Lessons on Life, Loss and Love with Author, Joanne Proulx
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"You need to put your love into action," says novelist Joanne Proulx, one of Canada's refreshing literary voices. Following the interview, I find myself reflecting on the author's motto. With her second novel, We All Love the Beautiful Girls, she presents a seemingly perfect family and the pressures they face when subjected to loss. Mia and Michael are happily married, with a teenage son Finn who is in love with Jess, the beautiful, older girl next door.

Then, one winter night Michael learns that Peter, his business partner, has written him out of their partnership and cheated them of their savings. On the same night, Finn passes out in the snow after a house party—a mistake with devastating consequences.

As the story unfolds, we witness the volatility of marriage, the complexity of adolescence and Finn's belief that love will save us. And there’s the strength of a character like Frankie (Michael's business partner's daughter) who is distressed about the damaged relationship between their families and wants to talk honestly about it. We relate in different ways to the family as they each cope with their losses -- what they do, who they turn to, the choices they make. With Joanne's raw prose, and surprising plot twists, we cling to the pages as she captures the actions and emotional impulse of each character as they are faced with adversity. “I always try to write with real honestly, to think about how the character would be feeling in each moment," reflects Joanne. "And I think when you do that, you get to know them well." 

But this isn't a traditional family drama. By rooting us in the emotional tenor of the individual characters, the novel takes us deeper, exploring power dynamics between the sexes, issues of race and class and the consequences of our choices on others. "Because they are a privileged family, I knew they would probably have the resources to survive," says Joanne. "But when you look at how their choices ripple out into the broader world, it's the people who are more vulnerable who are going to be hurt." There is a subtlety to the underlying themes woven throughout the novel. "I'm exploring issues through situations that feel familiar by placing them in a family setting," explains Joanne. And there is strength to this approach. As characters shift, as they struggle, as they find resolve, we find ourselves breaking down these issues through the gradual revelations of the characters themselves. 

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Q&A

What started you on the path to writing?
I was a successful banker but every day I would go to work and feel like I didn't actually belong. There was this hollowness in my chest, like something was not being realized. I had received a promotion, my husband and I rearranged our lives…but then he got transferred to a job in Paris. At my going away party, everyone was asking what I was going to do. And writing had always been in the back of my mind. When I got to France, 9/11 had just happened and I’d always had this fairly optimistic world view, and I think it sort of shook me up. It was at this time that I started taking a writing course. By my third class, my heart was so open. It  felt like I found what I was meant to do. Within six years, my first novel was published. 

How did you become involved in the subject matter of your new book?
It seemed to me that there was a rise in sexual aggression against women, or maybe it was just that conversation moving into the mainstream. At the same time, Fifty Shades of Grey was a big hit, and I just couldn't reconcile these two things. I wanted to investigate the power dynamics between the sexes in a liberal, Western society. A year in, I realized the book was coming from a very deep place.

In your novels, including Anthem of a Reluctant Prophet, you have delivered intimate studies of the characters. Did you know the entire plot before you sat down to write We All Love the Beautiful Girls, or did you see where the characters would take you? As a writer, you have to have a lot of unearned confidence. Once you start writing you let your characters live their lives. What do you feel makes these characters so relatable? They’re three dimensional. You know they aren't always right which is true of all of us and you may not always relate to their circumstances but you can identify with their emotional experiences.

There are some similarities between your life experiences and those of the character Mia in this book. How do you draw on your own experiences and translate them into your characters?
My first novel was told through the eyes of aseventeen year old boy and yet there were similarities. People who knew me well saw a lot of me in the book. In We All Love the Beautiful Girls I knew what issues I wanted to explore and I let parts of my own life, my own experiences, influence those issues. I’m now at an age where I don’t worry about what people think…and in the end, the book is ultimately a work of fiction. 

Your first novel, Anthem of a Reluctant Prophet, is being adapted as a feature film. What has this process been like for you?
As a consultant, I reviewed scripts and gavecomments. Then I was invited to Los Angeles to help rework the script. The director and producers have the final say, but I did have a input. I also went out for the filming which was pretty surreal. The first day of shooting was at a high school.  Cameron Monaghan plays the main character Luke, and he was out back skateboarding. When I walked into the school it felt like I walked back into my younger life. Until that moment I don't think I realized how much or my own life made into into the story. 

What book changed your life?
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. It's an incredible multigenerational story set in India. It's about struggle but there's so much joy at the same time. I also really loved Life of Pi. The beautiful ending that changed the whole story. In some ways I thought about that ending when I wrote the final chapter of We All Love the Beautiful Girls

And finally, let's talk about love.
I think what I learned from writing this book is that Finn really believes in love—that love is going to save us. As I wrote the book I realized that's not enough. You need to put your love into action. I think that's what I'm doing with my writing. And I have to do more in my own community. It's not good enough for me to say, "Oh we have to love each other," when there's so much inequality in this world. It’s easy to love our family and friends, but we have to be proactive and push love out farther. I'm looking at ways I can use my skills in a meaningful way and am setting aside one day a week where I don't write, but help out more directly in my community

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Sound like a book YOU'D LIKE to add to your reading list? Grab a copy of We All Love the Beautiful Girls on indigo.ca, amazon.cA or at mcnally robinson.

