No. 48: Mary Lavallee
Q. The characters in “Victor Vale” are rather well-traveled—Prague, Paris, a beach, a forest. Are there any fairy-tale-esque places you’d like to visit?
Absolutely! While much of Victor Vale takes place in Europe – or an imagined Europe – I’m extremely interested in America’s mythic landscape and its potential for strange tales. Over the past few years I’ve taken some time to explore Texas and New Mexico, and I am so taken by the vastness of the desert and its shifting barrenness. I would love to travel even further west – through Arizona, Nevada, and into California. I feel as though there are many fairy-tale-like stories lurking around in those lost places.
Q. People often take for granted the form of prose in comparison to the myriad structures we see with poetry, making the subtle differences in a story fascinating. What made you decide to use numerals to separate out “Victor Vale” instead of section breaks or another format?
“Victor Vale,” is, to me, a series of snapshots: twelve instances that illustrate the progression of the narrator’s undoing. Thus the use of numerals evolved naturally. I wanted to leave room for the reader to fill in the gaps. I also hoped, through this story’s “brokenness,” to create a heightened sense of surrealism. The disconnectedness of a dream.
Q. Water imagery runs throughout your story: the fishing village, snow, the ocean, the narrator’s dreams of water, and so on. Do you have any favorite literary depictions of water, and did these play into the symbolism in your own piece?
To be honest, growing up beside the ocean in a small coastal town was perhaps more influential than any work of literature I’ve grown to admire. I did not fully appreciate the ocean’s presence – its consistency, its lullaby, a mast slowly emerging from the fog—until I moved from Massachusetts to a land-locked portion of Texas. In the years since, the ocean has come to symbolize for me a sort of longing and nostalgia that I can’t seem to access in my writing in any other way. A vastness, a profound quiet. All that exists to look at is reflection.
These themes swirl around the narrator of “Victor Vale,” who finds himself torn between his work and his love. He longs for both, and is left only with the ocean retreating away from a crumbling house.
Interview conducted by Fairy Tale Review Editorial Assistant Lucille Randazzo.
Mary Lavallee’s story, “Victor Vale,” can be found in The Mauve Issue of Fairy Tale Review.
an excerpt from “Victor Vale”
I meet the protagonist outside a coffee shop in Prague, which is a city I have never been to. He orders coffee, thick with sweetened condensed milk. I wonder if there is some sort of significance in this. I write it down on my yellow pad of paper, and he stares at me, wounded, like I have stolen something.
The waitress brings us a tray of pastries. They look golden and delicious. The protagonist does not appear to be affected by the sudden appearance of the food. I bite into one. It is wonderful, though I would have preferred the muted sweetness of peaches to the cherries that ooze redly between sheets of flaky dough. The waitress returns, replacing the tray of cherry pastries with a tray of peach.
I’m sorry, she says humbly. I wasn’t sure which you would prefer.
I wave my hand, as though to dismiss such a silly notion, and this seems to make her feel better. She moves away to bus a nearby table, humming.
The protagonist waits until she has gone. He eyes my yellow pad of paper, already swollen with observations.
So. He says. You are writing about me.
I nod. I bite into the corner of one pastry triangle. The peaches are, in fact, perfect for the morning. Mixed with just a hint of cinnamon, the flavor brings a bit of warmth into an otherwise chilly morning.
I thought the last time was the last time, the protagonist says.
You always think the last time will be the last time, I reply.
The protagonist is silent. His mouth makes a straight line. A line as straight as a river I have seen in dreams.
What about Victor? the protagonist asks after a long while.
I look at him. What about Victor?
He doesn’t say anything after this. His eyes have greyed over, like the clouds passing. His coffee has, no doubt, gone tepid.
I would stay here all day if I could, I say.
Well. The protagonist says.
Yes, I say.
I put my coins on the table. Press my arms into the sleeves of my thick wool coat, heavy with the moisture of the cold, humid air. The protagonist makes no move to leave. I suddenly know that later in the day it will snow.
I was on a small ship in the middle of the ocean when I first met Victor Vale. I saw his head bob up above the crest of a white wave like an apple in a barrel. I threw him a rope. Reeled him in like he was nothing more than a large fish. In fact, I am sure I have caught fish larger than Victor, both before and after.
He lay half-drowned on the soaked wooden deck. Above, the one white sail flapped against a white wind-torn sky. In between gulps of air, Victor looked at me.
What are the odds, he kept saying. What are the odds.
Later, he would ask me about his name. Vale. We would be lying on a hillside underneath a clutch of pointed stars that seemed to have been spilled from someone’s pocket.
What does it make you think of? he would ask me. Vale, what does that make you think of?
Up until that moment, it hadn’t made me think of anything.
Vale, I said. The wind stirred against Victor’s cheek. Vale, I said again. It makes me think of a dark thing, I said. It makes me think of a thin place between worlds.
He looked at me, his eyes shining like polished brass buttons. I could feel the wet grass poking me through my shirt.
It makes me think of that, too, Victor would say. What are the odds? What are the odds?
When it came down to it, everything depended on what you believed. I believed it was chance, Victor’s head cresting on a wave like that. I met up with the protagonist later on, at a café outside of Paris, a place I have never been. I met this man named Victor, I told the protagonist. I thought, when I pulled him over the side of the boat legs-first, that he had surely drowned. Then he’d coughed, I said. Water spilled from his lungs.
The protagonist had nodded his head. He stooped his shoulders as though he was shielding his coffee from the wind. Even then, I was writing everything down.
Well? I asked. Isn’t that an extraordinary thing?
The protagonist looked at me. I noted the quality of his eyes. I knew it was something I would have to save for later.
It’s interesting that it occurred, the protagonist said.
That tells me nothing.
It’s interesting, the protagonist said, that anything occurs at all.
I stared at him. I placed my money on the table and left, circling back along the foggy street. You’ll see, the protagonist had called after me, as my body melted into the mist. You’ll see how extraordinary it is that anything happens at all.