There seems to be at least two angles to every Amy Jones tale. The author of an award-winning short-story collection and a pair of novels, Jones has earned a reputation as a funny writer. With a keen eye for detail, she regularly brings a hilarious slant to her fiction but readers notice the darker, more distressing currents churning beneath her prose. That sweet-and-salty mix of humour and heartbreaking pathos gives her work power.
“You definitely need both,” she says during an interview at a café in downtown Toronto. “I think the humour can make the sadder scenes in a book even more devastating, because they’re so unexpected. It’s like a gut punch, right? You don’t see it coming, and so it hits you a lot harder.”
Her new novel, Every Little Piece of Me, published in June by McClelland & Stewart, embraces the formula. It tells two parallel stories, both of which have a deep connection to Nova Scotia, that eventually intersect. In one, we meet Mags, the troubled lead singer of a Halifax-based rock band who is grappling with both a personal tragedy and her group’s growing success. In the second, there’s young Ava, a New Yorker whose family has dragged her to the fictitious town of Gin Harbour, Nova Scotia to star in a reality TV show set at a B&B there.
What ensues is an engrossing satire of celebrity culture and its impact on the identities and family lives of those who fall victim to it. Mags and Ava soon find a kinship with one another as they grapple with an insatiable public scouring the web for news of their every move.
For Jones, reality television was an excellent subject for her creativity. “I love trashy TV,” she says. “Setting part of this book in that world fits very well with what I want to say about identity. People will project their own ideas on who you are.”
Again, we see that double angle in the book: Ava and Mags have far more complex lives than what the media projects about them, and this mirrors the double life of Gin Harbour itself, a town that, like many in Nova Scotia, has a touristic façade but hides a harsher reality underneath.
There are two angles, of course, to Jones herself. Born and raised in Halifax, she now lives in Toronto, and yet remains a sharp and exuberant chronicler of her home province. Indeed, her immense talent and observational skills seem to find the taproot of any setting she’s in: she lived for a time in Thunder Bay, Ont. and set her last novel, We’re All in This Together, there.
During our chat, she’s as comfortable sharing her excitement over an upcoming Thrush Hermit reunion show at Toronto’s Danforth Music Hall as she is discussing her writing about a small, weather-beaten town on Nova Scotia’s South Shore.
The Halifax music scene looms large in Every Little Piece of Me.
While both Mags are Ava are Millennials and their story is set in the 2010s, Jones has definitely used her own experiences coming of age during the city’s “Seattle of the North” years to craft those scenes. She says that Mags’s part of the book started out as a short story set in Halifax circa 1994. There is a particularly poignant scene where the band members struggle with leaving Halifax behind as their success carries them to the bigger pond of Toronto.
The other terrain Every Little Piece of Me explores is online misogyny, something that both Mags and Ava encounter at every turn.
Impressively, Jones does not filter this world of online trolls through these women’s eyes; she lets the haters speak in their own voice. “Not only is the music world hard enough for a woman,” she says of Mags, “but these online spaces compound it. I wanted these men to speak for themselves.”
Yet the trolls don’t win the day. In the end, Every Little Piece of Me is a joyous read about two women carving out a freedom for themselves in a world desperate to pin them down.