As perhaps Newfoundland’s most nationally renowned modern author, Lisa Moore needs no introduction. Her new novel, however, might: Flannery flexes new muscles, including a leap into a new genre.
As with all her work, the sentence-level writing shines and readers will get lost in the lines and lives of her characters. Moore’s strength is always her stunning character development; she knows all the right details of a person’s life, struggles, and inner thoughts to share in order to build an emotional bridge that connects reader to character, so we care about them enough to keep turning the pages.
And in terms of evoking a character’s pains and joys, who better to write about than a teenager: a vulnerable yet quixotic age group is feeling life at a melodramatic 500 miles an hour.
Moore’s new novel chronicles the life and times of teenager Flannery Malone, whose wonky, endearing family feels like a Miriam Toews’ cast. Interesting characters make for interesting fiction, and Flannery’s mother is certainly a fun one.
Flannery writes her own late notes because her mother Miriam would “write a manifesto about how she doesn’t believe in punctuality. She believes punctuality promotes conformity.”
Flannery is the rational one in the family; the father was a one-night stand, her ten-years-younger brother is a wild ball of energy (they’ve stuck him in karate lesson in hopes he’ll learn self-discipline), and her mother reads more like a cool older sister than a mom.
Flannery is a character-driven book; plot takes a backseat to an endearing glimpse into a teenage girl’s life, and what’s really under the microscope in the book is not the Malones, so much as the boundless wonder and awe of youth and being young.
On the Boundless Awe of Youth …
“I think the reason we love to relive youth,” Moore says, “is because we feel things so intensely in adolescence. There’s no armour. No jaundice. No callouses. Everything is felt deeply; everything is high octane and uber-potent.”
And she captures that sentiment so well in Flannery. Moore adds that she doesn’t think adolescents are too sensitive or that all their intensity is an illusion. “I think the rest of us are ever-so-slightly desensitized, maybe? I came to that conclusion while writing Flannery.
“I didn’t start out with that idea. But somewhere in the midst of writing I had a very strong memory of what life felt like back then, how strong emotions were; things that hurt really hurt. Mega-hurt. And the fun was outrageously fun. Friends were crazy-glued together, until they weren’t. And first love. Well.”
It’s a funny book, and that’s a relatively new muscle that’s clearly strong enough for Moore to be flexing. There is on average more than one laugh-worthy line per page, and the book itself could be cousins with Jessica Grant’s Come, Thou Tortoise, in terms of tone.
She captures the mindset of a teen in love, unrequited love at that, and a teen in general, with proper authenticity, right down to the mayhem of a punk show, or the closet-clearing hunt for the right clothes when heading to that punk show to see the boy of your dreams.
Which begs the question of what to call this novel. It is a departure from the pot smugglers and grieving widows of her last two novels, and because Flannery deals in teenage infatuation, not adult romance, her publisher, Anansi, released this book on their Young Adult imprint, Groundwood.
On Her Foray into Young Adult Fiction …
“I did think of it as writing young adult fiction. I think because I read a ton of young adult fiction when I was a kid. But ask me how it’s different than adult fiction and it’d be a job to say. I guess it has to do with the age of the characters. The things they are going through.
“But it also has to do with a return to the literature I read when I was 13-16, young adult stuff. Lots of that fiction had very strong female characters. Jo in Little Women wanted to be a writer. She tried to be polite and gentle and virtuous but her temper busted out all over the place. And so she was independent and free, despite all the squashing social mores of those times.”
“Same with Anne of Green Gables. And women are still expected to be polite no matter what, so those heroines are still very relevant. Judy Blume was defining a new way to be a young woman. Her novels were important to me. At that time in my life I read with a concentration that was completely engulfing. I fell head first into books. People could shout at me and I wouldn’t hear them.
“Also, there was something very freeing about writing Flannery, I let myself be goofy, to have fun with voice. I could hear Flannery’s voice while I was writing, so it was a lot of fun to write.”
It’s also a lot of fun to read, and has been released right in time to make it your first breezy summer read. Whether you’re a young adult going through this, or an adult who can relate having survived it, or a parent nostalgic to relive it, Moore does more with language and character to keep readers on the line than most authors, and this is the kind of book whose voice and characters will linger with you long after you’e read the last page.
It’s a peppy, short read that pairs well with sunshine, patio chairs, grassy parks, and local “beaches.” And here’s to wanting someone or something the way Flannery wants Tyrone, no matter how old we are.
Lisa’s new novel will co-launch with Michael Crummey’s latest on Thursday May 26th, at the Christina Parker Gallery (50 Water Street) from 7-9pm.