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Zoey Leigh Peterson

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Profile: Zoey Leigh Peterson’s debut novel examines polyamory and the complicated world of modern relationships

(Rachel Idzerda)

(Rachel Idzerda)

In Jessamyn West’s 1956 memoir, To See The Dream, the American author observed, “fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.” For many, fiction is the imaginary realm we turn to as a means of better understanding ourselves, our relationships, and indeed our entire lives. Fiction makes meaning out of chaos.

Which is why Zoey Leigh Peterson’s debut novel, Next Year, For Sure  is so powerful. In this clean, elegant work, the Vancouver author holds a mirror up to the shifting, often confusing, sexual landscape of the 21st century.

Published by Doubleday Canada, the book grew out of two short stories – “Next Year, For Sure” and “Sleep World” – which both centre on Chris and Kathryn, a couple of nine years who find themselves at a crossroads when Chris develops a crush on Emily, a woman he meets at the laundromat. Instead of getting jealous, Kathryn encourages her partner to explore this connection, and in doing so, plunges them all into a year-long adventure in non-monogamous living.

“I think the seed [of the book] was my own frustration with the constrained ways people talk about relationships,” says Peterson. “When people have interesting, juicy relationships, there’s this desire to hurry up and find a box for that relationship to go in. I wanted people to be able to let things be what they were, and find their own course, and not try to pin them down.”

Polyamory has become more apparent in mainstream media recently, as gender and sexual barriers are torn down and people seek to redefine partnership and family. But in spite of coverage in The New York Times, The Atlantic, and Newsweek, relationships with multiple partners are still often publicly perceived as a fringe lifestyle.

“I was thinking about my own experiences in relationships, not really fitting into any model,” adds Peterson, who is a transgender woman. “We need to be able to talk about these things in a different way.”

Born in England to a United States Air Force family, Peterson lived all over the U.S. as a child. In her 20s, she moved into a communal home in Philadelphia (which turns up in Next Year, For Sure as Ahimsa, the collective house in which Emily lives). Ten years of communal living followed, which proved a life-changing experience for Peterson, who has lived for the past 20 years in Vancouver, where she works as a librarian. “I was an only child,” she says. “My parents were only children. I had no family growing up; I had my parents. And when I moved into a big house in west Philadelphia with nine other people, it felt really, really right.”

This yearning for community and family is as much at the heart of Next Year, For Sure as the quest to redefine love. It infuses the book with a profound tenderness, rendered in the many small ways Chris and Kathryn and Emily care for each other.
Kiara Kent, Peterson’s editor at Doubleday Canada, was struck by the author’s writing style, emotionally sensitive approach to the subject and her characters. “From the first sentence I found it controlled, honest, and vibrant. I was equally captivated by Chris and Kathryn,” Kent says. “That central relationship felt so real,
intimate, and vulnerable, and the emotional insights it offered felt nuanced and significant.”

Next Year, For Sure is one of the few large-press CanLit titles to explore polyamory. Kent praises Peterson’s desire to better understand human connection without sensationalism. “I think her examination of polyamory is a warning signal about the limitations of normative behaviour, but told with such autonomy and heart and delicacy,” Kent says. “In that way, she avoids making some big, overarching prescriptive statement and instead focuses on much more universally known challenges, like empathy, happiness, loneliness, and the different ways we can love and support one another. That, to me, feels invaluable.”

For her part, Peterson hopes the novel complicates the existing conversation around relationships, and offers some relief and comfort to those venturing outside existing norms. “I know that there are people out there who want a book like this,” she says. “My hope for the book is that it will find its way to those people.