Like any book involving pageantry and masquerade, The Madonna of Las Vegas is rife with Roman Catholic imagery. Smith was raised Methodist, but admits that Catholicism offers "the better dog and pony show." Smith says his use of religious imagery and narrative is not derogatory. "It's intense," he acknowledges, "but not negative." Which isn't to say that the novel isn't a poke in the ribs of orthodoxy. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy says of the Carnival ethos that it "uncovers, undermines, even destroys any one idea that claims to have the final word." But The Madonna is also a simple, sad love story. In Venice's Carnevale, after all, one of the masked characters is always Pierrot, the heartbroken lover. The playful cleverness of postmodernism wafts through this book, but as Smith says, "none of that cerebral cleverness is worth much without heart."
Toward the interview's end, Smith's wife and kids arrive. They have been out celebrating their cat's birthday. A piece of birthday cake is even offered. The cat is in hiding, sulking under a couch somewhere. Cats, unlike characters, can't be forced to participate in any carnival not of their choosing.