Author Tags: Fiction
She was born in Richmond Hill, Ontario on May 6, 1953. Raised in Montreal and Ottawa, she moved to B.C. in 1975. She spent two years in the South Pacific before returning to Vancouver and publishing her first novel, The Tasmanian Tiger, in which a Vancouver couple leave their secure lives for Tasmania. In this book about mystery and murder, the husband becomes obsessed with stalking a tiger while the pregnant wife comes to grips with darkening forces within herself. Educated at Queen's University and married to a metallurgist, Jane has lived in Trail; Sydney, Australia; Tumbler Ridge and Greymouth, New Zealand with intervals spent in Vancouver. She lives in Vancouver with her family.
The Understanding (The Porcupine's Quill, 2002)
The Tasmanian Tiger (Polestar Press, 1988)
[BCBW 2002] "Fiction" "Interview"
The Understanding (Porcupineís Quill $22.95)
Jane Barker Wrightís second novel The Understanding arises from the personalities of Solly and Isobel, two modern idealists. Solly was an active proponent of free love and Isobel went along with it. This was Ďthe understandingí they had.
ďI became aware of how naÔve and rather sweet that attitude seems today,Ē says Wright. ďSolly believed it was harmless, even beneficial. It turned out to be tremendously harmful, resulting in two deaths. I canít give away more than that!Ē
Thereís a scandal involving a missing babyóand suddenly they all find themselves in the tabloids, trying to appear as Ďnormalí as possible.
BCBW: Was there a germination point for The Understanding?
WRIGHT: I began to imagine a woman who refused to stop having kids. I Ďd just had our fourth and final child and, while I didnít want to go on producing them, I still felt a pang for that last one. The recognition of the end of the child-bearing phase is a poignant moment in many womenís lives. Even childless women reach a point when they realize that the baby option is no longer viable. With that poignancy in mind, I came up with the character of Isobel Whitechapel, mother of nine, and a regular contributor to Family Matters on CBC.
BCBW: Isobel and Solly go from a very open-ended communal situation to a very protracted city life.
WRIGHT: Yes, aging entails a gradual narrowing of possibility. I became fascinated by the logistics of raising a large family in Vancouver in the Ď90s. How much milk, bread, peanut butter and toilet paper does a family of eleven actually go through in a week? How the hell do you get everybody in the car at one time? Whose soccer game do you attend? How do you cope with parent/teacher interviews, dentistís bills, holidays? Family life is always black comedy.
BCBW: Then somebody runs a red light. Or a doctor has bad news.
WRIGHT: Thatís right. But it doesnít matter what horrific ordeal youíre suddenly going through; meals still have to be made, concerts still have to be attended, illnesses still have to be treated. Children require normalcy or at least a parody of it. Until I wrote the last line, I didnít know whether the marriage in The Understanding would survive or self-destruct. Iíd always wanted to write about an abiding, long-term relationshipóyou canít even say happy marriage anymore; people smirkóitís a state thatís commonplace in life, especially middle-life, but virtually absent in modern literature, which I find strange.
BCBW: They need a support group. The Happily Married specialty channel.
WRIGHT: Right. You canít say youíre happily married. It feels like a boast.
BCBW: Besides, youíd be tempting fate if you said that.
WRIGHT: That happens to Solly and Isobel in a way. I suppose their relationship could be called a folie a deux. Solly is a social activist who started a commune. He has always lived according to ideological principles. He sleeps around constantly; heís quite famous for it actually. Isobel puts up with it because sheís learned that she canít change him and she canít bear to leave. She never falls out of love with him; mostly she fears he will leave her. Iím interested in the compromises, surrenders and shared experiences that keep two people together more than I am in the indifference and acrimony that pull them apart.
BCBW: What are some of the compromises and surrenders that keep your own marriage together?
WRIGHT: As you know, writers spend a lot of time scribbling away and producing no income at all, so it was up to my husband to pay the rent. He works in mining and for the first half of our marriage, we moved from Trail to Vancouver to Sydney, Australia to Vancouver to Tumbler Ridge to Greymouth, New Zealand and back to Vancouver by which point our oldest child was too old to be expected to switch schools every year. Since then, heís done the travelling and Iíve covered the home front. Unlike most women, Iím hopeless at multi-tasking and that makes me an incredibly slow writer. In all my years of writing, Iíve never really dealt with the logistical juggling, time-management and, letís face it, guilt involved in being a working mother.
BCBW: At your first book launch, you went into labour.
WRIGHT: Yes. Not a good career move. My first novel was published by the brilliant and endlessly understanding Julian Ross. I wanted to promote it for his sake. Iíll try to do better this time, but Iím afraid Iíll never be able to schmooze properly. A very, very young writer told me a couple of years ago that these days you have to schmooze. His short story collection was just published by Penguin. I find this profoundly depressing. I have about five minutes of patter and I never remember anybodyís name.
BCBW: In your first novel, a young couple leaves a secure life to go to Tasmania, and sheís pregnant. That was about motherhood, too.
WRIGHT: Well, itís something I know something about. The sentimental iconography of motherhood both intrigues and frightens me. Mothers are not allowed to be frail or fallible. The mad or bad mother always makes the front page. Mothers are not supposed to be human. Yet most of us manage to live up to societyís expectations. Wonderful mothers are as common as dirt! Itís an amazing phenomenon.
Parenthood is one of the big subjects, as big as war or love. If someone writes a novel about war, itís automatically endowed with a kind of gravitas because of the resonance of the theme. If a woman writes a book about motherhood, itís gently condemned as Ďdomestic,í as if the producing and nurturing of life is less monumental than the destruction of it. But the issues raised are the same: risk, power and the lack of it, despair and hope.
BCBW: Domesticity. A subject that canít get dated.
WRIGHT: (laughter) I think Carol Shieldsí The Stone Diaries taught us that an ordinary life can be as gripping as an extraordinary one. She writes wonderful domestic books. Now Iíve started on a third novel and itís following the trend. Calvin Trillin wrote The Tummy Trilogy. Iím working on a Mummy Trilogy.