A Life in Pieces

Author: Jo-Ann Wallace
ISBN: 9781771872560 Categories: Biography & Autobiography, Non-fiction, Personal Memoirs Tag:
Publication Date: 27 August, 2024
Dimensions: 5.5 x 8.5"

With fresh, understated wisdom, A Life in Pieces explores a woman’s entire life, without ever forgetting the shadow of mortality trailing every one of us.

This often lyrical and always thought-provoking memoir asks questions that confront many of us: what do we know, for sure, about our childhoods? Does a lively imagination enrich a life or blind us to opportunities? What choices shaped the path our lives have followed? In thirty short chapters, Jo-Ann Wallace take us on a journey from girlhood to elderhood, from one conundrum to another, with the crackle of synaptic energy flashing in the gaps—in what isn’t revealed, isn’t told.

The book parachutes us into working-class English Montreal in the 1950s and 1960s, into young womanhood in Toronto in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and then into professional life in Edmonton from the 1980s through the 2000s. “White Swan, Black Swan” delves into childhood games, and how the subconscious power dynamic between a younger and an older sister lets their imaginations fly free of their small shared bedroom. “Melmac” starts with that quintessentially mid-century dinnerware rattling around in an old motorhome as the author ponders the obsessive collecting of objects as a quirky coping strategy, an outlet for the stresses of contemporary working life. “Whimsy” takes us from the classic Jimmy Stewart movie “Harvey,” with its 6 foot 3 ½ inch rabbit to her own imaginary childhood friend, a Scottie dog, and to a present friend who will not watch any movie based in “whimsy.” What dangers arise, the author wonders, when imaginations go unexamined, and unexercised.

The many disparate pieces of the author’s life are like an intricately worked mosaic, while the title, A Life in Pieces, foreshadows the final chapters that unfold with tenderness and awe in the wake of a cancer diagnosis.

About the Author

Jo-Ann Wallace is an Emeritus Professor in the Department of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta. In her younger years, her poetry appeared in several now defunct periodicals, including The Canadian Forum. Her scholarly work focused on little known progressive movements and women writers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. More recently, her literary non-fiction has appeared in venues like the London Review of Books, the Literary Review of Canada, and Prairie Schooner. She lives in Victoria, BC with her husband and their rambunctious dog, Bodhi.


“Completely absorbing and affecting, A Life in Pieces follows the arc of a lifespan to an unwaveringly clear-eyed completion. Understated yet luminous, conversational but penetrating, these essays bring back a generation’s hunger for self-definition, and attest to Wallace’s own realization of a life in letters.”
—Judith Kalman, author of Called to Testify: The Big Story in My Small Life

“These short essays are whimsical in the best sense of the word. They chart a life filled with a wry acceptance of things, from the possibility that our dogs may all be there to greet us after death, to the fact that her mother never really liked her. This memoir . . . will make you want to buy Melmac, watch Elvira Madigan, and go to Mars.”
—Ted Bishop, author of The Social Life of Ink

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