Victor Lodato: “Herman Melville, Volume 1”

"Herman Melville, Volume 1"
by Victor Lodato
Originally published in the March 27, 2017 issue of The New Yorker.

A couple of weeks ago, Victor Lodato’s second novel, Edgar and Lucy was published. A few days ago, his short story “The Tenant” was shortlisted for the £30,000 Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award. It’s been a good month for Lodato, and now we get some more of his fiction in The New Yorker. A couple of Lodato’s stories have shown up in The New Yorker over the past few years and we’ve liked them a lot (you can read our responses to “P.E.” here and to “Jack, July” here).

From Lodato’s interview with Cressida Leyshon (here), it appears that this is a story about a young couple drifting around Oregon. “Herman Melville, Volume 1” is the title of a hefty book they’re carrying in a backpack. I’m definitely interested to see how his contemporary exploration of drifters ties in with Herman Melville and, I hope, Moby-Dick.

Please join in the conversation about this story and leave your thoughts below!

3 thoughts on “Victor Lodato: “Herman Melville, Volume 1”

  1. I found that moment to moment I quite liked the writing of this story. He is very good at giving the reader a clear picture of the the characters, locations, events, emotions. But as a story there was not much there there. The character of the older woman seems utterly contrived and unbelievable – the sort of person you only meet in stories. The menacing man seemed too one-dimensional and too familiar – little more than a plot device.
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    I found the interview frustrating in ways that a lot of author interviews are. He makes it sound like the way he writes he has no idea what he wants to write about or why and hopes something interesting will happen along the way as he puts words on the page. But that seems to be the perfect approach to get exactly what this story (and, frankly, too many stories in The New Yorker) gives us. It’s like watching actors who have spent a lot of time developing their characters try to improvise a scene. The details might be quite skillfully done, but the big picture has too many problems and inadequacies.
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    I had read “Jack, July” previously and recall not liking it very much. This story was better, but still a lot less than I want or expect. Maybe next time he will, as he writes, stumble on a story worth telling. Or better yet, he will wait until he has some idea why he is writing before he starts.

  2. I didn’t see much here to distinguish this from so many other stories about characters living out on the street, basically broke. Also, something seemed off about this, especially in terms of place. I think the interview says the story is set in Oregon, but I didn’t catch that in the text, including after doing a control-f search for “Oregon.” Maybe I missed it? Beyond that, there was at least one odd word choice – “rubbish.” The rescuer-woman asks the main character if she has been eating “rubbish,” and the word is later used by the narrator as well. Now, I’ve never been to Oregon but believe that, as in the rest of America, the word used there is “garbage,” not “rubbish.” This made me wonder if the story was set outside the United States, till the interview disabused me of that.

    I Googled Lodato and learned that, like me, he grew up in New Jersey. (Weirdly, his website’s bio doesn’t say where in New Jersey he lived – not even what exit! Yet it’s very specific in noting that he subsequently lived in Ashland, Oregon and Tuscon, Arizona. Hey Victor, how about showing a little respect for those Jersey roots by giving us some specificity?)

    But I digress – I just meant to add that in New Jersey, people don’t say “rubbish” either. The use of the word added an air of inauthenticity to the story, and I can’t figure out why Lodato would want to do that….

  3. Good to see you back again, Roger. About the setting, the location is more implied than stated outright. We are told early on that she got her backpack in Portland and that a few weeks earlier they had been in Bandon Oregon, but the setting for the story is just described as “a pretty little town” without a name or state mentioned. There is also a reference to the town’s park sometimes having “kids from California” and “hikers from the Pacific Crest Trail”. Since that implies that this is not California and the trail runs through Washington, Oregon, and California, it seems to narrow the location down to one of the Pacific Northwest states. Later in the story she speculates that Evan has gone south, probably to California, so Washington or Oregon seem to be indicated.
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    I also was puzzled by the use of the word “rubbish”. In fact, it prompted me to google Lodato to find out if I was mistaken about his nationality. Even if the word is commonly used in Oregon (or Tuscon for that matter) it still seems more a distraction than anything. Very peculiar.

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