IFOA: What are some of the main themes you explore in So Much Love?
Rosenblum: Stories and how they change depending on who is telling them, from where in time they are being told—present tense, recent past, long in the past. And love, in all its variations, from parent-child to friendship to romantic, from poisonous and violent to pure and tender. Love is a lot more various and complex than we give it credit for, much more than just the embrace at the end of the romantic comedy. So even though this is a book with two acts of violence at its centre, it is also truly about love and how it goes both right and wrong.
IFOA: In an interview with Kerry Clare you said that “So Much Love was born from undergraduate discussions about poet Gwendolyn MacEwen“. Can you tell us more about that?
Rosenblum: MacEwen was the spark for me because the way we talked about her life in an undergraduate poetry class seemed just really close to how we talk about her poetry, as if her personal tragedies were another kind of art we could explore and evaluate. Of course, biography is always part of the picture when we study artists—you can’t really avoid it—but I felt like this was somewhat different than how we talked about male writers, and I wanted to explore that difference and my discomfort with it. That exploration followed a really long and circuitous path to get to the character of Julianna Ohlin in So Much Love, but MacEwen was the originating spark. The second thread—of a young woman who goes missing and what happens to her—came from a similar place of wondering how life stories get put together and by who, who gets to tell that story.
IFOA: How does So Much Love differ from anything you have written before?
Rosenblum: It’s a novel, as opposed to a collection of short stories. My first book, Once, was mainly unlinked stories and my second, The Big Dream, followed a loose arc, but both were made up of stories written as stand alone pieces and intended to be read either by themselves or in the context of each other, whatever the reader chose. There was a version of So Much Love that was written that way too, but linked short stories is a very elliptical form, with a lot of gaps for the reader, skips in time, and less of a solid arc or build in action, much less a resolution or ending—and the stories in So Much Love really needed to take a reader through a plotline with these characters and arrive at a conclusion. I just didn’t know how to do that It was really my editor, Anita Chong, who helped me take my linked collection and build a structure and fill in the gaps in plot until it became a real novel, which it truly always should have been. That was a very steep learning curve for me, and I needed a lot of help from Anita, but it was really gratifying to see the book grow into itself.
IFOA: What have you learned about yourself by writing this book?
Rosenblum: That I’m better than I thought, but still no where near good enough. I had attempted to write the stories in So Much Love a couple times over the 15 years prior to it actually being published, and I wasn’t able to even properly envision the project until about 2011. That history of failure made me really humble going in a third time to try again. Which is good, because even though this third try was successful in the sense that I wrote the book I wanted to in the end, there was so much failure over the six years it took to get there, so much getting things wrong and throwing them out, so much going back to the voices of women who had been through experiences like Catherine did and trying again to honour them and not feeling I was getting it right. It was a devastating process in many ways, but a story like this was never one I was going to feel completely comfortable with, and that’s fine—no writer should feel comfortable or confident writing about trauma. There’s always more to say—in another few months, I’ll probably think of another angle I could have taken, another chapter to add that would have been illuminating.I accept that I wrote the best book I could, and I’m proud of it, but I know it isn’t perfect. Cracks are how the light gets in.
IFOA: Do you feel there are now more female voices in Canadian literature than there were when you started writing?
Rosenblum: I have had the great advantage of always being surrounded by wonderful and inspiring female writers—in my classes at the University of Toronto Creative Writing Masters, in the Toronto Women’s Writing Salon, in the online sphere, every time I walk into a bookstore. I’m not sure if there are more than there used to be, because I’ve always been so attuned to what the women are saying and writing. There are plenty of male writers I admire as well, of course, but I do seem to have encountered a lot of women so far, and they have been a great and generous community for me.
Rebecca Rosenblum and Kerry Clare talk about love, loss and what it means to bear witness with Amy Jones on May 10 at IFOA Weekly. Join them as they discuss the lives of women looking for the truth. Sheniz Janmohamed will host.
Information and tickets, here!