Acclaimed author Leslie Vryenhoek delves into her road from suburbia USA to St. John’s, and her gripping new novel We All Will Be Received
Author, poet, world traveller and Newfoundlander by choice, Leslie Vryenhoek pauses to touch on the journey that brought her from a charmed suburban life in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to the more rustic and rugged Winnipeg, to setting up permanent roots in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
“My parents grew up in Winnipeg. Couldn’t get out of there fast enough,” Vryenhoek recalls. “I can remember my father calling it a one horse town. They moved eventually to Pittsburgh, where I was born and raised and had just an absolutely fabulous charmed life in the suburbs of Pittsburgh.
“We used to spend our summers back in Winnipeg, on the farm about an hour north of Winnipeg. When I was a teenager, I would spend a month there with my cousins, who I’m very close to. And it was wildly exotic compared to the suburbs of Pittsburgh. And there was something about the prairie that has always spoken to me. That is my landscape, that feels like where my roots are and where I understand what geography is in terms of personal attachment. So I loved being there.”
Love comes calling
Vryenhoek “fled the predictability” of suburbia USA and enrolled in the University of Manitoba at 18. It was here where she would graduate, find gainful employment and begin to lay down roots and build a family. That is, until love would come calling on a, usually, frigid island in the Atlantic.
“I fell in love with someone in Newfoundland, so eventually I threw everything in a U-Haul and dragged it all here,” Vryenhoek recalls, touching on her first impressions of the island decades prior.
“I was struck by how not rustic and impoverished it was. What you always see are the kind of Shipping News images. This was post moratorium and pre-big oil. I was struck by what a different and attractive city it was.”
Vryenhoek’s partner in crime is noted local writer and journalist Russell Wangersky, a match that, Vryenhoek jokingly admits, has its benefits and drawbacks with a house full of writers.
“It’s interesting to live with another writer. We’re very different writers, very different in our approach to things, and how we tackle things. In some ways it’s really beneficial because there’s someone else who understands what you’re going through. In some ways it’s detrimental because Russell, from his newsroom training, you could have a marching band go through his office and nine conversations going on at once and continue to write. And I need very much quiet lockdown. To write this book I actually locked myself in a room. He was not allowed to make eye contact for five weeks.”
Vryenhoek’s catalogue reads as diverse and eclectic as it is acclaimed and lauded. Her debut collection of poetry Gulf as well as her first foray into fiction Ledger of the Open Hand were released to critical praise.
We All Will Be Received
It is with her most recent entry, the gripping We All Will Be Received, that Vryenhoek comes into her own, and one that puts a definitive finger on the pulse of the here and the now of our interconnected world.
“I wanted to explore the revolution in communications and telecommunications,” Vryenhoek explains. “The book starts in 1977, so that’s when the Internet was being developed. The big brains were really starting to see that this thing would fly and they were doing the testing. Satellites were starting to really go up with an intent around telecommunications and the first personal computers were coming off the line. In our everyday life, that’s where things started to change. When you had a computer in your home and then you had a phone in your hand and how long before we have a chip in our head? Things that seemed completely impossible 30 years ago, we take them for granted now.”
We All Will Be Received follows ‘Dawn Taylor,’ a young woman who flees her bad-news boyfriend with a bag of cash and a ride hitched to the world’s edge. But, as the reader soon discovers, it’s hard-pressed to escape the past and find true redemption in a world wrapped so tightly in our technological demand.
“I wanted to write a book that was both engaging and fun to read, and that would really take a hard look at where we are as a culture in terms of how we allow people, or don’t allow people, to identify themselves. To look at what kind of role we are allowing telecommunications and information to redefine not even each other, but ourselves and how that may be impacting how we’re approaching the world and how we’re approaching each other.
“Assumptions are a big part of this book. The way we use these devices to try to define ourselves, or don’t use them, and the way people make assumptions,” she adds. “I also wanted to explore this idea that because our past has become so inescapable does that mean we always have to be defined by the worst thing that ever happened to us or the worst thing we ever did? Like the most notable good or bad thing, rather than where we are today. If culture can change, can people change or are we all locked into some absolute? And then who decides what that day is? Was it the day you were good or the day you were bad?”
‘We All Will Be Received’ is available now wherever local books are sold. For more visit leslievryenhoek.com