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Why is the world more violent and how do we fix it? Lisa Moore on her novel ‘This Is How We Love’

“The characters are very important to me, that they seem whole and real and true, and alive and multi-faceted,” says Lisa Moore of her novel “This Is How We Love.”

  • “The characters are very important to me, that they seem whole and real and true, and alive and multi-faceted,” says Lisa Moore of her novel “This Is How We Love.”
  • This is How We Love, by Lisa Moore, House of Anansi, 304 pages, $32.99
Newfoundland writer Lisa Moore has a voice that’s strong and quirky and instantly recognizable. From her second book of short stories, the Giller-nominated “Open,” to her novels, including the Booker Prize-nominated “February,” Moore’s voice has become familiar and beloved to readers. I spoke with her from her home in St. John’s about her latest book, “This Is How We Love,” a return to the novel form. In it, the story of Xavier, 21, who is beaten and stabbed, is alternated with that of his mother, Jules, in a book that explores family and how it shapes us. 

You’ve gone back and forth between writing short stories and novels. What brought you back to the novel form again for “This Is How We Love”?

I think stories they come in a particular shape or length. Some stories are short stories by the very nature of what they’re trying to say. But the form of a novel is an enigma to me. It has the opportunity to delve into the complexity of characters and of scenes, and to digress and to rove. But it also has to have a kind of unity. It has to feel as if everything in it belongs. It’s what a community feels like. A novel gives us an opportunity to explore all the tensions in a community, or a family, and also all the support, the way things come together in the way they break apart.

One of the interesting things about this book is how it explores mothers and relationships and love, and all the different forms that takes. Was the role of motherhood something specific you were aiming to untangle and explore?

I am interested in the way that we can feel … that somehow children are outside middle-aged life and very old people are also outside middle-aged life; they’re cordoned off in a way. And I think that’s a very false idea of what human beings are and can be. We all have people of all ages in our lives. It’s whether we choose to give our attention to the people who are actually there and present and in need of attention that I find interesting.

(A mother) is not just someone who has their own child — the idea that we could own children to begin with is ridiculous, because children are who they are from the moment they’re born — but that we can all love and must probably love children. They show us the world in new ways.

That idea works in terms of the individual relationships, but also in terms of the community and society.

One of the things I wanted to do was explore class and precarity, and what it means to be outside that circle of protection. What happens when any kind of security is stripped away, especially when you’re young or old? Those of us who might be fortunate enough to be in some ways secure, how willing are we to reach outside that sphere of comfort to draw people in? I’m not pointing at other people but, as a writer, I have to interrogate myself.

You build a world you can almost touch. It’s astonishing to me the detail you weave into your descriptions.

I’m very aware that we live in bodies, and we have this desire to separate our minds and our bodies, but they’re one and the same. I watch how people move all the time, when they talk or when they’re thinking. I’m interested in how those sorts of gestures express character. We become who we are as we move through the world physically. I feel like and wonder if it’s possible to know characters, people even, by watching the way they move and how that’s connected to the way they think and the way they feel. All of that excites me.

There’s a real sense of movement to the story; it’s a page-turner. Beginning with a mystery: we know Xavier was attacked, stabbed, but not why or who did it. And the structure, the chapters moving back and forth from character to character, also keeps the tension building.

I’m not at all offended by the term page-turner (laughs), because I would like people to absorb the book deeply. I would like them to be in it and have it, yes, fly past them. That’s what I would like of any book (I write) and any book that I read. But, of course, the bargain there is do you lose depth of character? The characters are very important to me, that they seem whole and real and true, and alive and multi-faceted.

Using that mystery paradigm and leading to resolution at the end helps, too.

Honestly, I don’t even know if I should say this, I didn’t think of it that way. I guess because I knew all along who done it. It doesn’t really matter to me who has done the stabbing as much as why the stabbing happened (because) we’ve lost a kind of cohesion. As I’ve matured, I feel like we’ve left people behind and we don’t take care of each other enough. The St. John’s where I live has become much more violent and I feel it wasn’t that way 10 or 20 years ago. So for me, the mystery is why and how do we fix it?

There’s a lot of anger in the world.

Yes and permission to be cruel, or a resurgence of a horrible kind of permission. I wanted to ask, what’s the antidote to that? And it’s gotta be love, of course. How do we love better and how do we love more? And how do we love those that maybe we don’t even know very well.

This interview was condensed for length and clarity.

Deborah Dundas is the Star’s Books editor. She is based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @debdundas


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