This Is How We Love
“This Is How We Love: stellar, elegant, gritty, and ultimately an emotional ride infused with love.”
A story within a snowstorm that includes not only the many phases of wind, wet, frost, snowflakes, and sleet of Canada’s eastern provinces, but also the generational history of its characters and personalities, This Is How We Love tosses them all into the air and observes them falling backward and forward and head over heels into deep snowbanks and icy wet ditches as digression by digression, a narrative emerges. The stabbing of Jules’ 21-year-old son, Xavier serves as the opening and connecting incident, and becomes the backbone of the novel, as the author interweaves her rich tapestry with backstory.
Literary Princess of St. John’s, Newfoundland, and arguably, of Canada, (Margaret Atwood is Queen) Lisa Moore is not an easy writer to follow; her narrative is often wildly digressive and not always written in sentences. And with the number of inter-connected personas, the histories, generations, and descriptions, This Is How We Love needs, at first, to be read carefully and/or repeatedly to remember who’s who and to feel the cohesion and craftmanship emanating from every page. Her descriptions are fast and furious, leaving a succinct impression with few words: “From far away, a lawn mower.”
In a poetic style that is highly descriptive and intricate in its focus, Moore moves forward and backward in time, always landing squarely in the middle of a well-remembered scene, or within inches of an exacting vision of another character. “Her name was Geraldine and she had glasses with big, thick lenses and clear plastic frames that had yellowed. . . . The reflection of ceiling lights from the hall on her glasses made it impossible to see her eyes, but I could see grit where the lenses fit into plastic grooves of the frames. I could see fingerprints.”
The overarching story, that of Xavier’s stabbing and his progress in the hospital ICU during a magnificent and terrifying snowstorm, is made thick and suspenseful by the inter-connectedness of the characters and Moore’s deep understanding of those moments of isolation, of near death, of the interior dream-state. In the ambulance, Xavier:
“’I want to stay alive,’ he said. Bubbles of blood in the corner of his mouth. He could taste a rusty foam.
“They will know I love them, he thought, and it was like a weight had been taken off his chest . . . even though he wanted to hang on long enough to communicate this one idea, this thing: He loved Violet. He loved them all, but Violet. What a load of agony that he couldn’t tell Violet, that she wasn’t there with him.”
These people that “Xay” sees before him on the stretcher are his mother Jules, his father Joe, his half-sister Nell, his aunt Helen, Uncle Gerry, and his grandmother Florence. Plus a host of others. But first, nothing can be understood without the essential story of Xay’s great-grandmother, Bride Peach, Xay’s girlfriend Violet, and anyone captured in one of the many vignettes so carefully curated and presented in each chapter.
It almost comes as a surprise that one of the most compelling characters in the story is Trinity Brophy, an instigating force at the center of the stabbing incident. As a child, Brophy is raised by a practical and closely controlled professional foster parent, Mary Mahoney. Out of survival necessity, Trinity lives by instinct, tracing her investment in Xavier’s life back to their play as little children—and to her abandonment by her mother. A virtual orphan at seven and a half, Trinity becomes intensely human through her emotional trials and scattered life.
To get to the resonant, layered situation that unfolds between all her characters around Xavier’s live-or-die moments in the middle of the storm, Moore digresses to Trinity in her substantial life traumas, the main one being that she has no family at all: her inept mother disappeared after being separated from her by Social Services; her father is unknown. The small kindnesses that Trinity extends to outcasts, and importantly, to Xavier, prove to the reader that for all her longing, she is well-connected to those who love, those who, if not all strung together by DNA, have professed familial loyalty, and have committed to loving each other in their own, quirky ways. Moore has woven the reader’s heart together to Trinity, and we love her just like we love all Moore’s characters—even Murph—drug dealing, violent woman-basher, wild-ass, drug addict Murph. We love them because we see them up close in unguarded, detailed moments that reflect their shared, essential humanity.
The work that must be done by the reader in This Is How We Love is a worthy effort. As digressions pile up around every character, as each backstory is flushed out in Moore’s poetic meanderings, there is an awakening in the reader, an understanding gradually blushing up into consciousness, that these scenes, these up-close details, these words uttered, these gestures, are indeed how these people manage to care deeply for each other.
This Is How We Love: stellar, elegant, gritty, and ultimately an emotional ride infused with love.