First up for this summer's #ALUbookclub picks is Ring (Coach House Books), the final instalment of André Alexis' award-winning quincunx. The capstone to this astounding literary project that uses literary genres like the pastoral and the apologue to explore philosophical questions of faith, love, truth, identity, and belonging, Ring builds off of and subverts the romance genre to tell the story of Gwenhwyfar, a young woman living in Toronto who inherits a strange artifact from her mother, passed down from mother to daughter over the centuries. But what does the ring promise, and what does it demand?
Download an excerpt to get your first taste of Ring here (clicking begins a PDF download) and read on for our interview with Alana Wilcox, Editorial Director of Coach House and editor of the quincunx.
An interview with Alana Wilcox
All Lit Up: This is the fifth book in André Alexis’ quincunx, which started with the release of Pastoral back in 2014. How did those conversations start, and how did your approach to editing change knowing there were more books in the works?
Alana Wilcox: We originally committed to just the first two, Pastoral and Fifteen Dogs; the other three were only ideas at that point. (Many authors say they’re going to write five books, but very few manage to actually do it!) Each of the five is a stand-alone novel, and it was important to both of us to edit them that way. Definitely at the start it was impossible to project what might happen in future books, but by the time we got to Ring, we tried to hold all of the books in mind and consider the connections between them all. We thought a lot about consistency of the returning characters’ temperaments, for instance, and timelines, and recurring imagery – and, most importantly, of the larger philosophical questions that tie the books together.
ALU: Ring is the final book in the quincunx in terms of publishing order, but also not – Alexis has described it as the centre dot on the five-side of a die. How did you work to ensure all ends were wrapped in this final book?
AW: We worked hard to make sure there was as much continuity as possible over the course of the five books, but we couldn’t go back and change things that happened in the earlier published books: Ring made us realize, for example, that the timeline in The Hidden Keys wasn’t ideal for making Ring work. And we’ve always known that André would go back over all five as a single unit later on. In terms of wrapping up all the ends? I don’t think it’s possible. The five books are about asking questions of the reader, and we didn’t want to tidy things up into a tight bow for that reason.
ALU: Tell us a bit about the cover design process – how did you approach this cover, making it fit in with the quincunx while having it stand apart?
AW: All five covers were designed by the brilliant Ingrid Paulson. For Ring, we wanted to keep with the palette of the other five, and we wanted to evoke the idea of romance, hopefully both using and subverting its tropes, the way the text does. Ingrid wanted to use the metaphor of a kind of Moebius ring, and she had the great idea of adding a couple kissing within the ring; it turned out to be very difficult to find a vintage-romance image of a Black couple kissing, which was both telling and heartbreaking. Ingrid worked miracles to find that image and make it work.
ALU: What can readers look forward to in Ring? What do you love in particular about it?
AW: Romance always has a bit of magic, and this one is no exception. It’s not a will-they-or-won’t-they romance; I think we know from the start that Tancred and Gwen will find love. But it’s how they get there that is so, if you’ll forgive the pun, engaging. The romances of those around them are delightful, too. And I don’t want to give anything away about the magic ring …
ALU: What was it like being a character in the book? Was it odd to “edit yourself”?
AW: I was quite bemused to find myself as a minor character in Ring. André often uses real-life people as characters in his novels ( Lisa Robertson and Roo Borson also appear), so I can’t say I was surprised. I didn’t really edit much my appearances; as always, André was spot-on in his depiction!
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Many thanks to Alana for answering our questions, and to James at Coach House Books for providing this month's excerpt! Now that you've experienced a slice of Ring, why not grab a copy for yourself at 15% off?
And stay tuned for more book club, all summer long: next week, we'll interview author André Alexis.
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