Novellas in November 2016

Novellas in November is hosted by Laura at Reading in Bed.

22181611The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Thériault, translated by Liedewy Hawke

This book could just as easily be called The Lonely Life of a Peculiar Postman. Either way, it was the perfect escape from the election results; I curled up by the fire and read almost the whole thing in one sitting. (I don’t think I can say that I’ve ever read a whole book in one sitting – two is as good as it gets for me.)

Poor Bilodo just wants to be left alone at night to his secret hobby – steaming open other people’s letters and reading them. He doesn’t feel too bad about it since he always seals them back up and delivers them when he’s done. But there is one writer, in particular, that he is enchanted by; Ségolène. He has fallen in love with her letters to another man, all composed in Haiku.

But above all there were love letters. Because even after Valentine’s Day, love remained the most common denominator, the subject linking the greatest number of pens. Love in every grammatical form and every possible tone, dished up in every imaginable shape: passionate letters or courteous ones, sometimes suggestive and sometimes chaste, either calm or dramatic, occasionally violent, often lyrical, and especially moving when the feelings were expressed in simple terms,  and never quite so touching as when the emotions hid between the lines, burning away almost invisibly behind a screen of innocuous words.

In a twist of fate, Bilodo gets a chance to protect the continuation of this correspondence and to practice his own Haiku skills. But just when he thinks things are going along nicely, his secret becomes jeopardized and life plays a cruel trick.

I tended to feel that Bilodo was both pitiful and kind of creepy (creepy but harmless). But Theriault explains in an interview at the end of the book that, in his view “Bilodo is an eminently modern character: he is isolated in his personal bubble, takes refuge in the small virtual universe, so comfortable, which he created for himself; in this twenty-first century, I believe that many of us resemble him. Bilodo fears people, and love frightens him – he prefers to live in the wonderful imaginary world that he has invented…” I guess you never know what people are doing behind closed doors. Bilodo’s “hobby” is probably pretty tame compared to some.

Swirling like water / against rugged rocks / time goes around and around

I highly recommend this Haiku-filled gem of a novella.

Winner of the Canada-Japan Literary Award (2006) I didn’t even know this award existed. Here’s a list of past winners.

Quote from Denis Theriault on writing: “… when you write, the best part is never what you had planned but what you discover on your path.”

 

30079906Wenjack by Joseph Boyden

I can tell which niijii, which friend, ran away from the school this week by the long red marks on his back. Ever a lot of red marks. Ever a lot of friends who ran away this week. But Fish Belly teacher has Fish Belly friends who go out and catch them. We have a secret path, but maybe it’s not so secret anymore. The Fish Bellies are good at catching Indian children. One day I will run. One day they won’t hurt me anymore.

Wenjack is a fictionalized story of Chanie Wenjack who, in 1964, was taken from his home at the age of 9, and sent to a residential school 600 miles away. Two years later, after attempting to run away, he came home in a casket.

We follow now, we follow always, not to lead but to capture. Someone, yes, will capture this boy’s life.

The narrative alternates between the boy and the spirits around him; following him, watching and waiting, taking the form of critters such as crows and mice, owls and fish.

This novella is short, but powerful. The brevity of the story is perfect for students or anyone else who may not want to read a longer book on the same subject. Hopefully, this story will get widely read and passed along, so that we do not forget.

From the Author’s Note:

From the 1870s until 1996, when the last school closed its doors, more than 150, 000 Indigenous children over seven generations were removed from their families in an attempted cultural genocide. Chanie, for me and for a number of others, has become a symbol not just of this tragedy but of the resilience of our First Nations, Inuit and Métis people – which is why I use the word “attempted”. Our cultures were forced underground for a long time, but they have re-emerged despite the odds. And they are thriving once more.

 

1337973The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa

The Diving Pool is broken up into 3 novellas (which could arguably also be called short stories). All three carry a theme of isolation, neglect, and their psychological ramifications.

In The Diving Pool, a young teenage girl lives at an orphanage that her parents run. She is treated and lives in the same way as the other orphans, but is the only one who will never get to leave. She has strong feelings for her foster-brother, but is not able to show them or act on them. Feeling neglected and emotionally stifled, she gives into her urge to be cruel to one of the youngest children.

