Open Your Heart by Alexie Morin, Translated by Aimee Wall

Don’t let the words “A Novel” on the cover of Alexie Morin’s book fool you. This is no work of fiction, but auto-fiction, a blend of autobiography with fictional segments of the author, a young woman who was diagnosed at age 30 with ADHD. Until that time, she grew up as “different”, was picked on by schoolmates for dressing strange, for drawing in her notebooks instead of paying attention in class, a self-described “withdrawn, solitary girl” who was born with strabismus (her left eye turned in) which was eventually corrected by surgery.

This quote nicely sums up the tone of Open Your Heart, which is all about memories, many recalled, many more forgotten:

"Memory is already a kind of narrative. Remembering is an action. I remember what I ate yesterday. I remember the books I read this year, but I can't remember them all at the same time. I remember parties, dinners with friends, I remember days on the mountain, I remember falling in love. Every time I remember, I remember differently. Memory is not a film I can simply replay. Every time I want to watch it again, I have to reconstruct it. I tell myself the story. It has scenes and characters. Emotion is the thread that connects these scenes and fleshes out these characters. It's what leaves a trace in my memory, accompanied sometimes, but not always, by words and images. I can return to this trace. If I follow it, if I'm faithful to it, everything I write will be true. Everything I've written up to now is true. Everything I've written up to now is true to my memories. When there is no memory to be true to, I still have the thread of emotion. What this writing expresses as truth, what it says about our world, can't be measured in terms of factual accuracy or faithfulness to what really happened inside me and out in the world when I was little." (pg. 268)

Apart from the author, the other main character in Open Your Heart is Fannie, a neighbour of Alexie’s. Alexie and Fannie’s story stretches from pre-school to grade school to high school, going through all the changes friendships do over the years. “We fought often”, she writes. Suddenly though, Fannie befriends Vanessa, a girl that Alexie very much dislikes and Fannie warns her not to come around when Vanessa is over at her house. This causes a rift that never completely heals and is the cause of much introspection by Alexie over the years.

Besides recollections of her relationship with Fannie, Alexie recalls several other defining moments in her life such as working a summer job at the Domtar paper mill (“the worst summer of my life”) where the hourly wage is “twenty-three dollars and 45 cents an hour…in 2003, that was a fortune”. This particular memory is cleverly interwoven with two others: climbing a tree as a child and not knowing how to get down, until her father calmly talked her through it, and creating a TV studio set for a high school production that ended with her blowing up at her art teacher. Very strong, very personal stories that while I was reading them, didn’t feel voyeuristic, but by this time, Alexie had fully taken me into her confidence and I was listening as a real understanding friend would.

Written in a journal-entry style (there are over 250 entries) Alexie’s story drifts back and forth over thirty-some years from childhood to school to Cégep to the present day. It describes life growing up in the Eastern Townships and later after she moves to Montreal.

Open Your Heart is a very different kind of read. It takes patience, but once you are used to the writing style, Ms. Morin just keeps you fascinated from start to finish. Her introspection made me pause and think of my own memories and the emotions tied to them. In short, Open Your Heart will open your own, and whether this was Ms. Morin’s intention or not, it was successful.

A Miramichi Reader “Best Fiction of 2021” choice!

Alexie Morin is the author of a book of poems, Chien de fusil, a novella, Royauté and the novel Ouvrir son cœur, which won the 2019 Prix des libraires du Québec. Born in Québec’s Eastern Townships, Morin is an editor for the publishing house Le Quartanier and lives in Montréal.

Aimee Wall is the author of the novel We, Jane and the translator of several Quebec novels from the French, including works by Vickie Gendreau, Jean-Philippe Baril Guérard and Maude Veilleux. Originally from Grand Falls-Windsor, Newfoundland and Labrador, she currently lives in Montréal.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Esplanade Books (Sept. 27 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 300 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1550655787
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1550655780

James M. Fisher is the owner and editor-in-chief of The Miramichi Reader. He began TMR in 2015, realizing that there was a genuine need for more book reviews of Canadian literature. It has since become Canada’s best-regarded source for the finest in new literary releases. James has been interviewed about TMR on CBC Radio and other media sites. James works as a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Technologist and lives in Miramichi, New Brunswick with his wife Diane and their tabby cat Eddie.