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Myriam Lacroix On Her Spectacular Debut Novel

by Brendan Dowling on June 6, 2024

Myriam Lacroix’s intoxicating How It Works Out traces the life span of the relationship between Allison and Myriam, twentysomething creatives in Vancouver who first meet at a punk show. In each chapter, Lacroix reveals new layers of their dynamic as she examines the women in various scenarios in wildly different potential realities. From debating motherhood after they find a baby in an alley to combating depression through cannibalism, Myriam and Allison prove themselves an unforgettable romantic duo. Through it all, Lacroix deftly juggles multiple genres while spinning a love story readers will be hard pressed to forget. Critics have heaped praise on How It Works Out, with Kirkus Reviews singling out Lacroix’s “gift for cutting to the heart of things: the way you inevitably open yourself up to both injury and transformation when you try to love and be loved” and George Saunders calling the book “an audacious, breathtaking, and inspiring debut.” Lacroix spoke to us about her unexpected influences and pushing herself as a writer. Author photo courtesy of Charles Anthony.

I really loved reading this book, yet I found I had a hard time describing it when friends asked me about it. How do you describe the book?

I think that makes sense that you maybe had some trouble, because I think the book has a sort of unusual form. The way that I describe it, I like the words “relationship multiverse.” I think of it as a relationship multiverse in which each chapter offers an alternate outcome to this queer relationship between Myriam and Allison. The earlier article chapters reflect the dreamier or optimistic state of being in a relationship. As you get to know the characters, things get a bit more complicated and a little less rose-tinted.

Each chapter shows us a different perspective on Allison and Myriam’s personalities and causes us to rethink certain things that we thought we knew about them. How did you go about tracing the arc of this relationship going from, as you say, the optimistic stages of an early relationship to the end of a relationship?

I think the answer is a bit less writerly and a bit more real-worldly. Some of the earlier hypotheticals that I wrote when I was actually in the beginning of a relationship, they were these small microfictions. It was my first queer relationship, I was really in love, and so I came up with all these dreamy scenarios. As the relationship didn’t go quite how I had expected, I came back to those dreamy hypotheticals and added on new ones. Eventually, the relationship started disintegrating. So in real time, through each hypothetical, I was analyzing what was going on or what had been going on in the relationship and trying to make sense of it. The relationship had a natural arc, so that made the arc the book.

This might be an obvious question, but was a relationship you had the genesis of the book?

Yeah, I would say it was the genesis. Anyone who reads the book can clearly tell that it’s fiction. Also, there was definitely some emotional truth propelling me to write it and some kind of existential questions about love. But also I am a writer. I was trying to write a good book and trying to develop my craft. I really was not focusing on making it true.

The book is so exciting to read because you really have the sense that anything can happen. Some of the chapters play with different genres. I was curious about who were the writers that were meaningful to you as you were growing up, but then also in your writing career?

An early influence when I was a teenager was Leonard Cohen, but specifically his fiction, which definitely gets pretty weird and surreal sometimes, and poetic and dark. Beautiful Losers was one of the first books that I read that really floored me when I was in high school. Similarly, at that time, I read Katherine Dunne’s Geek Love, which was also surreal, horrifying, hilarious and so beautifully written and unlike anything that I had read. Later in life, in my twenties, I felt this literary revolution when I discovered the works of people writing surreal stuff that was hilarious and kind of out there. I’m thinking of Helen Oyemi, George Saunders, and Miranda July. I shouldn’t say “surreal” as a blanket statement for all of those writers, but people who were taking risks. I ended up actually studying with George Saunders. I just love the way that he does these kind of weird things with such a high level of craft and this unwavering vulnerability.

I love that you also referenced Leonard Cohen, because I think there’s a real playfulness with language that you have, specifically your figurative language. Can you talk about your approach to playing with phrases or language?

I think the Leonard Cohen comparison fits because in his fiction, he’s such a poet. I grew up writing mostly poetry. I think having the perfect metaphor, simile, or sound to a phrase was the ultimate exciting thing for me and what brought me to writing in the first place. I was doing that in high school and in my early twenties, and then I realized that I wanted more in some ways. I would write these things that had cool sounds and cool images, and that was kind of it for me. I’m not dissing poetry, because people take it to the next level. But for me, taking it to the next level was starting to write fiction and being like, “Wow, I have no idea how to do this. This is so hard!” (laughs) That gave me a challenge that was stimulating and made me really push myself.

The whole idea of pushing yourself as a writer seems to really come through with this book. I’m thinking in terms of how you’re almost relentless in how you examine Allison and Myriam. A big moment for me was the first time a chapter was told from Allison’s point of view and we saw how Allison viewed Myriam. What was it like for you to switch perspectives throughout the novel and be able to examine a character in a different way than we had maybe seen her before?

I think it was both extremely fun and extremely difficult. For me, one of the perks of writing autofiction and writing a character with my own name is I have such permission to be mean to that character or make fun of her as much as I want. Usually with fiction you have to be really compassionate to all of your characters, but if it’s you, you can kind of get away with anything. (laughs) That was the part where I had fun, because I could be so hyperbolic in making fun of Myriam. If people read the book, they’ll see things go pretty awry with her and it’s kind of a big farce. So that was the fun part. The difficult part and the necessary part was examining other people’s perceptions of me—or maybe the way that I felt perceived by other people—especially in a relationship that really shook my sense of self in a way that was hard to recover from. I feel like I had to go through all the ways that I thought I might be bad or culpable. I had to examine the things that were brought up for me in this difficult relationship really closely to make sense of them. It made sense to use the Allison perspective to do that. And I don’t literally think that my ex was thinking all these horrible things about me. I think she actually loved me, but I think it was something that I needed to explore.

