Interview with Miriam Toews

Dec 07, 2006

On seeing the play:
 I am excited about seeing it. I’m a little nervous about seeing it, actually. I’ve read a draft – I thought it was excellent.
I heard about [the staged reading at the Magnetic North Festival]. I got some scouting reports or whatever from some MTC people here in Winnipeg and yeah, they said it was great – good response and everything.
I’m sure that it will go over well, and I wish Chris Craddock all the best with it, because he’s such a great writer and playwright. But really, you know, I feel that it’s his work – obviously it is his work. My role in it was essential, but at this point, he’s taken it and made it his own, so you know, I’m kind of relaxed about it. I can just sit back and not be so much a part of it.
Well, I mean, it’s a play. And it has Chris’ sort of signature – he’s got such a cool style. It’s a little bit frenetic, but it’s also very moving. It’s got such a great rhythm to it, and it’s just become something visual, and something for the stage that I could never imagine doing, ‘cause that’s not how my brain works. So in many ways, yes, it is significantly different, you know, in that a play is such a different beast than a novel. But in other ways, I think he’s really captured, for sure, the humour and the pathos of it.
On why she wrote the book:
 (After hearing a list of writing motivations that she once stated: ideas, money [she laughs], confusion, sadness, anger, fear of death, and revenge.)
Well! There ya go. Well, except for money. That was probably me, you know, being sarcastic – without the humour translating into print. Certainly, it’s not like I made a lot of money from [writing the book]. Or expected to make any money from it. But I would say all the other things, yeah. Probably [mostly] confusion. That sounds about right. ‘Cause I think basically, writing is trying to make sense of things, so confusion would be the biggest factor.
On her and Lucy:
 There is definitely some of me in Lucy – and in every character that I write – in every central character. That’s the way I work, so yeah, some of her. And then, of course, there’s huge, huge, huge differences too.
I was on Social Assistance years and years and years ago when my son, who’s eighteen now, was just a baby. I knew, and know, who is father is – that whole mechanism that’s in the novel, that certainly wasn’t my life. But I was kind of thrust into this community of women – of different types of women – all trying to survive, and trying to parent, and trying to be human, and trying to have a little fun, and trying not to get beaten down by the system, all at once. So it was a very vibrant, very rich, very interesting community that I was suddenly a part of. And I think that’s how Lucy feels. She spends a lot of time describing the women around her and thinking about them, and how they got to the place where they are.
On the Welfare System:
 I would venture to guess that most people aren’t very well treated when they become part of that bureaucratic machine. Everybody is dehumanized to a certain degree when they become a part of that, when they become dependant on any system. That’s how it works. And you know that they don’t want you on their payroll – they don’t want you coming into their office, and needing money from them. Their whole thing is to get you off of Social Assistance. So it’s a very hard, difficult experience. I think a lot of people would agree – it’s so important that it exists; it certainly was what I needed at the time, and what everybody I knew needed at the time – but at the same time, it could be so much more humane, and so much more compassionate.
Obviously, there are going to be a few people – a very small percentage of people – who are taking advantage of the system, who are abusing it, who could very well go out and do whatever. But for the most part, I honestly do believe that the people who are on Social Assistance – who are on welfare – they don’t want to be there. This is a last resort – and this is what I was trying to get across in the novel – there are so many different reasons for why people find themselves in that position. Just because you come from a middle class or upper class background – where there’s money and support – doesn’t mean that something isn’t going to happen in your life, where suddenly there are a set of circumstances where you’ll suddenly find yourself in that position.
[The system] does work to a certain degree: Yes. Canadians are really fortunate in that we have that option. So it works – yeah, it works, to a certain degree – but I don’t think it works as well as it could. But I’m not an expert in social policy and social planning.
On the Flood of 1997:
 It was wet. It was kind of scary. Well, not really scary – it wasn’t scary like an earthquake or anything – but you just never knew: oh no, is your basement going to flood? And every single store was sold out of these pumps, and every day you’d be reading these horror stories of suddenly, toilets just exploding, and there was just nothing you could do. And people just losing so much. I don’t think any life was lost directly in that flood – I know that it happened in the 50’s – but you know: scary stuff. Especially older people, when they’re alone and vulnerable and they’re in a little house, and it suddenly fills with water and all of their belongings are floating in crap. It sounds like not-a-big-deal, but it really was devastating for a lot of people.
Definitely there was a sense of, “we’ll all try and help”. Kids were getting out of their classes and they were all banding together and forming chains of sandbagging along all the major areas where the water was getting in. And people were hauling out old cars to create a kind of dyke of old cars up along Brunkild, on a dyke near there. And just kind of piling stuff up in this sort of desperate, communal attempt to keep the river away. So even though I wasn’t involved personally, you know, [she laughs] I guess I should’ve been, but, you know… I was still in the midst of it all and I was moved by that communal spirit, for sure, and maybe transferred that kind of thinking to the community of women in the novel.
On Lucy’s luck:
 I guess the luckiest thing [for Lucy] is that she comes to realize – at the end – that in spite of her wonky past: with not knowing who the father of her kid is, knowing that the father of her kid and her kid will probably never have any kind of meaningful relationship, that she’s poor, that her mother’s dead, that she and her father have a strained relationship… She realizes that she can do this, that she’s surrounded by people who care about her. Some who don’t, obviously, and she understands this, too. But she finds strength within herself and she understands that she can be a good mother and that she loves her son, and that things are going to be okay – in spite of her circumstances.
On her own luck:
 Well, the luckiest thing that’s ever happened to me – there are two things – was probably to have been born to the parents that I was born to, because they were very, very loving, very nurturing parents. So I had a wonderful childhood and I learned a lot from them. The other luckiest thing that happened to me was having my own kids. As much as I sort of stalk about the world, as a somewhat-loner, raging at the injustices of the world, [she laughs] I’m very caught up in my family, you know, I really understand and need close family. For me – my parents, my sister, my own children, my husband – for me, that, I feel, is the best thing that’s ever happened to me.