Q and A with Christopher Torockio, THE SOUL HUNTERS
1. Tell us a little about your novel.
The Soul Hunters is a multi-generational exploration of a family that has just lost its patriarch—the last member of his generation. Set mainly in contemporary small-town Pennsylvania, with subplots and flashbacks occurring in New York City and Verona, Italy, on the day and evening following the funeral, the narrative navigates between the perspectives of the three sons and their current wives in revealing the tensions and struggles—present and past, collective and individual—that this family is now forced to confront in the face of shifting expectations, and the demands of contemporary American society.
2. How did this novel begin? Were you thinking about the effects of war and its aftermath on family?
Actually, no. It started with my grandfather's funeral. He was the last of that generation. All of his sons and their families now lived out of state, and when we all were in town for the funeral it really felt like the end of something. As the characters to in the novel, we had a yard sale after the funeral and somehow the kitchen table was sold but not the chairs. At some point near the end of the day we all went inside and sat in the kitchen and it was so weird sitting as if around the table--only there was no table. My aunt said to me, "This should be a story." People say stuff like this to me all the time (as I'm sure you know!) but this time I thought, You know, yeah, it would. So thanks to Aunt Diane!
3. Did you know when you started that you would have several point-of-view characters?
Yeah, I did. It's one of the few times I had the structure in my head before I began. I wanted it to be about the entire family and for the plot to unfold like a mosaic in the span of a single day and night. Now, managing all of that was different story! But, yeah, I knew there would be several points of view from the outset.
4. This novel has a lot of humor in it, despite its hefty themes of mortality, infidelity, familial turmoil, war. Who are some of your influences?
Well, I've always been partial to the contemporary realists that I discovered when I was first figuring out that I might actually be able to be a writer. I admire writers who can reveal the ordinary moments of everyday life in ways that really matter. My heroes from the start have been Richard Bausch and Charles Baxter and Tobias Wolff. Richard Russo, Stuart Dybek, Tim O'brien, Richard Ford, and Lorrie Moore, too. Lately I've been loving a bunch of writers who write big novels, yet still have wonderful "moments" in them: Jonathan Franzen, Colum McCann, Jennifer Egan, Jess Walter. Let's see...who else? ZZ Packer, Tom Drury, Christine Sneed. I could go on, but that's probably enough I think, huh?
5. You've written many excellent short stories and have published 2 other well-regarded story collections (I remember reading one of the chapters in The Soul Hunters in a recent issue of Ploughshares, coincidentally). As a writer, do you prefer novels to short stories? Or do you like to work in both modes equally well?
Short stories are kind of my first love. They're what first made me want to write. Like I said, I really like stunning "moments," and I think short stories are the more natural medium for that. I love zeroing in on the nuances of a situation. For me, that's tougher (or maybe more frustrating) to do in a novel. Maybe that's why The Soul Hunters is made up of so many episodes narrated by different characters--it's a more story-like structure. But the short answer, I guess, is that I like both. I've always admired writers who could work equally well in both. I mentioned a bunch of them somewhere above.
6. What are you currently working on?
So for the past several summers I've been bringing students to Europe for a class called "Creative Writing Abroad." It's five weeks where the students have one responsibility: To be a writer in Florence, Italy. It's been a great experience for everyone, myself included--Florence has become something of a second home--and for some time I've been thinking I should write something set there. So I'm trying to do that. (Taking a cue from Paris, He said.) I've made slight attempts in the past: there is a scene in The Soul Hunters set in Verona--not Florence--where I've only been once, for an afternoon. Don't know how that happened. So now I'm trying to hone in on Florence. I'm pretty sure there's a story there--or a few stories. We'll see...
Christopher Torockio is the author of the novel Floating Holidays, and the story collections The Truth at Daybreak and Presence. His fiction has appeared in Ploughshares, The Gettysburg Review, The Iowa Review, The Antioch Review, Willow Springs, Colorado Review, New Orleans Review, and many other publications. A native of Pittsburgh, he now lives with his wife and son in Connecticut and teaches at Eastern Connecticut State University.