As a reader I always felt very taken care of, in terms of how you were maintaining the emotional truth of these characters while still taking the reader to all these different, wild worlds. Could you talk about how you approached the tone of the novel?

I had “reader perception” at the front of my consciousness the whole time. If I’m honest, I don’t think I would have gone quite so far in certain places if it wasn’t for entertainment’s sake, you know? I worked really hard on this book. And if I worked really hard, it’s not necessarily because I had things that I absolutely needed to process on the page, because I have therapy for that. I worked really hard on the book because I love literature and I love reading. I always wanted to make it as enjoyable as possible for people to read in terms of setting the stakes really high and making people turn pages really fast. I have examined every single sentence a million times to make sure that it was completely evocative and fluid. In literature, I really like when people are bold and pushing boundaries. I felt like I was doing that for readers, too. In some ways, it was difficult to have the emotional truth in there. Even though a lot of people are reading this book [thinking], “It’s so fun and hilarious. It’s a wild ride,” the layers underneath were very difficult experiences for me. But as a reader that’s why I read. It’s for that vulnerability and human connection, and so I think I was doing those hard things for readers.

The book is so compact, about 215 pages, yet still feels very dense in terms of how much ground you’re able to cover in such a brief span of time. How did you decide what length this book should be?

If it isn’t clear, the book is a novel because it has a greater arc and it follows the same characters. It’s a multiverse, but each chapter also stands on its own because I was a young writer and I came into writing through the short story. I think if I write a more traditional novel next, I wonder if it will be that same kind of very compact, dense experience. With the short story form, it’s so important that every single sentence moves the story [forward] and escalates. I think I did fit a lot of lyricism in there, but there’s not as many moments to ponder, as in a more traditional novel.

That seems to be of a piece with your background as a poet too, in terms of every line being so crucial to the greater work.

I think it’s also wonderful when people take a whole chapter to reflect or something like that. I love when writers do that too, and I might experiment with a slightly slower pace in the future. But also because it’s my first book, I think you need to need to earn readers’ trust if you’re going to go a little slower. I just wanted to be like, “Okay, I’m going to write this thing and I’m not going to let anyone put it down  for one second.”

Another really delightful thing about this book is how Myriam, Alison, and other characters express themselves creatively in different ways. We see them as musicians, self-help authors, and even amateur wrestlers at one point. What was appealing to you about exploring these two characters through all their different creative exploits in the different multiverses?

I’m not saying it wasn’t totally intentional, but it wasn’t fully intentional in the sense that’s just kind of my life, you know? It was also a part of that relationship that I was in at the time, this kind of fixation with different kinds of creative expression. Sometimes I wonder if it’s a little bit too common to have a writer in the piece of art, because I feel like writers are always writing everything, right?  So you watch a movie and oh, there just happens to be a writer, because the writer’s just projecting themself in that [character].  But I think also if you’re making art it creates this opportunity for meta-analysis to have an artist in there.

Some of those parts I feel like I should give credit to my community, which is pretty much the Vancouver queer community. There’s just so much incredible art, especially performance art, going on here. Vancouver was a very groundbreaking scene for drag. Having seen it evolve over the past decade or so, it has just turned into some of the wildest performance art that I’ve seen. Definitely a lot of the performance that I wrote in the book was inspired by all the great art around me.

You’re French Canadian and you write in English. I was wondering if you could talk about if your French Canadian identity has any impact on your writing?

I think in some ways—I don’t want to be a snobby French person—but I think the lyricism and poetry of my writing might come from that. I’m also a translator between English and French, so I feel like I can speak on this with some authority, but when you translate something from French to English, the English is often so much shorter, because French is just so dense. It has so many layers of meaning that have to be explicit in the sentence, and things that you can just skip over completely in English, if that makes sense. I think that love of really rich, multi-layered language has impacted my writing. Also, I’m French Canadian. We do have a very specific culture that’s a little bit less restrained, say, than in North American Anglophone culture. We’re very direct and there’s definitely a crude sense of humor that’s very common, and I think that my sense of humor is fairly cultural.

You created Out-Front, an LGBTQIA+ writing group. Can you talk about how that group came to be?

As far as Out-Front goes, that’s defunct for the moment unfortunately. Out-Front was a queer writing group that I started when I was at school at Syracuse, and its goal was more or less to question the role that we were being given as queer writers and explore all the different possible things that we can write. I think partly it came from being in an MFA program and being in an environment that felt very unfamiliar to me. The Syracuse University MFA program is very hard to get into, so once I got in, it felt more competitive and honestly more ambitious than I was used to being, if that makes sense. There were a lot of people from Ivy League [universities] with important connections, and I had just been writing in this way that was completely disconnected from any academic environment or any famous writers. I was completely shocked when I got into that MFA program, because I just didn’t see myself as that kind of person. I wanted to be in it and I believed in what I was doing, but it was definitely a different environment for me.  I think I just wanted a little piece of home. For me, that meant making this queer community that was there to just mess around and be really supportive of each other and clap really loud when anyone did anything. That felt more nourishing and important to my art practice than the more intense MFA thing.

And finally, what role has the public library played in your life?

I have very early formative memories of the library. One of the more telling anecdotes kind of explains how I did not become a YA writer. When I was in elementary school, we would go to the library once a month and we were allowed to get comic books instead of traditional books. It was so controversial that I passed on that option. Everyone [else] would be in the kids and YA section and, being a little weirdo, I would go hide with old, dusty books and read things that were completely outside of my comprehension level. (laughs) I also had my first writers talk in a library when I was in elementary school. I was eight-years-old and I still remember it perfectly. It made such an impact on me, I was on the edge of my chair. Going throughout my whole writing career, libraries have been important, but that’s maybe my origin story.

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