The past, the present and the future happily — well, mostly happily — exist simultaneously in Bangor writer Katie Lattari’s colorful, compact debut novel, “American Vaudeville,” released in June by Mammoth Books.
Lattari, 29, a 2005 graduate of Hampden Academy who later received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from the University of Maine, has written a novel that defies the laws of space and time, with an enigmatic protagonist, the 30-something Zembla Vist, who is part of a sprawling, generation-spanning family that she is trying to understand.
Though Zembla Vist is the character at the center of “American Vaudeville,” the first character to come to Lattari was Tuki Chevron, a vaudevillian performer out of time, who acts as a sort of ringleader or carnival barker during Vist’s journey to understand herself and her family.
“Tuki is not from here, and he’s not from now, but I liked him and his energy, and so he became a vaudeville showman — a remnant of a culture that doesn’t exist anymore,” said Lattari. “And Tuki is reaching forward from a past that doesn’t exist anymore. Zembla is in the future, looking back, trying to orient herself in the present… she ends up using vaudeville as the lens through which she begins to understand.”
Though her characters take on their own identities, Lattari drew some initial inspiration from her own family, which also consists of a sister and two brothers. Though she was born in New York City, her family uprooted and moved to the Bangor region when she was eight, and have lived in Winterport for most of that time.
“I constructed a family unit loosely based on my own mother and father and two brothers, but moved on from there… I do know the five-person family unit very well, though. It’s something I’m very comfortable with,” said Lattari.
Packed full of dense, poetic imagery, “American Vaudeville” is — like the fractured, quirky family Vist is trying to understand — a puzzle to piece together. Lattari, already an accomplished writer before finishing a full-length novel, has had her short fiction featured in multiple publications across the country. She has also found herself a part of a small but growing literary scene in the Bangor region, comprised in large part of graduates of and professors within the University of Maine English department.
The Norumbega Collective, a loose group of area writers, poets and other literary-minded individuals, formed in 2014 with the purpose of holding readings to showcase writers both local and national. Lattari will have her own Norumbega Collective reading from “American Vaudeville” and other works on Saturday, Sept. 24 at The Rock & Art Shop in downtown Bangor.
“I think a lot of current or former graduates of the department wanted to make a space for art and to connect in a way that feels meaningful,” said Lattari. “It’s starting to feel like there’s a real vitality, and a space to lean on other people that’s outside of the academic framework. It’s a thing that exists, and that feels great.”
For more information, visit Katie Lattari’s website at http://katielattari.wix.com/