My desires seemed simple and terribly complicated at the same time: to gaze at Jun’s wet body and to make Rie cry. These were the only things that gave me comfort.

Aya’s “comforts” make the reader feel discomfort, her cruelty make us shake our heads in consternation. But the most uncomfortable thing about this story is the reflection of ourselves that we may be able to see in it.

He would never dive into the pool inside me, clouded as it was with the little girl’s tears. The waves of regret were gentle, but I knew they would ripple on forever.

In Pregnancy Diary, a young woman lives with her pregnant sister and brother-in-law. Already the third wheel, she feels irritated and drowned out by her sister’s extreme moods and cravings. Instead of voicing her frustrations, she starts making grapefruit jam (which made me want to make grapefruit jam), knowing that the fruit for this jam may be contaminated. She makes a pot of it for her sister to eat everyday. As Aya does in The Diving Pool, she acts out her frustrations quietly and cruelly, without remorse.

The baby haunted the shadow that fell between us.

In Dormitory, an isolated housewife, whose husband is working in another country, takes pleasure in helping a young cousin move into her old student dormitory. She begins visiting the caretaker (who is a triple amputee with one leg) regularly. The student who lived there before her cousin has gone missing, and now her cousin is said to have “gone on a trip”. She continues to visit the caretaker out of kindness, but there is a strong feeling of something sinister going on; a humming, a dripping. The ending made me think of The Nest.

I never knew how to describe it [the sound]. Still, from time to time, I attempted analogies: the icy murmur of a fountain in winter when a coin sinks to the bottom; the quaking of the fluid in the inner ear as you get off a merry-go-round; the sound of the night passing through the palm of your hand still gripping the phone after your lover hangs up… But I doubted these would help anyone understand.

Although I won’t pretend to have understood everything going on in these novellas, they were easy to fall into and be entranced by. I found them unsettling, even mildly disturbing, but wrapped up in a package of beautiful, seductive prose.

I first read about this book at 746 Books, where Cathy has written a more thorough review of it.

Have you read any novellas lately? Or anything by these authors?

 

Guy by Jowita Bydlowska

29599074About Guy:

  1. Easy on the eyes..
  2. And knows it.
  3. Eats well.
  4. Works out every morning.
  5. Rich and successful. Owns a house on the beach.
  6. The beach that he likes to walk his dog on, and watch women look at him.
  7. He rates these women on a scale of 1 to 10.
  8. His prefers 3s, 4s and 5s. Plain women who can be made to feel more beautiful than he believes they really are.
  9. He likes a challenge, enjoys the game.
  10. He’s good at hiding his real thoughts.
  11. He’s good at telling women what they want to hear.
  12. He’s good at making women feel good.
  13. Until he leaves them and moves on to the next one.
  14. However, he ultimately believes he’s doing these women a favour. He believes that, after he leaves them, they will continue to feel better about themselves than they did before because they were once with him – a perfect male specimen.
  15. One day, though, he will meet his match.

I went into this book ready (and looking forward to) despising this character. And at times I did despise him, absolutely. But by the time I got to the end, I no longer knew what to think. It’s hard to completely despise someone who genuinely seems to believe he’s helping people out; making them happier, even if only temporarily (and even if it’s a big fat lie).

The other thing that occurs to me is that we are inside this guy’s head and know all his thoughts. Is it fair to judge people whose every thought we have access to? Maybe we would detest just about everyone if we had access to all their private thoughts; every man who looks at a women and sizes her up, every woman who silently criticizes another woman for being too thin/too fat/too smart/too dumb. It really makes me think more about the private thoughts I’m having – are they worthy of everyone’s scrutiny?

In Shelagh Roger’s interview with Jowita Bydlowska on The Next Chapter, Bydlowska talks about the reason she started writing about a man like Guy in the first place. They talk about the questions the book raises about the culture of misogyny, as well as what it is that makes women susceptible to men like him. I was also happy to hear, because I was feeling confused about the way I was feeling about a character who I knew was clearly despicable, that Bydlowska wanted to write about Guy in a way that would confuse readers. She gives us reason to question our hate, and opportunities to feel pity and even sympathy for him.

