The Next Chapter

Sidura Ludwig's You Are Not What We Expected explores love, sadness and hope within a Jewish community

The Toronto-based author spoke with Shelagh Rogers about writing a short story collection set in a venerable Ontario neighbourhood.
You Are Not What We Expected is a short story collection by Sidura Ludwig. (Astoria/House of Anansi)

Sidura Ludwig is a Toronto-based novelist and short fiction writer. She is also the author of the 2007 novel Holding My Breath.

Her latest, You Are Not What We Expectedis a linked short story collection that covers a Jewish family and their community in Thornhill, Ont., over 15 years. When Isaac moves back to Thornhill from Los Angeles, he becomes entangled in more family and neighborhood drama than he could have ever imagined, but also develops relationships that change everything.

Ludwig spoke with Shelagh Rogers about writing You Are Not What We Expected.

Why this isn't a novel

"When I first started this collection, I conceived it as a novel. I was working with these characters and every day I was sitting down and writing about them just to see where things would take me. One day I sat back and I had a lot of pages, but I was just going nowhere. 

I realized that if I wasn't in a place to read a novel, I probably wasn't in a place to write a novel.

"At the time, my family was quite young, my youngest was only two years old.

"I was having trouble reading novels at the time. I couldn't stay awake for more than 10 minutes. I realized that if I wasn't in a place to read a novel, I probably wasn't in a place to write a novel. So I needed to get back to what I loved, which was writing short fiction."

Straight out of Thornhill

"For people who are a little familiar with the Toronto — or the greater Toronto area — you may know of Bathurst St., which runs north to south through the city. The area of Thornhill in Ontario that I'm looking at in this book is a suburb that was developed and started in the early 1980s.

It's a very suburban area. There's lots of parks, schools and synagogues.  There's a kind of simplicity and calmness there. ​​​​​​

"In this particular area of Thornhill, it's where a lot of Jewish families moved; there are still a lot of people who are still the original owners of the homes in the area. My in-laws are original owners of their homes, they've been in their home for close to 40 years. 

"It's a very suburban area. There's lots of parks, schools and synagogues. There's a simplicity and calmness there." 

Author Sidura Ludwig in conversation with guest host Saroja Coelho about her new book that tells the stories of the characters who live in Thornhill - a suburb north of Toronto. 12:49

Where we are and have been 

"In writing short stories, I'm generally interested in the emotional movement in my characters. That's particularly tricky when you're working on short fiction because you don't have a lot of time in a short story to get your character from point A to point B emotionally. But also I was aiming to get to an intimacy with these characters.

In writing short stories, I'm generally interested in the emotional movement in my characters.

"Every time I drafted a story — and these stories went through many, many different drafts — I was stepping deeper and deeper into their homes. What makes an interesting story is when you find a character in that moment in their life when they're forced to make a change — or where they have found themselves in a place they didn't expect to be. 

"That's where the title of the collection, You Are Not What We Expected, came from. I landed on that title, it was that all of the characters in these stories had found themselves in a place they didn't expect to be. 

"And so, that's where the movement lies." 

Sidura Ludwig's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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