Dave Reidy’s debut novel, The Voiceover Artist, came out to rave reviews earlier this fall. Booklist praised it as “moving and honest” and no less than Scott Turow hailed it as “tender and beguiling.” The Voiceover Artist tells the story of Simon, a shy young man who suffered such a profound stutter growing up that he chose not to speak for eighteen years. As an adult, he moves to Chicago to break into the world of voiceover artists, the sonorous voices that kept him company throughout his isolated childhood. Independent for the first time, he struggles to find a community, volunteering at St. Asella’s, a fading parish in downtown Chicago. Reidy charts Simon’s coming of age through the complicated relationships with the women in his life: Catherine, a recently divorced interior decorator he meets at church; his tart-tongued agent Elaine; and his ex-girlfriend Brittany. Public Libraries Online spoke to Reidy on December 2nd. Photo courtesy of Michael Courier.
PUBLIC LIBRARIES ONLINE: How did your background writing short stories shape how you approached a novel?
DAVE REIDY: I decided after about the third draft that I was going to introduce multiple voices to the book. I then started to think about each of the chapters—especially the early chapters of the book—as short stories. I knew as the book went on that not every chapter would be able to stand on its own, but I did want each chapter to have a beginning, middle, and an end.
PL: One of the really fun aspects of the book is the way we see the world through so many different characters’ eyes. What influenced your choice to tell the story through multiple perspectives?
DR: The first several drafts were all from Simon’s point of view. It was near the end of the third draft that I found myself wanting to write a chapter from [Simon’s ex-girlfriend] Brittany’s point of view. And I thought, what if I just broke this open? So part of what drove it was the challenge to see if I could create these multiple voices and drive them far enough apart so they could stand alone and be separate from one another in a clear way. So part of that [decision] was relishing the challenge from a writer’s perspective. But I also thought that Simon as a character would benefit in the readers’ eyes by seeing him through people [with whom] they might more easily identify—seeing him through the eyes of Catherine, through the eyes of his own mother, his father, his brother, Brittany, and the characters from his professional life. I thought that Simon would come into three dimensions and we would get an interesting mosaic-like picture of him where each of these chapters gives you another facet of him.
PL: I found that getting into the other characters’ heads helped humanize many of the so-called villains of the story, like Simon’s father or Brittany.
DR: I think that’s one of the things some of the reviewers have noticed. You’re just getting one narrator’s perspective on an event and when you get the other narrator’s perspective, you can see that event in all its complexity and complication. To me, that’s one of the most delicious things about fiction, where your preconceived notions about a situation are challenged in a way that makes you think about it differently. If fiction has some value beyond entertainment it would be that; if we can bring the knowledge that the way we see a situation at first may not be entirely fair to all the parties involved, that can be a valuable and humanizing thing.
PL: Going back to what you were saying about breaking the story open and telling it from multiple viewpoints, how did you make the choice of which characters’ heads to get into and which ones to stay out of?
DR: The version of the manuscript that was accepted for publication had at least one, perhaps two, additional characters whose heads we got into. [Simon’s brother] Connor’s girlfriend Erika had a chapter that I ended up cutting because I asked myself, “If this chapter were to leave the book, what information would need to be captured and how easily could it be captured somewhere else?” And the answer for me seemed pretty simple, which seemed a good argument for removing the chapter. But I did enjoy writing her and understood her better for having done so. Hopefully some of the life that was created in that chapter actually carries through the Simon and Connor chapters that involves her.
But basically I just followed my interest. The whole book came alive for me from a writing perspective with writing Simon’s mother. That humanized Simon for me and I had already spent years writing about him. I just followed my interest and kept that picture in mind of the fully dimensional Simon that I wanted. Then I held myself to the standard that each of these characters could take the stage and own their story in a way where Simon could be secondary.
PL: When you were writing from these other characters’ perspectives, were there discoveries you made about Simon?
DR: Yes, there really were. Just seeing him through their eyes did for me, the writer, exactly what I hoped it would do for the reader. It made him more dimensional, more human, more likeable, and more sympathetic perhaps. I was able to bring that energy and feeling for Simon into the six chapters that he has on his own.
PL: The world of voiceover artists is a foreign one to so many readers. How did you discover it and realize it was the appropriate setting to tell Simon’s story?
DR: My work often deals with communication difficulties, with people struggling to connect, struggling to make themselves heard or make themselves understood. So dealing with a character who has a very real speech impediment and an anatomically imposed silence really appealed to me. How would that character connect if he could not make himself heard and he was subject to that which people said about him?
As for voiceover specifically, my first job coming out of college was with a small advertising design firm. I had a chance to write some radio spots, co-direct, and direct voice-over sessions. I really came to admire the craftsmanship and even the artistry that the very best voiceover artists brought to their work—the fact that their voices were beautiful instruments and then also how they could use their microphones to really transform their voices and create something interesting and human.
PL: Switching topics, Catherine’s section of the book was intriguing to me because at that point we had traveled from a working class town in downstate Illinois to a penthouse on Lake Michigan. Was that important to you, to show such a broad scope of the financial spectrum?
DR: To me, Catherine’s story was one of being caught between two very distant poles. In terms of her income, she is somewhere in the middle, but she has access to all these very wealthy people by virtue of her talent and her business. When she gets involved at St. Asella’s in the wake of her divorce, she becomes this lifeline to society for so many neglected people for whom St. Asella’s is their only point of communal connection. I wanted to explore what it’s like to feel that tension and to see that there’s actually something human and interesting in both places. Without making a value judgment about it, not everyone is going to be equally well suited in either world. Some people are going to decide to leave one behind. I think that’s a choice that people have to make, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be where one was a right choice and one was a wrong choice. It’s just, “What are people actually suited for?” I think the hard part is in the choosing..
PL: Finally, what role have libraries played in your life?
I grew up in Downers Grove, Illinois. Libraries were a real staple in my life from the time I was a little kid. Every summer I did the summer reading program with the list of all the books I wanted to read, and I’d get to go back to the library to check out a bunch of books. It was my opportunity in the pre-Internet days to explore things I was interested in. I was reading books about the Freedom Riders in Mississippi as a junior high school student, and probably reading some things—in terms of the violence those people went through—in greater detail than I should have had access to at that time. But I got a chance to explore those stories and topics that interested me and give myself a little bit of an education outside of school.
In addition, I don’t quite know how to quantify it, but some of this novel was written in libraries. They are places where I’ve gone to work. When I first wanted to be a writer, the summer I was turning twenty, when it was time to sit down and try to write something I went to the library first. So the library is a very meaningful space for me both physically and metaphorically. So I’ve taken kind of a particular joy that—at least in the forms of Library Journal and Booklist—that libraries have embraced this novel, because I think I’m a product of libraries.