LISA MOORE reading with MELISSA BANK , ALISON PICK and LAUREN WEISBERGER October 29, 3 pm, at the Premiere Dance Theatre; and at a round table with DANIEL ALARCÓN , MELISSA BANK and CRAIG DAVIDSON October 28, 7 pm, at the Studio Theatre.
When I get hot-topic literary it-girl Lisa Moore on the line from her home in St. John's, I don't know what to expect. Will she be a sigh-heavy diva, annoyed by early-morning nagging?
No, Moore is down-to-earth in long-distance conversation and, even in the midst of a dizzying cross-Canada tour schedule, shows no signs of promotional burnout.
She loves the anonymity of the hotel life, going from morning snow-storms in Winnipeg to balmy Victoria at night and especially listening to what readers have to say about her new novel, Alligator.
"Writing is really solitary," she say, "but here are these readers whom you don't know, and they want to tell you what they liked, what they didn't like. I find it fascinating."
Like those readers, I'm eager to discuss my favourite character in Alligator, Colleen, the precocious 17-year-old who, she assures me, is nothing like her own daughter. Colleen opens the book by describing her first foray into eco-terrorism.
"She's a very self-righteous young woman. Part of growing up is recognizing the enormity of the job that is making the world a better place. Her kind of self-righteousness is irritating to adults, because there is truth in it. It makes us aware that we failed, that the world is a bit of a mess."
Alligator made the Giller short list, a second shot for Moore, who was nominated for her 2002 short story collection, Open. She didn't expect a nomination this year.
"I walked into the lobby of my hotel and the woman behind the counter handed me seven or so little pink slips with 'Congratulations!' scrawled on them. After the first few, it dawned on me. I was thrilled!"
After her success with short fiction, Moore didn't feel pressure to produce a novel. She was more concerned with whether or not she could do it and refers to the experience as flying by the seat of her pants.
Despite her novice status, Moore had no desire to conform to any imposed structure. "I was constantly trying to break with form. Any time I could feel some sort of pre-described form suggesting itself to me, I would go in the opposite direction."
Moore advises emerging writers to write and read every single day, and to seek out books that might not be getting the hype she is.
"There's a whole network of books that don't get attention in the papers that are radical in terms of style and form.
"Try to get your hands on them."
ALLIGATOR by Lisa Moore (House of Anansi), 312 pages, $29.95 cloth. Rating: NNN
Lisa Moore's much-anticipated first novel was only a few seconds old when it was short-listed for a Giller. There are two reasons why I am happy Alligator made the list: it's written by a young author, and it's not your typical Canadian historical dry hump.
I was quickly and somewhat uncomfortably seduced into the lives of Alligator's characters, all of whom flirt with destructive and sometimes criminal behaviour. Their choices made me anxious, worried for their soft bodies, sometimes even disgusted.
The novel reads like a Tetris game of tiny short stories piled on top of each other to create a whole. I enjoy unconventional approaches to structure, but each chapter, written from the point of view of a different character, is often too cut up. The small details and pertinent moments can be breathtaking, but as soon as you invest in a character, the chapter abruptly ends. Then you have to start caring about the next one, which becomes laborious.
I was more than willing to roll with the punches because the characters are all so bizarre and fascinating. Often they fuck up, realize they've fucked up, push away the guilt and do it again, or do something worse. They punch through the page like authentic blood-and-guts-filled humans who never bore you with earnest tales of redemption.
Moore's command of language produces some highly energized prose. The characters, though vastly disparate, all deal with grief and fear of failure in truly unconventional ways. The sociopathic Russian doesn't do what I expect, nor do the suburban mother of the angry spoiled activist and the compulsively naive but thick-skinned hot dog cart owner. All of them won me over, despite my occasional frustration with the structure, and stayed with me for days.
An original, dark and ambitious novel from a rising star.