The Next Chapter

Lisa Moore's new novel This Is How We Love reflects on family and the need for community and compassion 

The St. John's author speaks to Shelagh Rogers about writing her latest novel, This Is How We Love.
(Ritche Perez)

Award-winning author Lisa Moore's latest novel, This is How We Love, delves into the complexities of familial relationships.

Set in St. John's, the novel explores questions about what makes a family, how family shapes us and whether we really choose who we love. The story follows the lives of Xavier and his mother Jules in the aftermath of a brutal attack, where Xavier is beaten and stabbed.

This is How We Love is Moore's fifth novel.

Moore is a three-time nominee for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for her novel Alligator, and winner of Canada Reads in 2013 for her novel February

She spoke to Shelagh Rogers about writing This is How We Love.

This opening is so bracing and the story of this violent attack on young Xavier and the mother, Jules, who gets the call in Mexico. Can you imagine her desperation?

Lisa Moore: Well, first of all, over the last 20 years, I think violence in St. John's has really escalated. And I think among young people this is partly to do with the drug trade or maybe just a sort of systemic loss of care in society. But a mother's desperation, as you say, I wanted to explore what it means to be a mother in this book, or that's one of the things that I wanted to explore.

And I want to make the claim that you don't have to have a child to be a mother. We all have children in our life. In society today, we have this habit of putting very old people away and putting very young people away and segregating them. I just wanted to explore that a little bit and think about what that means and how really we all belong together. 

What I want to have on the page is the truth of connectivity and the need for it and just how deeply we depend on each other.

I tried very hard not to read the book and think, "Oh, yeah, that's Lisa's life." But did you draw on your own life, too? 

Lisa Moore: I mean, in part, of course. I always do. Some of these stories are very close to home, and some of them are entirely made up, as is always the case. And sometimes it's hard for me to even know which ones are made up and which ones are true. But I think the truth of it or at least what I want to have on the page is the truth of connectivity and the need for it and just how deeply we depend on each other. 

While Xavier is in the hospital, you enter into this sprawling, beautifully spacious story of a Newfoundland family – Xavier's family, Jules's family. Why did you want to tell their story? Why did you want to bring it forward? 

I wanted to show that each of us is just a drop of a great big ocean of people that came before us.

Lisa Moore: Because I think some of these acts of violence happen without too much thought. There's lots of stuff going on in the background, but the actual moment that changes people's lives, and sometimes takes people's lives, probably happens without a whole lot of thought. And I wanted to show how the repercussions of that can go back for decades and where that person came from and the layers of history that each of us carry make us the person we are, and how we talk, and how we move, and how we party, and how we have fun, and how we experience everything. I wanted to show that each of us is just a drop of a great big ocean of people that came before us. 

I want to ask you about St. John's, your city, which you love and you live in and revel in. It's a tight-knit place. But what does the smallness of St. John's mean for the people in your story? 

Lisa Moore: I think about William Faulkner saying that the land he wrote about was a postage stamp and he could go deep, like he could write a gazillion trillion words on that little postage stamp. And he did. And I think what happens in a small place is that there is a tremendous sense of knowing people's histories and also a connectivity and the opportunity to form community. And by community, I guess, I mean a place where people can help each other out when necessary and where you can know your neighbour. I think there's lots of places across Canada like that and all over the world. But this is the place I know, so I relish in the smallness of Newfoundland and the ways that it grows. Both of those things. 

At the end, you talk about how we are divided into two groups: "those of us who regretted it had all gone by so fast and those of us who saw that each moment had not gone by, but rather it had all accumulated like rain, sluicing from an uppermost leaf of a tree to every leaf below until it was all there in a single drop on the lowest leaf. Clinging but shivering on the serrated tip of the leaf full of everything that came before." That just gave me shivers. But what group would you be in?

Lisa Moore: When I am at my best self, when I am attentive and aware, I would be in that second group who sees all that came before in the moment and doesn't feel regret. And actually, to be honest, I don't feel regret very often. 

That's what I would like the novel to be. It's a possibility of how we could love.

Why go back through all those generations? Because I think it does form that drop, all those generations. It takes all of that to make that drop, hanging on the edge of a leaf. I think it is a tentative, I hope, joyous possibility of how we could love, if we could love with all our might. That's what I would like the novel to be. It's a possibility of how we could love. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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