By Leslie Lindsay
Two brothers struggle to survive a traumatic summer in rural Vermont is as haunting as poignant.
Buzzfeed included Soon the Light Will be Perfect on their list of 37 Amazing New Books this Spring
SOON THE LIGHT WILL BE PERFECT (Hanover Square Press/HarperCollins, April 2 2019) is one of those books that’s just so gorgeous and authentic, you forget you’re reading–and then you question if it’s truly fiction because the author does such a fantastic job of pulling the reader right into the story with tiny observations that feel very accurate.
Our unnamed narrator is a 12-year old boy on the cusp of young adulthood. He lives with his family in a poverty-stricken area in Vermont. But the family has done well enough that they are able to move away from the trailer park. His mother is a homemaker and his father works at a weapons manufacturing plant. The date is never specified, but we glean the story is set in the late 1980s or early 1990s because 1) it’s a coming-of-age novel and 2) The Gulf War is just beginning. We start out with a rough scene–and then things spiral from there–the boy’s mother has cancer.
But the family finds comfort in faith–both brothers are alter boys at the local Catholic church, the father frequently prays with the mother, and tradition seems to keep the family afloat. Meanwhile, the 15 year old brother is experimenting with cigarettes, drugs, girls, and general mischief.
I found the storytelling very swift and sparse; SOON THE LIGHT WILL BE PERFECT is a tightly-woven tale with an underlying sense of doom. I desperately wanted to learn what was going on–but mostly what was going to happen, a distinction, I think to your typical coming-of-age stories.
The end is most appropriate, inevitable–and I think there’s so much metaphor here for a political, social, and familial downfall.
Please join me in welcoming Dave Patterson to the author interview series:
Dave, I am so impressed. This is your debut book—but you’ve written for other publications, short stories and newspaper—I am intrigued with the seeds of SOON THE LIGHT WILL BE PERFECT—what got you writing? Was there a question you were seeking to answer? A theme you wanted to explore?
I’m so excited for this opportunity to talk with you! The seeds of this novel were firmly planted in my childhood. When I was a kid, my mother had cancer and my father lost his job. The experience marked me, and as a writer, the story of my childhood beckoned with a constant whisper, “Write me. Write me.” I ignored the call to write this story initially because 1) it was painful to relive and 2) who would want to read a book about a poor kid and his family from rural Vermont? I’d spent years at expensive liberal arts colleges pretending I wasn’t raised poor, why would I want to expose myself in this way? But all the while there was that hushed voice in the background: “Write me. Write me.” So after a collection of short stories I was working on began to flounder, I said, That’s it. Tell your story.
Once I was inside the narrative, I knew I wanted to explore the themes that had been tugging at my curiosity all my life: brotherhood, family, death, and the complexity of religion. Writing this book allowed me to attempt to clarify the way I felt about these themes.
The writing is so true, so raw and authentic that I had to double-check that I wasn’t reading a memoir! I think a lot of folks would agree—there’s a fine line between memoir and coming-of-age. Did you play around with form or did you always know what genre SOON THE LIGHT WILL BE PERFECT would be?
In my twenties, I discovered the tradition of the American short story that grew out of the late 60s and 70s. I plowed through every collection I could find by the masters: Raymond Carver, Andre Dubus, Richard Ford, Tobias Wolff, Annie Proulx, to name only a few. There was a sneaky subtlety to all these writers. It was a quality Hemingway had in his stories. A feeling that the narrator was just a neighbor leaning over a fence, telling you a simple story that slowly turns into something beautiful and terrifying. It’s a narrative form that catches the reader off guard. They let down their defenses and think, Well, this is just an ordinary story. Until it’s not. The artistry in this style is wonderfully understated. It’s dazzling for its refusal to dazzle. If that makes any sense.
A few years ago I read the novel, MONTANA, 1948 by Larry Watson. I was so drawn in by the conversational tone. I couldn’t put it down. When I finished, I immediately Googled the book, thinking it had to be a memoir. It wasn’t. The effect of that voice was haunting. I still think about the way Watson lays out horrific details in a plainspoken voice. There’s no hiding behind literary flourishes or over-the-top scenes. This approach strips everything away allowing a writer to lay out the essence of a story. Since SOON THE LIGHT WILL BE PERFECT takes place in a rural setting that isn’t particularly literary, this approach felt perfect. Like someone sitting you down in a country diner and saying, “Let me tell you about my childhood.” By the time the check comes, something profound has happen without any warning.
