Ned Pratt Photography
Angling away from shorelines and sea shanties, Newfoundland’s Lisa Moore has instead made her name with impressionistic, fractured narratives as sharp and craggy as those East Coast cliffs she refuses to write about. “I’m not trying to explore what Newfoundland is,” she insists. “I’m influenced by what I experience immediately through my senses. The present is very present for me.”
Her strategy has paid off: in February, Moore’s 2010 novel February-a brooding meditation on grief about a woman whose husband sank with the oil rig Ocean Ranger in 1982-won Canada Reads, CBC’s annual literary shootout, besting classics like Hugh MacLellan’s Two Solitudes and Jane Urquhart’s Away.
Despite her efforts, Moore’s latest novel, Caught, is every bit the grand narrative. Her protagonist, David Slaney, is Atlantic Canada’s answer to Billy the Kid: a swaggering folk hero in the making, who busts out of prison to pull off a pot heist. It’s a guns-blazing escapade, thrumming with a restless energy.
When Moore was a kid, everything was about stories. She grew up in a fairy-tale setting-a house her parents built in the woods on Hogan’s Pond, just outside St. John’s, N.L.-and her dad used to tell his daughters folk stories while they fell asleep. At the same time, Moore was writing her own fairy tales, which she’d mail off to her pen pal, a cousin who lived on the West Coast.
While studying creative writing and art at Memorial University in St. John’s, her stories grew up with her. She took a seminar with fellow authors Michael Winter, Ramona Dearing and Beth Ryan, and they banded together to form the Burning Rock, a collective that still meets regularly, and one that encouraged Moore to step away from plot and start to play around with form, fragments and perspective.
Those experiments have produced a slew of introspective wonders over the last decade, including the short-story collection Open, the acclaimed first novel Alligator-a literary Love Actually that follows a dozen or so denizens of St. John’s whose lives overlap-and February, a dazzlingly cerebral set piece that earned a coveted spot on the New Yorker‘s list of the best books of 2010.
Caught was born out of urban legends Moore had half-heard about drug smuggling in the ’70s-tales that glamorized the enterprise. “Those stories had a folkloric shimmer. At the end of the ’70s, drug smuggling became much more violent,” she says. “For me, that felt right as a metaphor for the transition from innocence to experience.”
As she was writing it, Moore faced a challenge customary for an author but unusual for her: telling a story. Her previous works were propelled by character and contemplation, but Caught was all about suspense. This thrilled her. “There’s something magical about the engine of a story and allowing it to rip away with itself-like being bowled over by a wave in the ocean.”
The resulting novel sends Slaney and his posse thumbing and bumming through the East and across Canada, dodging attack dogs and immigration officials, and finally sailing down the Pacific coast. Moore has created a story of her province-no longer a windswept wilderness, but a place coming into its own, filled with adventure, intrigue, folly and fun.
She’s written a new kind of legend for a new Newfoundland. Just don’t tell her that.
Caught is released June 8.