Mark Sarvas’s debut, Harry, Revised, tells the sordid, comedic tale of Harry Rent, a recent widower who seeks to remake himself as a modern day hero in the image of the Count of Monte Cristo as he courts a comely, young diner waitress. Sarvas is also the founder of the popular litblog, The Elegant Variation, and his literary criticism has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the ThreePenny Review and the Philadelphia Inquirer.
What’s up with the Count of Monte Cristo? Why did you choose that character to be a person for Harry to emulate?
It’s a real touchstone for me. A few years ago, I wrote a screenplay, in fact, that was a modern retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo, so I think that’s always been in my head.
Did anything ever happen with the screenplay?
No, it almost got picked up at Universal. It got very close, but it didn’t go all the way. The other thing about The Count of Monte Cristo is that one of the themes in Harry is the theme of reinvention, and that’s such an obvious fit that it seemed too good to not follow.
Do you think that people really can change?
I do. But I have also been accused of being earnest. I’ve changed myself; I’ve seen it done. So, speaking only from the evidence at hand, I do believe it can be done. I also believe, as Harry finds out, it’s not easy. It requires commitment and some elbow grease.
Harry is a complex figure; do you see him as more of a protagonist or a villain?
I have great affection for Harry, despite all of his foibles, and certainly, I think he is clearly my protagonist. But, I think that the most interesting protagonists have a little bit of a villainous streak within them —— they are a little bit at war with themselves.
So, I have to ask you about the controversy that you’ve stirred up with your blog. Are you feuding with anybody new? (Sarvas engaged in a very public feud with writer Steve Almond.)
I’m not feuding with anybody at the moment——that I’m aware of. There’s always somebody potentially who’s annoyed with me. My feuds in good standing remain. I want to be clear: I am not someone who goes out there looking for fights. The Steve Almond thing, in particular, occurred at a time in my blog when I was newer to the game and younger and inexperienced, and I’m not sure that there aren’t things that I might do differently now. But, that also doesn’t mean that tomorrow someone won’t absolutely infuriate me and I will take to the airwaves and say so. But, I try to do it, now more than ever, in a way that isn’t personal, that isn’t attacking. If somebody says something stupid, I’ll say that their statement is stupid, not that the person is stupid. I’ve said stupid things, we all do it.
Author Photo by Sara Corwin