ALU Summer Book Club: An Interview with Jade Wallace, author of Anomia

This week of ALU Summer Book Club we chat with author Jade Wallace of the innovative, heart-rending novel Anomia (Palimpsest Press) about their approach to writing reality-adjacent worlds, one “where the forest at the edge of town seems to speak to you, though you can never quite be sure it’s not your own voice you’re hearing.”

Photo credit Mark Laliberte

Photo of Jade Wallace. Photo credit Mark Laliberte.


Share It:

A banner reading Summer Book Club.

Book club with us and get 15% off Anomia until August 31 with the discount code INTHECLUB2024

Writer and poet Jade Wallace has pulled off an impressive feat in Anomia: it’s a novel without any gendered pronouns. Indeed, in Euphoria, the small, rural community that serves as the setting of Wallace’s novel, characters bear names like Fir or Mal – and we focus instead on their personalities, and the way they carry themselves in town and with their neighbours. But Anomia is more than the skillful execution of a writerly challenge: it’s a beautiful, heart-rending novel about love, friendship, and loneliness, with a little bit of mystery in the mix.

Buy your own copy here on All Lit Up for 15% off (or find a copy from your local indie using our Shop Local finder).

* * *

Interview with Jade Wallace

All Lit Up: Firstly, congratulations on your debut novel! How did you come to writing?

Jade Wallace: Thank you!

I came to literature at all because of my mother, who read to me before I was even born, and who continued to read to me after, and often took me to the library when I was young. As for writing, it was a simple matter of being a lonely child, too shy to talk to almost anyone, but nevertheless having things to say, and so I put my thoughts on paper. It wasn’t until I went to university and started to get involved in the local writing scene in Niagara that I began actually sharing work. I joined my university’s writing club, and met local writers and chapbook publishers, and was convinced to submit my work to journals. Later, I went to Toronto and met more writers and publishers, and submitted to more journals, and eventually applied for grants, and sent my first polished poetry manuscript to a press, which became Love Is A Place But You Cannot Live There (Guernica Editions, 2023), and thus I became a person who had written a real book. 

July's Pick: Anomia. Featuring the cover of the book and a pull quote from Aaron Tucker: "Anomia is the sum of its many multiple parts, a whirling, delightful strange weaving of friendships, suspicion, and small town conspiracy.”

ALU: We know that Anomia was adapted from your Governor General’s Gold Medal-winning thesis. What was that process like of reworking that text into something like a novel, something that attracts a more general readership?

JD: Anomia was indeed my thesis for my M.A. in Creative Writing at the University of Windsor, which was supervised by poet Dr. Louis Cabri, who took it as his main job, I think, to encourage me to exercise as much artistic freedom as possible. It was a novel from the start, though probably a bit more esoteric and academic in its early stages, and also contextualized by a long critical essay titled “At the Limits of Gendered Language in Mimetic Fiction,” which situated the work alongside 5 other novels: Monique Wittig’s The Opoponax, Anne Garréta’s Sphinx, Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body, Joshua Whitehead’s Jonny Appleseed, and Akwaeke Emezi’s The Death of Vivek Oji. The basic premise, however, has remained the same as it has since I first dreamt it up several years ago: a novel written entirely without reference to sex or gender.

At first, I drafted Anomia with the intent that it would be a completely mimetic novel—i.e. one in which all the ordinary laws of reality apply, and without speculative elements—but was later encouraged by a very kind literary agent (who read the book and had a long chat with me about it, a gesture that ended up benefiting her not at all and me a great deal, for which I’m deeply grateful) to lean into my obvious latent speculative tendencies. In its current version, Anomia’s world is one in which sex and gender have collectively been forgotten, and there is also a forest in which improbable physics prevail. One might call the book slipstream. For the most part the story runs alongside our own recognizable reality, but it does slant and veer and have a mind of its own.

That was probably the biggest change between the many versions of Anomia, though I was also fortunate to have three editors who really helped smooth out the text: Caitlin Galway, who I highly recommend hiring if you ever need a freelance fiction editor, Aimée Parent Dunn of Palimpsest Press, who was extremely patient with my authorial preciousness, and also my partner and collaborator Mark Laliberte, who has done just about everything there is to do in the worlds of literature and art and has a sharp eye for everything aesthetic.

