Lisa Moore's novel This is How We Love explores a St. John's family in crisis during one fateful snowstorm
Lisa Moore has carved an award-winning writing career out of the Newfoundland landscape. Her ninth work of fiction, Moore says, hits "close to the bone."
This is How We Love opens with a phone call to protagonist Jules and her husband, who are on vacation when they learn their 21-year old son has been viciously beaten and stabbed in the middle of a historic St. John's snowstorm.
As Jules must find her way to the hospital in the storm's aftermath, the novel delves into the complexities of familial relationships — asking questions about what makes a family, how family shapes us and whether we really choose who we love. The novel is one of CBC Books's picks for the top Canadian fiction of 2022.
Her other books include Caught, February, Alligator, Open and Something for Everyone. She has been nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize three times: in 2002 for Open, in 2005 for Alligator and in 2013 for Caught. Her novel February won Canada Reads in 2013, when it was defended by comedian Trent McClellan.
Moore spoke to The Next Chapter's Shelagh Rogers about This is How We Love in the summer of 2022 at the Writers at Woody Point literary festival in Gros Morne, N.L.
I feel really lucky to be able to talk to you about this book again. A dear friend suggested I ask you, what was your favorite question from our last interview?
You asked me the dreaded question. I don't think you put it in quite this terms, but the way I interpreted it was, how autobiographical is it? And you know, this book is very close to the bone.
Most of what happens in it is fiction, but it's based on the souls of people who are close to me in a lot of cases.
This book is very close to the bone. Most of what happens in it is fiction, but it's based on the souls of people who are close to me.
I had to go for a drive with my son and say, look, this is not you in this novel. It's just not. But people might think it is because I'm a mom and you're a son. So I'm going to tell you what's in the novel — he doesn't read my novels because they have sex in them, you'll be glad to know.
I told him that the novel begins with a son who is violently beaten up and stabbed. We were in the car and he just put his hands over his head and said, "Ah, okay. Go on."
Then I told him some things that very closely resembled things that had actually happened to him. He was like, "Yes, that's alright. Go on."
Then I just happened to mention that I had put the name of the street we live on as the address in the book. He went, "Are you kidding me? Did you put my social insurance number in there? Did you put my phone number in there?" So I had to change the street.
LISTEN | Lisa Moore talks to Shelagh Rogers in their first interview for This is How We Love:
You really excavate the history of a Newfoundland family. As I was thinking about this place, where we've acknowledged the ancestors who first inhabited this land, I am curious: do you carry your antecedents and your ancestors around with you?
I'm influenced by Pam Hall and Jerry Evan's Towards an Encyclopedia of Local Knowledge. I started to think, what local knowledge do I have?
There's different rhythms depending on the weather. Different sentences come out from listening to it and falling asleep to it and waking up to it.
I think it has to do with how people speak and how that's been influenced by the social pressures in this place. The boom and bust oil economy. All that understanding of language that we get in the Newfoundland dictionary, the closeness of communities, the isolation and also the amount of travel Newfoundlanders do and have always done for work or just to explore.
I have a house around the Bay that I've been living in and seeing those houses that are falling into the ground after the cod moratorium and the very landscape — living next to an ocean is a powerful thing— all of that stuff is part of what informs my writing.
It affects the way I make sentences. I know that sounds strange, but there's different rhythms depending on the weather. Different sentences come out from listening to it and falling asleep to it and waking up to it.
In all of your books, weather is a huge element. In this case, it's the monster snowstorm, which is something that you lived through back in January of 2020. What happened?
In the novel, the mother has to go visit her son in the hospital during 'Snowmageddon.' The truth is that my own mother was in hospital at that moment and I did have to get to the hospital to see her. She was not in a very good way. It was very frightening. She lived.
It was astonishing. It was like people's houses were buried. Their cars were definitely buried. Everything was buried. So we were looking at a whole new world.
I was walking along talking to my husband on the phone. He wasn't in St. John's. He was saying, "take the side streets so you don't get run over by a plow." And I was saying, "no because if I step in the wrong place, I'll be buried alive."
I was just passing this driveway and unbeknownst to me, there was a guy with a snow plow out because he had to get his mother to the hospital.
The whole thing came down on my head. He didn't know I was there, of course, because nobody was allowed to be out walking around. The snow came right down as if everything else wasn't enough. It was just hysterical. It was one of those moments where you can't help but feel that, as a province, we were being picked on.
LISTEN | Lisa Moore answers The Next Chapter's version of the Proust Questionnaire:
It was a very scary time with the power outages, especially for people who were isolated, old or had difficulty moving. But I hope this book is really about love because I think we're going through some pretty dark times. It's not just the pandemic. There's politics that are like nothing I've ever seen in my life.
I really wanted to ask, what is the antidote and could it be love? And if it is, what is love then?
It's just so polarized and people sometimes feel permission that I don't think was there before to say the most awful things. We are learning things about each other, about the differences in the truths that we hold very close.
I really wanted to ask, what is the antidote and could it be love? And if it is, what is love then? I really wanted to know what it was so there are all kinds of different kinds of love in this book.
The other night, when you read from the book, you said that with love comes responsibility. What is the responsibility?
I heard sociologists say — and everybody knows this, but it was kind of new to me — that it's easy to love the people who are like us, and it's much harder to love the people who aren't like us.
The responsibility all of us have is to figure out how to love the people that we don't understand.
The responsibility all of us have is to figure out how to love the people that we don't understand, the people that we don't easily gravitate toward. There's lots of people, even in your own family, I'm sure, who drive you nuts. Those are the ones we have to reach out to.
Comments have been edited for length and clarity.
Interview produced by Lisa Mathews, Shelagh Rogers and Jacqueline Kirke.