Daphne Kalotay is the critically acclaimed author of Russian Winter, and we’ve asked her to tell us about the story behind her elegant new novel, Sight Reading, which is on sale today. Sight Reading traces one love triangle as it shifts and falters over the span of two decades, all set against the rich backdrop of Boston’s classical music scene.
Book Club Girl: Each book has a different story behind it. Could you tell us the background story of how you came to write Sight Reading? How did the idea for this novel originate?
Daphne Kalotay: In 2003, I wrote a short story called “The Replacement.” It was told from the point of view of a conservatory student, about what happens when the school’s conductor is suddenly replaced by a new arrival. I was recalling how one semester in college, our conductor abruptly left and was replaced by a very different personality.
The characters in the short story quickly became quite different from the real-life ones, and I realized I needed to find out who they were; the next thing I knew, I was writing a story from the point of view of the replacement conductor—and then a story from the point of view of his wife. But I already had a book of linked stories [Calamity and Other Stories] and wanted to do something new, so I told myself I would turn the stories into a novella instead.
I had already begun writing my first novel, Russian Winter, a big project that often felt all-consuming, and told myself I could write the musician book “on the side”—that it would be short and simple. Whenever I hit a wall with Russian Winter, I’d return to this one; I thought that since it was set in Boston, a city I know well, and contemporary rather than historical, it would be much easier than Russian Winter. But of course no novel is easy to write. It wasn’t until 2011 that I finally sat down to revise it.