ST. JOHN’S, NL — JoJules is on vacation in Mexico, where she is accompanying her husband, Joe, to a conference. They are sound asleep when their cell phones start ringing.
Jules’ sister, Nell, is on her line: Jules and Joe’s son, Xavier, is in the hospital.
He was at a party, was attacked and seriously injured.
This call is like the first snap of a ball in Newton’s cradle, launching spheres that click and pulsate with consequence and momentum, swinging their energies and emotional weight.
And, also like this device, those orbs slam back and forth, underpinned here by Lisa Moore’s calibrated timelines: one following Jules and Joe’s precocious and intense courtship and the early years of their marriage, which also dips back into the childhood stories of Jules and her. fearsome mother-in-law, Florence; and another follow-up to the present day as Jules works his way through his shock and fear, and not coincidentally the most extreme winter disaster of the century in the Netherlands, to somehow bring Xavier back to health and understand what happened to him.
“This is How we Love”, set in a contemporary, largely downtown St. John’s neighborhood revolving around Snowmageddon, takes place primarily, but not entirely, from Jules’ perspective – his is the only voice we hear in first person.
These divergent trajectories also often revisit a birthday party for Joe’s brother, Gerry, who is a bit chaotic with sun and ocean swimming and great affection.
In Jules’ mind, Xavier’s journey there, a solo rite of passage for a 13-year-old on his new dirt bike, parallels his progress in intensive care, struggling with a serious post-life complication. -surgical.
“Beside a hospital bed with my unconscious son with an infection that could kill him, my son who was stabbed twice, I handcuff the past to the present.”
It is Moore’s signature, starting at one point, embarking on a tangent to loop into another, reversing to approach a third, and so on, deftly doubling and linking intersections, tangles and the oscillations and, without dropping a thread, confidently guiding the reader, now that wiser, back to square one.
It’s such rich and generous writing; sensual is an overused adjective for her business, but it is still appropriate; her text is tactile, immersive and cinematic (Moore is also a gifted visual artist, as evidenced by her visual attentiveness and descriptive eye).
Xavier’s altercation was not random, but the result of choices, often benevolent and even bold decisions, dating back to Xavier’s first encounter with Trinity, both aged seven.
Trinity was taken in by a neighbor, Mary Mahoney, removed from her mother’s care when she (her mother) got drunk with her boyfriend at a picnic at Topsail Beach and failed to notice Trinity on a raft drifting “halfway to Bell Island”.
For several years, the two have an intense rapport, and even though the word friendship fades as a reliable designation, there remains an enduring bond.
Jules remains stuck with Trinity throughout: “Some loves just stick.”
Because love is not a noble abstraction here, but the cogs, nerves and muscles of life. He acts.
For example, it is one of Florence’s memories, the one she recounts at crucial moments, that generates the title.
For Florence, with a glamor made up of business acumen, social cannon, and basic family loyalty, was herself an adopted child.
“These four had turned up at Bride’s for her to welcome them during the month of Christmas until the New Year. Bride and Matthew were too old for foster children, she was fifty at the time and he was sixty-two, and they had no bathroom, only a chest of drawers in the bedroom by the stairs. But when the social worker returned a month and a half later, Bride told her to turn around and go back. She said the kids weren’t going anywhere. She stood on the porch with the four children scrubbed within an inch of their lives and a toddler in a knitted cap with kitten ears. (It was Florence.)
“It was decided that Bride could babysit if she installed a bathroom.”
Taking note, caring: these are not passive activities but insightful and fateful gestures of brilliance, intention and alacrity.
“These four had turned up at Bride’s for her to welcome them during the month of Christmas until the New Year. Bride and Matthew were too old for foster children, she was fifty at the time and he was sixty-two, and they had no bathroom, only a chest of drawers in the bedroom by the stairs. But when the social worker returned a month and a half later, Bride told her to turn around and go back. She said the kids weren’t going anywhere. She stood on the porch with the four children scrubbed within an inch of their lives and a toddler in a knitted cap with kitten ears.
A line of charcoal on a strip of newspaper.
An invitation to dinner.
A childish prank that would have manifested so differently, seconds away on either side.
A trip to the airport.
A text message sent at a loud party.
As always, there is real verve and volume to Moore’s writing, with all the characters seen from different angles, as they observe, attract and refract against each other at different times and in different approaches united to show “This is how we love”.
Joan Sullivan is the editor of Newfoundland Quarterly magazine. She reviews both fiction and non-fiction for The Telegram.