Mark Lavorato’s third novel, Serafim and Claire, an homage to 1920s Montreal, tells the story of a vaudeville dancer whose life becomes entwined with that of an immigrant photographer as they attempt to make their fortune while the city teeters on the brink of the Depression.
Why did you write your new book?
Despite evidence to the contrary, I was convinced there was a vanguard of photographers at the advent of 35-mm photography who could foresee the image-based society we would one day become. Looking around at other scenes in 1920s Montreal (where I wanted to set the novel), I found the intoxicating world of dance, an art form that, with the arrival of moving pictures, was just about to disappear from the vast majority of stages for the first time. I had found two art forms right on the cusp of monumental change, one that was about to explode in importance, and one that was about to fade from the limelight. I chose one protagonist to represent each of these art forms, Serafim and Claire.
Whose sentences are your favourite, and why?
I love Annie Proulx’s alteration between dense and sparse prose. “Everybody that went away suffered a broken heart. ‘I’m coming back some day,’ they all wrote. But never did. The old life was too small to fit anymore.” Perfect.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
“Remember that what you hate in others is simply what you hate in yourself.” I was told this once, almost flippantly, in a conversation, and was bowled over with how accurate it was. It ends up really helping out with writing. You can indirectly define a character by what he or she loathes.
Which historical period do you wish you’d lived through, and why?
The entire year of 1969. Every force imaginable was pulling in disparate directions to a point that it must have felt like the world was going to break, or crack open and be born anew. I can hardly imagine a headier time.
Would you rather be successful during your lifetime and then forgotten or legendary after death?
I think the former. To know even moderate success as a writer would be incredible. Especially as we’re all forgotten about at some point.
What agreed-upon classic do you despise?
I hated Catch-22. It’s supposed to be a hilarious anti-war novel underlining a single piece of twisted logic that should have you laughing for weeks, whereas I just spent my weeks annoyed. It’s like an absurdist play I found myself sitting through. I can, with effort, enjoy an absurdist play, for a few minutes. Then I want it to end. And when it doesn’t, I want to poke my eyes out with a sharp object. Catch-22 was exactly that kind of book.
Which fictional character do you wish you’d created?
Oliver Twist. Making purity believable, without oversimplifying a character, is almost impossible in writing. Yet Dickens pulled it off with ease.
Which fictional character do you wish you were?
Adso from Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. To be the overlooked narrator on the sidelines of powerful forces and endless intrigue. I’d take that.
What question do you wish people would ask about your work (that they don’t ask)?
What are you working on next? Because that is the project that I’m chomping at the bit to get at, and have a thousand ideas about.
It’s also the one I’m most open to hearing input on.
This interview, conducted by Globe Books, has been condensed and edited.