This book was entertaining and provocative. If you are averse, however, to a lot of sex and profanity in your reading, you might want to think twice about reading it. There is a lot of sex in this book, but most of it is described the way he might describe anything else in his life – his workouts, his meal plans (the guy can cook!). In fact, much about the way he thinks and describes things sounds almost robotic – controlled and calculating, without a lot of feeling.

The biggest problem I, or someone else, might have with this book is what happens at the end. I’m still not sure how I feel about the ending… especially now, in light of many recent events. Yes, the guy is a narcissistic jerk, but does he deserve what happens? He doesn’t seem as angry as he should be, but what does that mean? What is the author trying to say with this ending? It seems kind of wacko to me. If you decide to read this book, please come back and enlighten me.

In the Globe & Mail, Stacey May Fowles uses words like “morbidly fascinating”, “disturbing”, “unsettling”, and even “pity” to describe Guy (both the book and the character). Because, yes, I do feel pity for someone who goes through life without being able to genuinely connect with other people. And she describes the retribution at the end as “more disturbing than rewarding”, for which I completely agree.

I think that I’ll be passing this book on to the members of my book club. I’m looking forward to a discussion about the intentions of men, the vengeance of women, and the reasonable limits of both.

Some passages from the uncorrected proof

Guy on women and beauty and being awesome:

My life opened to grateful girls. Girls with weight problems and with bad skin. Girls who had dreams, but who could forsake those dreams because they understood from the time they were born that the world would not give into their demands. The world was unapologetic about loving beauty, and it ignored the plain girls, if not downright rebuked them.     I had the power to be the world to them.

No one would hold me accountable for not sticking around. The plain girls simply didn’t expect it. I pleased them. The end.

If it wasn’t for men like me, many of those women would never know they’re worth more than they think they are.

… a girl who knows her value, who understands her power, is a hundred times more powerful than I could ever be.

Why do people always shit on those who admit to being awesome? I’m awesome and I won’t let people shit on me – what’s wrong with that? And I believe that I was put on this earth to bring a few girls some great memories, some happiness even – what’s wrong with that?

Guy on marriage:

And is modern marriage about love? The love evolving, maturing like some kind of alcohol as it sits in the barrel of disillusionment and misfortune, disease and ephemeral joy? The love maturing so much that it is prone to forgetting that it originated in desire, demanding the same desire to succumb to exclusivity, monogamy? And desire, this chronic viral condition, torturing monogamy with its lips and hips, its swagger and smell, its eye contact, its hands everywhere? ….Then, at home, the desire resting next to the wife’s sleeping cheek as the husband masturbates in the darkness, quietly, hideously. He is an evolved man, a man who evolved so much that he married, respected and observed the rules of modern society. And later on, his wife locks herself in the bathroom with her secret stash of Fifty Shades of Grey or some other romance fable and fantasizes about being mounted by someone else, the neighbour. Anyone but her husband, whom she finds repulsive now, after years of marriage.

Thank you to Wolsak & Wynn for providing me with a copy of this book for review!

Jowita Bydlowska is also the author of Drunk Mom, a memoir about her struggle with alcohol the year after her child was born. (my review)

A book that would go well with this one, in terms of topic and discussion value, is The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall.

Canadian Books on the International Dublin Award Longlist 2017

This year there are 15 Canadian books on the International Dublin Award Longlist, and I was surprised to see that I have read many of them. So, here’s a little round-up…

10 Canadian books on the list that I’ve read and reviewed: 

(Click on the book titles to see my reviews.)

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Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis – winner of the 2015 Scotiabank Giller Prize and the 2015 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood –  previous nominations for this award include The Blind Assassin (2002), The Penelopiad (2007) and The Year of the Flood (2011)

If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie – longlisted for the 2015 Scotiabank Giller Prize

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The Birthday Lunch by Joan Clark – An Audience of Chairs was nominated for this award in 2006.

The Devil You Know by Elisabeth de Mariaffi

The Illegal by Lawrence Hill – 2016 Canada Reads winner, The Book of Negroes was longlisted for the IMPAC in 2008.