ALU: Your writing is very atmospheric — literal and figurative ghosts, forgotten places — there’s a sort of reality-adjacent quality to your work, both in your poetry and prose. In Anomia, the little town Euphoria feels out of time, and yet is grounded enough to be a real place. How do you strike a balance between the uncanny and the real?

JD: I can only answer this question in a very roundabout way. From the ages of 12-16, I was deeply religious. Not because anyone forced me to be, but because I was desperate to connect with something of enormous, cosmic significance. I so badly wanted to transcend the boredom and isolation I often felt growing up as a slightly weird kid in a small town. My piety didn’t last because I couldn’t sustain the necessary belief; I’ve never found anything to replace it either.

My writing is always grappling with the problem of why I find the real world so unsatisfying and what the world would look like if it were satisfying. This doesn’t mean my stories, or my characters, are happy, but I am always trying to conjure fictional worlds that are like our own, but a bit denser, slightly richer with curiosity, meaning, and mystery. Often this means including elements in the narrative that may or may not be real, and that liminal space, that littoral zone, where reality is in question, or in flux, or both, is where I want my story to sit, because such uncertainty can provoke awe, even in the absence of faith.

Anomia’s main setting is the small, fictional town of Euphoria, which I very loosely based on the town I grew up in—a sleepy place with a suburban vibe, surrounded by woods and orchards—but also on any number of similar small towns across Southern Ontario. I love the Southern Ontario Gothic genre, but I also had no desire to actually write about real locales. Euphoria is some chimera of my past as it was in the 90s, and some alternate reality I wish I could inhabit now, where you are freer of other people’s prescriptions about who you are or should be, and where the forest at the edge of town seems to speak to you, though you can never quite be sure it’s not your own voice you’re hearing.

ALU: As a multi-genre writer, how does writing poetry inform your prose? What’s it like switching between poetry and fiction?

JD: Oh it’s a slog to switch into fiction mode. I try to keep my prose as close to poetry as I can get away with.  I like how fixated poetry is on the moodiness of tiny, specific details, how much it relies on association and intuition, without necessarily caring all that much about clarifying exactly how one things leads or relates pragmatically to another. When I write fiction, I know a certain amount of clarification is needed so the reader can follow the story. Usually I start a scene by jotting down the poetic details, and then only add as many of the practical, prosaic details as are strictly required to make sense of what’s happening.

Having said that, I do enjoy writing dialogue, probably because dialogue doesn’t have to be completely sensible, it just needs to feel right for the characters and the situation.

ALU: Tell us about your characters! Where does your inspiration come from? 

JD: I have heard from one of my most knowledgeable critics (by which I mean, my partner), that all of my characters bear some resemblance, however slight, to me. Though I like to think it’s the kind of partial resemblance a child bears to their parent, and quite inevitable given that the characters’ entire existences have been spent in my company. Mostly, though, I borrow aspects—personality traits, turns of phrase, habits, hobbies—from people I’ve met before and pastiche them together into a character. Like a magpie building a homunculus.

ALU: What’s on your reading list these days? Any books you can’t stop thinking about?

JD: My partner and I just finished reading Layla Martínez’s novel Woodworm (Two Lines Press) and Em Dial’s poetry collection In the Key of Decay (Palimpsest Press). I’m currently reading Sukun: New and Selected Poems by Kazim Ali (Goose Lane Editions) because I’ve been assigned to review it for a journal. I’ll soon be reading the poetry collection Attic Rain by Samantha Jones (NeWest Press), because I’ve been assigned to review it for another journal. James Hannaham’s novel Didn’t Nobody Give a Shit What Happened to Carlotta (Little, Brown and Company) is patiently waiting on my desk for me to open it, because after those reviews are done I have an idea for an essay I’ll get around to eventually…

* * *

Jade Wallace (they/them) is a queer, non-binary, and disabled writer, editor and critic. Their debut poetry collection, Love Is A Place But You Cannot Live There, (Guernica Editions) came out in 2023. Wallace is co-founder of MA|DE, a collaborative writing entity, whose debut collection ZZOO is forthcoming from Palimpsest Press.

* * *

Thanks so much to Jade for answering our questions! Get Anomia here on All Lit Up for 15% off (discount code INTHECLUB2024), all summer long.

Stay tuned next Wednesday for our staff book club chat!

Keep on top of all summer book club happenings here.