or reframe their own lives. There’s some wish fulfillment in it.

I don’t think wish fulfillment is a dirty phrase. I want my books to be very real, but I also want them to be turned up a few notches above reality. My books are considered literary fiction, and I’m glad about that, but I also love melodrama, so I want there to be a little bit of that heat in my book. Maybe it’s the Italian in me. 

When you’re working on a book, you don’t outline in advance – you write chapter by chapter. How many drafts did you go through for Honey?

I don’t know how to answer that. It took me five or six years to write the book. I wrote the first chapter, and then I rewrote it and rewrote it to perfect it. Sometimes I’m rewriting it until it hits me what might happen next. The first “getting through to the very end” might have taken three years to write, because I write so slowly. Then you have to do a little reverse engineering to make it all make sense. It was pretty solid, but then I had to go through it many times, just to perfect it and to edit. I probably care too much about the rhythm of each sentence, and I have a good ear for bad dialogue or dialogue that rings false. Sometimes I’m just replaying those scenes from my head till I feel like you don’t doubt the reality of any of that dialogue.

And then my last question for you: What brought you to Ashland?

Just the quiet of Ashland. I was working on my last book, Edgar and Lucy, for a couple of years. I was living in Arizona and was three years into the book. I thought I would like a quiet place to spend six months to finish it, and a friend said, “I think you’d really like Ashland.”

Sponsor

WESTAF Shoebox Arts

Sight unseen, I came here to rent a place and hide out. It took three more years to finish it, and I kept coming back to Ashland because I found it such a peaceful place to work. By the time I finished it I thought, I’m too tired to move again. And I just realized I like living in a small town. I grew up in New Jersey and then moved to New York, and then was in Tucson, Ariz., which I love still, but now there’s nearly a million people there. Ashland has been the sweetest place that I’ve ever lived as a writer. There’s not much distraction. My life is strategically boring, and I think that’s been good for my soul and good for my writing.

Be part of our
growing success

Join our Stronger Together Campaign and help ensure a thriving creative community. Your support powers our mission to enhance accessibility, expand content, and unify arts groups across the region.

Together we can make a difference. Give today, knowing a donation that supports our work also benefits countless other organizations. When we are stronger, our entire cultural community is stronger.

Donate Today

Photo Joe Cantrell

Valarie Smith incurred enormous credit card debt during the ’90s when she lived in NYC and tried to see as many Broadway/ Off Broadway/ Off-Off Broadway plays as she could despite her pittance of a salary. She is a fervent believer in the Edward Albee quote, “If you’re willing to fail interestingly, you tend to succeed interestingly.” Her top five favorite productions (so far) are: True West (Circle in the Square Theatre, 2000), King Henry IV, Part One (Oregon Shakespeare Festival, 2017), We’re All Mad Here (Shaking the Tree, 2017), Six Degrees of Separation (Lincoln Center, 1991) and Richard II (BAM, 2016).

SHARE:

One Response

  1. HONEY is one of the best novels I have ever read. Period. I’ve known Victor Lodato tangentially, and have long admired his work. As a friend of mine said recently, “Lodato turns a simple walk to a restaurant into an unforgettable experience. This was a terrific interview.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

CMNW Summer Festival SB FIXED #1, TP, Top
Salem World Beat SB FIXED #2
Lake Oswego Festival of Arts
NW Dance Project
OCCA Monthly
MYS Oregon to Iberia
Maryhill Museum of Art
PAM 12 Month
PSU College of the Arts
Oregon Cultural Trust
Oregon ArtsWatch holder
We do this work for you.

Give to our GROW FUND.