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Birdie by Tracey Lindberg – 2016 Canada Reads contender

A Measure of Light by Beth Powning – winner of the New Brunswick Book Award 2015

The Mystics of Mile End by Sigal Samuel – 2016 Trade Fiction Book of the Year Award

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Ledger of the Open Hand by Leslie Vryenhoek – Finalist for the 2016 Winterset Award

5 Canadian books on the list I haven’t read:

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Inside the Black Horse by Ray Berard – a review at Australian Crime Fiction (thanks, Lisa!)

Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick deWitt – review at Reading in Bed

The Evening Chorus by Helen Humphreys – review at Rosemary and Reading Glasses

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Duke by Sara Tilley – winner of the 2016 Winterset Award – review by Chad Pelley in The Overcast

The Orange Grove by Larry Tremblay – review by Arielle Aaronson at Québec Reads

4 non-Canadian books I’ve read from the list:

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Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller

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Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Miss Emily by Nuala O’Connor

Most excited about: A Measure of Light and Ledger of the Open Hand.

Have you read any of these? Any thoughts on the list? Books that should have been included, but weren’t? Books that shouldn’t have been included, but were?

For another review round-up, check out Kim’s list at Reading Matters where you’ll find several Irish and Australian book reviews from the Award list.

All the Things We Leave Behind by Riel Nason

30201642Do you ever wonder what happens to all the deer and moose that get hit on the highway?

There is a boneyard deep in the woods. The deer and moose could show you where.  They know the place where the trees stop and the carcasses begin.

All the Things We Leave Behind begins with Violet and her brother Bliss stumbling accidentally upon this boneyard when they are young. Violet was initially shaken by it, but it is Bliss who carries it with him.

The boneyard was his first proof of unhappy endings.

Deer carcasses and moose bones are not the only things ‘left behind’ in this book; there are all the antiques left behind by those who die or move away. This is how Violet’s family makes their living – selling antiques out of an old purple barn on the side of the highway near the St. John River in New Brunswick. “The Purple Barn is the St. John River Valley’s ultimate roadside attraction.” Near the “town that drowned” in Riel Nason’s first book.

It’s understandable that an heir would keep something like a piece of jewellery that the former owner wore often, but I think sometimes people are a little too eager with their declarations of sentimental value. Things are things, nothing more, regardless of who owned them, touched them, kept them sitting on a shelf in the background of their life. A cup and saucer owned by your grandmother should be no more important than any other cup and saucer simply because she spent twenty-five cents to buy it on some insignificant trip to Fredericton, and she liked the roses on it better than the green ferns on the only other one in the store that was marked down, and she had just wanted a little something as a pick-me-up since the kids were driving her crazy. A vase of your dead aunt’s that you love she may have hated, and perhaps she kept it only so the neighbour who gave it to her would see it in use. She may be rolling in her grave, thinking of you making it seem as if she had such terrible taste.

Other things we leave behind include our youth, our innocence, and ultimately, often, our loved ones. Bliss spent years dreaming about traveling to all the places whose names were on the licence plates of the tourists who came to the Purple Barn. After his grade 12 graduation, he finally managed to slip away. This summer of 1977, Violet’s parents have gone in search of any sign that might lead them closer to Bliss, while Violet stays home to help with the business.

Through Violet we meet the other characters in the novel; those who also work at The Purple Barn, the mysterious man living in the cabin next door to Violet’s at the campground, Foster the Hermit, and Violet’s friend Jill.  But most of the book’s narrative is concerned with the relationship between Violet and Bliss as they grow up alongside The Purple Barn, and in the shadow of something bigger than both of them. Until the day Bliss disappears, without her.

There are so many incidents that can start out small and don’t seem like anything at the time but end up meaning so much. There are so many tiny twists in a life that you can never know the ultimate significance of.