Stephanie Trendocher
Checking In: Secrets the Vine Cancun

I've fallen asleep in a pool side cabana. I turn over to see my friend Annabelle has done the same. I check the time.. 1:00pm on the first day of our stay in Cancun. For the first time in my recent travels, there is no sense of urgency. Instead, that all-too-rare kind of tranquility.  I've come here for all the reasons that traditionally come to mind. Picture perfect beaches with sand as white and powder soft as icing sugar and crystal clear water. And it's true. With postcard like views, this spot along the northeast coast of the Yucatán Peninsula has drawn people from across the globe for decades. 

As two bloggers who are constantly scheduling shoots at new restaurants, shops and the like, we're not used to slowing down. This trip is different. The agenda is refreshingly loose. Now, I've been to Mexico a handful of times. As a child, my family travelled to tropical destinations once a year to escape our cold Canadian winter. Since then, I've considered myself more of a city person. But when Expedia suggested I spend a week at Secrets the Vine Cancun, I couldn't resist soaking in sun and spending some time simply unwinding.

getting there

Major airlines fly direct out of Toronto to Cancun. We book our flights with Air Canada Rouge. Low cost carriers like this make it easier to jet around on a budget.

The beautiful balmy climate hits us as soon as we walk out of the airport. The salty ocean breeze, the warm sunny rays. An Expedia Local Expert is waiting for us. We zip past tall palm trees, with the ocean twinkling in the distance as we drive to the resort. 

WHERE TO STAY

Cancun's pristine coastline is lined with resorts appealing to everyone from families to spring breakers (even in July, a foam party breaks out at the resort next door), to those seeking some serene seclusion. We arrive at Secrets the Vine Cancun, a contemporary designed, adults-only resort. Greeted with cool face towels and a glass of champagne, I extend my thanks for the kind gesture, to which the resort staff reply, "It's a pleasure." And I realize at this moment why sun-seekers leave behind the daily city grind in favour of the dreamy oceanside oasis that is Cancun. We're in for a truly special stay.

Our suite is part of the 'Preferred Club', with access to a private infinity pool and lounge, concierge services and all the amenities you could ever ask for. It's the ultimate in luxury. The suites are stunning. Picture teak furnishings, beds with custom headboards, fine linens, a complimentary mini bar and a private balcony with an ocean view. 

Several gourmet restaurants are on site. The seafood forward dishes at Olio were a favourite. Try the ceviche. We too loved the upscale Italian menu at Nebbiolo. Ask for Isaac. He was the kindest, sweetest waiter we had during our stay. And went out of his way to ensure we enjoyed our dinner. And more importantly dessert. To our surprise, he had the Chef prepare us a platter of mini creme brûlées. For breakfast stop by the Market Cafe for the most incredible buffet brunch experience before heading to the beach. And if you'd like to change it up one night, the concierge will set you up with complimentary dinner and drinks at one of their partnering resorts nearby. 

The best part of the resort is without question the staff. They are incredibly welcoming, gracious and kind. They go above and beyond to ensure your experience is a memorable one. And we owe our experience all to them.

DURING YOUR STAY

From dawn to dusk, there is plenty to do at the resort -- from daily sommelier led wine tastings to dance lessons. We started each morning with a yoga session, followed by a dip in one of the three infinity pools. On our second day, a lovely woman named Maria hands us a hibiscus infused iced tea and takes us on a tour of the spa. We treat ourselves to an afternoon there, enjoying a wine therapy massage treatment followed by a stop in the eucalyptus infused steam room. It's an experience I highly recommend splurging on. But our favourite moments during our stay had to have been the cooking class with a Chef in the resort's commercial kitchen and the private champagne tasting we indulged in. Treat yourself. On top of all this, you can swipe through the tablet in your room to see the daily activities and nightly entertainment. 

places to go

Set aside at least one of your days to head off the resort. There's so much to see beyond the city limits. From the centuries old history of the Mayan Ruins in Tulum, to Isla Mujeres, a small Caribbean island only 20 minutes away by ferry, there are definitely day trips worth taking. Expedia has plenty of excursion ideas and will help you narrow down the best ideas for your interests, from experiencing Chichen Itza, of the seven wonders of the world, to snorkelling in a cenote. We headed to Isla Mujures for the day. With one of the top beaches in the world, Playa Norte, it is truly a tropical paradise. The temple of Ixchel is located on the southern most tip of the island. As you find your way to the temple, you'll take in Punta Sur Sculpture Garden, bordered by breathtaking views over steep, naturally carved cliffs. 

After five fabulous days, I find myself spending the last taking in the perfectly blue water Cancun is known for, admiring its picturesque coastline dotted with resorts and people. I find myself making plans to return soon to visit Tulum. That night at dinner, our waiter Isaac prompts me to take out my camera. On one side of the beach, a brief downpour starts. On the other a colourful sky, with a beautiful sunset. It's paradise. 


Thinking of taking a trip to Cancun? Check out Expedia's best vacation packages and travel guide. Or book a stay at secrets the vine cancun!

Stephanie Trendocher