“Soon the Light Will Be Perfect is so deeply moving because it is so achingly true.
You will not soon forget these people, this place.”
Faith and Catholicism play a big role in SOON THE LIGHT WILL BE PERFECT. Can you talk about that, please?
Oh, I can talk about Catholicism for days! I grew up in a kind of Evangelical Catholicism of abortion protests, no MTV or trick or treating, and a deep belief in the existence of eternal damnation. For years after leaving home, I could only think about faith in Catholicism–or any hardlined religion for that matter–in negative terms. And for good reason. I found my early years in Catholicism to be stifling in terms of critical thinking, creativity, and a healthy sense of self. But in writing this novel, I knew I couldn’t take such a simplified approach to faith and religion. I was forced to reflect on the good sides of my religious upbringing. And it kind of annoyed how much good I found. I had learned about charity and grace from helping with the church’s food bank. I learned that it’s good to think big existential thoughts about God and existence for at least an hour a week. I learned that when someone in your community is hurting, you bake them a lasagna and deliver it to their front door, even if your own family is hurting. And I learned that in times of despair faith in a religion, for some people, can be a grounding anchor to help them survive the chaos of tragedy. Writing this novel helped me shed my binary thinking about the role of faith in one’s life. But don’t get me wrong, you won’t find me in a pew anytime soon.
How do you challenge yourself to grow as a writer? What are some of your rituals and routines?
Great question. The biggest way I challenge my own craft as a writer is to read. I’m always searching for writers who are working on the highest levels of craft. I try to dissect technique on the page to discover what I don’t know about writing. I try to read all different kinds of authors. I read books about writing, too, but I find that a brilliantly written novel or story collection teaches me more about writing and pushes my conception of story much further.
As far as routines, I’m a write-everyday-no-matter-what kind of guy. I have a small writing studio in my backyard. It allows me to escape my house where my two beautiful, wild children are often screaming out with the pure joy of being alive. I go to the studio every afternoon during the week and write for two hours. David Huddle, a writing professor of mine at the Bread Loaf School of English, once told me that inspiration was bullshit. He insisted that a fiction writer must clock in, do the work, and clock out every day. Some days you’ll write great stuff, some days you won’t. But do it enough, and the great stuff really starts to pile up, and the bad stuff can be edited or discarded. I’ve been following that advice for a decade now and continue to do so with the new novel I’m writing.
What’s obsessing you these days? It doesn’t have to be literary.
I am obsessed with bipartisan tribalism in America. Who isn’t? But here’s where my obsession gets personal: my father lives in Florida and voted for Trump. He and I had many debates about this in 2016, and what I found fascinating was that at our core, my father and I have basically the same values. Yet, somehow I thought Trump spelled doom for the American Republic (and still do), and he thought the same about Hillary. I was baffled that our conversations could start by talking about the importance of charity and end with us yelling about a border wall.
In the new novel I’m working on, I explore this strange bifurcation of America. Throughout the story, there’s always some kind of news media playing in the background either on television, the radio, or social media, eating away at my characters. Two of the characters even attend a fever-pitched Trump rally in Virginia where the narrator has to face the humanity tucked inside the desperate faces of the ravenous crowd waiting to ingest the lies of a red-hatted billionaire barking from a stage. I want to burrow inside this psyche to figure out how Americans with similar values can veer so violently far apart. I’m obsessed with this idea because I love this country, but mostly because I love my dad.
Dave, it’s been a pleasure. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?
No, that was brilliant! Thank you for having me and for asking such great questions about SOON THE LIGHT WILL BE PERFECT. I’m so thrilled to have the chance to talk about the book I’ve been thinking about and working on for years.
For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of SOON THE LIGHT WILL BE PERFECT, please visit:
About the Author: Dave Patterson is an award-winning fiction writer, journalist, musician, and high school English teacher. He studied at the Bread Loaf School of English and the Stonecoast MFA Program.
His work has appeared in numerous publications, and currently he pens a weekly beer column for
Maine Today. A native of northern Vermont, Patterson lives outside Portland, Maine with his
wife, two kids, and dog. SOON THE LIGHT WILL BE PERFECT is his first novel. For more
information, please visit and follow @PattersonWriter on Twitter.
You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites:
- Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter
- Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1
- Instagram: @LeslieLindsay1
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[Cover and author image courtesy of HarperCollins/Park Row and used with permission. Artistic cover image designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow for more like this on Instagram].