A Conversation with Dora Dueck, Author of ALL THAT BELONGS

All that belongs

All That Belongs is Dora Dueck’s fourth book and third novel, following 2012’s What You Get at Home, which won the High Plains Book Award for Short Stories and was shortlisted for the the Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction and the Carol Shields Winnipeg Award at the 2013 Manitoba Book Awards. K.D. Miller calls All That Belongs “a gentle but compelling meditation on love, aging, the nature of memory, and the need to acknowledge and forgive the pain of the past.”

Briny Books: What’s the part of your book that you’re most proud of—the scene you can’t believe you pulled off, the part you most want to highlight, the passage you’d like to enclose in brackets with a note underlined: I WROTE THIS?

Dora Dueck: The interesting thing is that when a book project finally lands in real text in a real book, it all feels like it was written by someone else. Even the simplest sentences take on the aura of disbelief, like, really, when and how ever did I write this and how did all this come together—from me!

But, to answer your question more specifically, the first character that arrived in my head was Uncle Must, in the almost-vision-like scene of him inhabiting the figure of Saint Martinian in the middle of an ocean storm. Which made me ask, who in the world is this man? What’s he about and why does he matter? Which is what Catherine wonders too. I’m proud of the scene because, though it now appears well into the book, it was part of the first writing I did on the novel and I used it as a sample in an application to the Canada Council for a grant, which I needed at the time. It must have been convincing enough, because they gave me a grant.

Briny Books: Was there a part of your narrative that surprised you as your book came together, suggesting that the author isn’t always completely in charge of her work and something deeper and weirder is going on? 

Dora Dueck: There are linkages and layering that happened in the writing process—about fire, or music, for example—that I didn’t set out to make happen, but noticed as the book came together. And, themes—of shame and time, for example—that the story circled around, which I was aware of from the beginning but grew for me as characters emerged and did things. Almost as if I was being instructed or enlarged about them. How shame may be imposed from without or be taken on—almost nourished—within, so often unreasonably. How memory is a constant, awful reckoning with time. Recently I became aware of what can seem a deep undercurrent of sadness but which is —by being articulated, by being felt— actually an antidote to shame. Authentic emotion undoes shame in a way. This surprised and pleased me; I had not set out knowing that this is what can happen in remembrance.

Briny Books: Public readings (and learning to do them) are a big part of an author’s experience. But is there a part of your book that you know you’ll never have the nerve to read out loud? 

Dora Dueck: There are always parts I avoid simply because, while I wish to entice, I’m really really reluctant to give too much away. But in addition, I don’t think I would try to read any of Catherine’s most intimate reflections on the loss of her brother Darrell, because as relatively steady-sounding or contained as her voice may be, I know her well enough by now that I would feel it trembling underneath and my voice might break and chances are I wouldn’t get through the passage.

Briny Books: What has been your favourite reader response to your book so far? 

Dora Dueck: At the time of answering this Briny Books Q & A, the book is just fresh off the press, so I don’t have reader responses yet. Well, except for the three blurbs! And Kerry Clare who had requested an advance copy! All four are writers and readers I admire and whose opinion I value. It was wonderful to hear “I loved it” from several, in addition to the formal blurb statements. But then one of them who sent me an email in addition with very specific things she liked, like the first sentence, small details like how someone whistles, the realistic marriage, the mother-daughter relationship. Even a particular word!

It’s always gratifying to hear readers say they read and enjoyed one’s book. But when they add particulars, even just a couple of things, it’s amazing how much encouragement-mileage the compliment gets!

Briny Books: What book(s) is/are you reading at the moment? 

Dora Dueck: Currently, I’m just wrapping up Michael Crummey’s Sweetland and getting into The Art of Leaving by Ayelet Tsabari and, for a “book club for two” with a friend, My Antonia by Willa Cather.

BONUS: Check out an interview with artist Agatha Fast Doerksen, who created the image on the book’s cover.