Itani, Frances

Frances Itani, novelist, short story writer, poet (b at Belleville, Ont 25 Aug 1942). After studying, practising and teaching nursing for a number of years, Frances Itani took a creative writing course with W. O. MITCHELL and decided to take up writing full time. Her early work included three slim collections of poetry, No Other Lodgings (1979), Rentee Bay (1983) and A Season of Mourning (1988); a story for children, Linger by the Sea (1979); and a number of short stories, a form that has continued to attract Itani throughout her writing career.

In the introduction to Poached Egg on Toast (2004), a representative collection of her short fiction, Frances Itani wrote: "No matter what the story, my interest is in the human condition, the perpetually amazing range of struggles and delights that make up human behaviour." A cool, even tone and a concentration upon the significance of ordinary people and everyday events are characteristic of her work. Two collections of Itani's short stories appeared in 1989; the first, Pack Ice, is set in Prince Edward Island, which Itani regularly revisits and where, she has claimed, she writes best. These stories are deeply bound up with the physical landscape and its effect upon a range of idiosyncratic but sympathetic characters. The second, Truth or Lies, set in various places both in Canada and abroad, consistently highlights the problematic nature of human relationships. Another collection of stories, Man without Face, appeared in 1994. Loneliness, troubled marriages, addiction, war and imprisonment all figure in these stories. Two of the most prominent are the title story, which deals with the effect upon a family of an alcoholic father, and "Flashcards," which portrays the INTERNMENT of Japanese families in the British Columbia Interior during World War II.

Frances Itani's most sophisticated foray into the short story form is Leaning, Leaning over Water (1998), "a novel in ten stories" which deals with the lives of the members of a troubled family in provincial Quebec during the 1950s. It is principally a portrayal of the effect upon two sisters of familial loss and the pleasures and pains of childhood and adolescence.

Frances Itani is best known for her novel Deafening, which garnered much praise on its publication in 2003. Painstakingly researched and written over the course of six years, it is the story of contrasting soundscapes. The heroine, Grania O'Neill, is rendered profoundly deaf at the age of 5 by scarlet fever. Her childhood and education in Deseronto, Ontario, at the beginning of the 20th century and the growth of her relationship with a hearing man, Jim Lloyd, are touchingly portrayed. The couple are married shortly before his departure for the trenches of World War I. The perpetual silence within which the heroine exists is thematically contrasted with the intense assaults upon the senses that her husband, a stretcher bearer, has to endure. The pain of separation and loss of friends and family suffered by both is poignantly and subtly handled. The novel was influenced by the experience of Itani's grandmother, who lost her hearing at the age of 18 months and with whom Itani had a close relationship. Deafening won the 2004 Commonwealth Award for Best Book (Caribbean & Canada region), and was a contender for the 2006 CBC Canada Reads competition. It has been published in more than 20 countries and translated into a number of other languages.

In 2007 Frances Itani published Remembering the Bones, a novel recounting the lifetime experiences of an 80-year-old Ontarian woman, recollected as she lies in a ravine following a car crash. Itani's preoccupation with the rhythms, experiences and emotions of ordinary life is again strongly in evidence.