Other bits I liked:

  • The time and place. As in The Town That Drowned, I felt that quality of writing coupled with time and place that had me yearning for the days before smart phones and Facebook. The days where you could wander off alone and actually be alone; people had to physically look for you to find you. I love the image of Violet taking her breaks from work by the stream where she kept a lawn chair and a few cans of pop under the water to keep them cold, and the image of the chain of pop can tabs encircling the ceiling of the campground office from all the cans that had been bought and opened there.
  • The Hermit. Foster sold the family his barn, then moved up into the woods to live alone and off-the-grid. The first time we meet him, he’s sitting in the sun in a homemade twig chair reading The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery.
  • 11326691While Violet is left in charge of the family business, she’s called upon to come and have a look at the contents of the old Vaughn estate; a place that has stood empty of humans for years and has aroused people’s curiosity. Nason describes the way it was left by the former owners, and it made me ache to see it for myself.

Anyone looking for a quiet, gentle small-town story that may have you yearning for times gone by (even if you weren’t born until after those times had already gone by) can’t go wrong with either one of Riel Nason’s books. And both have a whiff of the mystical; just enough to have you believing.

Thank you to Goose Lane Editions for sending me a copy of this book for review!

Riel Nason is also a Textile artist. Have a look at her book Modern Selvage Quilting (2016).

You can find a review of both The Town That Drowned and All the Things We Leave Behind at Buried In Print:  “These are quiet novels. The swell of emotion rises slowly, steadily. They pull you under the surface hard and fast.”

 

Stranger by David Bergen

28448542The only books by David Bergen that I have read up to this point have been The Age of Hope and The Case of Lena S.. Both were good, but neither one blew me away. So I was surprised when, upon reading the first few pages of Stranger, I was sucked right in. With its sensual, spare prose, I found the reading effortless and mesmerizing.

Rumour had it that the Doctor’s wife was coming to take the waters at Ixchel. The clinic was located in the highlands of Guatemala, at the edge of the lake that was eighty-four thousand years old. You came for the lake, and for the beauty of the three volcanoes, and for the quaintness of the twelve villages that surrounded the basin of the lake, and for the afternoon winds that were thought to carry away sin. But if you were a woman who was infertile, you came to take the waters.

Describing this book is difficult to do without giving the story away. (And if you want to avoid that I would also advise you not to read the book jacket.) So let’s just say it is about (in)fertility and motherhood, class, race, and gender disparity, power and entitlement. I felt instantly invested in the young female protagonist, rooting her on through the obstacles she comes up against. Although it felt very clear to me as I was reading who I wanted to “win” in this story, I am also aware that the situation is not black and white. There is a lot going on in this book – not just in the minds of the characters, but also legally, politically, and ethically.

There was something about living in a country where the language was not yours. You appeared to be stupid and you weren’t noticed. Or if you were noticed, it was for your body, or to clean someone’s toilet, or to look after someone’s child. You turned into someone to chase or to scorn or to look down on. It was neceassry, wherever you lived, to have the poor so that everyone else felt better.

Stranger had my attention from the very beginning, but at about two thirds of the way through this book, my heart leapt up into my throat, and at that point on I couldn’t put the book down. I had to see her through to the end, as though the end hadn’t already been determined. It felt like a thriller; one that made me think and moved me to tears.

Her chest ached and she felt the ache and she knew for the first time what pure hatred was. It was entire and it moved sideways and forwards and backwards within her, and it was as if she contained the deep waters of an ocean that had been shaken by an earthquake and what resulted were mammoth waves, waves that could not be held back… She tumbled into hopelessness, and then felt anger, and once again hatred, and of these three emotions, hatred gave her the most pleasure… The hatred had been exhilarating. And welcome. And crippling. And exhausting. And very dangerous. For passion, anguish, jealousy, and anger would produce nothing but mistakes, and false steps, and failure. A cold heart was necessary.

Stranger was longlisted for the 2016 Giller Prize. David Bergen is no stranger to literary awards – his books have been nominated for the Governor General’s Award, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction, and The Time in Between won the Giller in 2005. For more on his accomplishments, his background, and what led him to start writing, visit his page at the Canadian Encyclopedia.

Thank you to Harper Collins Canada for providing me with a copy of this book for review!

For further reading and more in-depth reviews of the book:

Globe & Mail: “an inventive and electrifying new novel”

Quill & Quire: “arguably his best yet”

MacLean’s: “Bergen explores ongoing political tensions between Latin America and the United States.”

