Book explores what makes a family and questions of love
I’ve never been to Newfoundland. But thanks to authors such as Megan Gail Coles, Kathleen Winter, Michael Crummey and Lisa Moore, I feel I’ve visited many times. With their books and stories as portals, I feel more like a local than a tourist in the communities and characters, hearts and minds that inhabit The Rock.
Moore is from St. John’s, and her books are deep dives into life on the East Coast. Her newest release, This Is How We Love, is reflective of her 2009 novel February. The earlier book centred on the 1982 Valentine’s Day sinking of the Ocean Ranger oil rig off Newfoundland’s coast, a disaster that killed all eighty-four men aboard and left a chasm of grief at the community and individual level. In February, Moore deftly showed how we never quite know the ways deep grief will manifest itself, infuse our very being, and drive our actions and perceptions.
In This Is How We Love, released this spring by House of Anansi Press, Moore dances with the various ways love motivates us and shapes our lives. Like grief, love can be overwhelming. It can come at us without warning. It might be welcomed and celebrated, or it might be inconvenient, inappropriate, and messy.
In both This Is How We Love and February, as well as the riveting crime caper Caught, and her recent short story collection Something for Everyone, Moore’s power is in the precision and intention of her storytelling and characters. (Who can forget that shoe-store back-room sex scene in Something for Everyone?) Moore’s every word, every sentence, every detail, is a tiny snowflake; perfectly shaped and unique. Together, they make a storm so strong it can shut down a whole province. Like snowflakes—and love, for that matter—the plot of This Is How We Love meanders. It blows and flits. It stings and sparkles. It may bury your house and car and keep you trapped under its spell for far longer than feels comfortable.
The book opens with a violent attack on twenty-one-year-old Xavier in the middle of a raging storm. Xavier’s parents are in Mexico when he is beaten, stabbed, and left for dead in a snowbank. The attack was videotaped and was seemingly unprovoked. For Jules and Joe, simply getting to the hospital where their son lies, is a logistical, emotional, and physical nightmare.
As Xavier hovers between life and death, his story unfolds in scenes and flashbacks. So, too, do the stories of people connected to him. We meet young Trinity, Xavier’s childhood friend whose choices lead her into a shady and dangerous world; Trinity’s reckless birth mother; and Mary, the stoic foster mother. We meet Xavier’s mother Jules and learn of her connection with her mother-in-law Florence. We meet Violet, who Xavier is obsessed with, and Murphy, Trinity’s druggie boyfriend who was handcuffed by the police in front of all his classmates in third grade after he threw a stapler through the window. In This Is How We Love, there is love infused with selfishness and sacrifice, obligation, and betrayal. There is abuse and neglect. And there is generosity, passion, and devotion. What was most gripping for me was the complicated, unbreakable (but deeply damaged) bond between Trinity and Xavier.
These multi-layered tellings and the time-hoppings can be somewhat disorienting— not unlike driving through a wicked snowstorm and not quite being able to see the road. (Or, traipsing through unplowed snow on foot, when the roads are all shut, and the cars are all buried.) While a tad confusing at first, this irregular approach to storytelling is ultimately extremely effective. Each scene crystallizes in gritty, lucid prose, and the reader is dropped immediately into the hearts and lives of characters so real they feel like family.
There are twists, tension, and mystery in This Is How We Love. But above all, there is insight and compassion. Through Moore’s storytelling and bang-on dialogue she poses the questions: What makes a family? What is love? Can we choose who we love? And does it even matter?
Lisa Moore will be part of the Sunday Book Talk: Coffee and Conversation (in-person and online) with moderator Wayne Grady. Tickets are available online.
This review first appeared in the Whistler Pique Newsmagazine.
Review and photo by Katherine Fawcett, who is the author or The Swan Suit and The Little Washer of Sorrows. She lives in Squamish.