An interview with Shelagh Rogers on The Next Chapter where I learned that this novel is set in the not-so-distant future.

Have you read any of David Bergen’s books? What did you think?

 

Bad Things Happen by Kris Bertin

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After a moment, all he managed to say was bad things happen. It meant nothing to me, but he seemed to be satisfied with it, like that explained everything.

Last month, I read two short story collections from the Giller Prize longlist. I enjoyed both of them, but also mentioned that story collections aren’t usually my thing (unless they’re linked). So, why did I want to read this book?

  • Kris Bertin is from New Brunswick and he lives in Halifax. That’s enough to get me curious. He has worked a wide range of interesting jobs, which I’m sure provided much inspiration for these stories.
  • The title makes me want to know: What bad things?
  • The book has some pretty great blurbs: David Adams Richards calls Bertin’s stories a “revelation and a triumph“, Michael Christie  describes them as “fiercely told, sharply described, bitterly funny, and unexpectedly moving“, and Amy Jones says they are “astonishingly well-crafted“. Not bad for a debut.
  • The premise:The characters in Bad Things Happen—professors, janitors, webcam models, small-time criminals—are between things. Between jobs and marriages, states of sobriety, joy and anguish; between who they are and who they want to be. Kris Bertin’s unforgettable debut introduces us to people at the tenuous moment before everything in their lives changes, for better or worse.
  • This review in Atlantic Books Today  which peels away the layers of Bertin’s stories.

Did I like it? I have found myself another winner. Either I am really starting to get into this short story thing, or I really know how to pick ’em. The thing about these stories and these characters is that you’d be tempted to say these people are out-of-the-ordinary down on their luck, on the very fringes of society. But I would argue that they reflect the all-too-common lives of so many people; small-time criminals, addicts, the mentally ill, and the destitute. And, through these characters, Bertin shows us that 1) there is always more than one side to every story,  2) the direction of our lives can be determined by a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’, and 3) most people are trying to do better, be better, and have better lives. Some are just better at it than others.

I think about how everything is really just a bunch of yeses and noes, from cave people to your grandparents, all the way down to right now.

Kris Bertin’s prose is sharp and compelling, and he grabs you at the beginning of each story with some great first lines.

When we broke into his house, it was the middle of the afternoon, so it felt like we weren’t doing anything illegal.

There are two kinds of emptiness. The one I had, and the one I needed.

We evict Champ first because we’re worried he’ll kill us.

He’s smiling, but smiling too hard, like his teeth are going to shatter.

I have jotted down a lot of notes from each story. To simplify, and to get my thoughts on this book finally out into the world, I’ll leave you with passages from a few of my favourites.

In Make Your Move, a man is taken through a series of what-ifs:

Let’s say, though, that you don’t hang onto the hundred dollar bill. You get caught up in the moment and want to be a big shot, so you give it to the drive-thru girl who looks like your aunt, slip the money to her like it’s no big deal. You don’t really think it through, and you momentarily forget that you’re the guy driving the limo, not the guy in the back of it, not the guy with money and class and complimentary champagne. The look she gives you is so sexy that something misfires in your brain and you forget that you need this money, you really do, and instead you say keep the change.

In The Narrow Passage, a man is trying to hold down a job as a garbage collector, but it is proving to be a challenge:

Richard had worked past the pain, like he figured Gene must have, but he almost couldn’t cope with the smell. It stayed with him even after he changed and cleaned, even though his wife said she could smell nothing on him. He learned it was something that was still inside him when he made a tiny cone out of toilet paper to scour the insides of his nostrils with. He understood that he was taking it home with himself, in little pieces, particles that were hiding wherever they could.

In Is Alive and Can Move, a janitor at the University is trying to keep it together:

When I look back I know I was acting that way because I refused to take the pills they said I needed after my hospital stay. I thought refusing them would make me stronger, that if I could get through on my own, it would be for the better. And so in that state, thinking about what the bricks and the kids and the wall meant kind of made me decide things I shouldn’t have. Like that the building was alive. That it made you a part of itself or else punished you if you didn’t go along.

In The Story Here, a woman invites her father to stay/hide at her house after he leaves his wife:

 He can’t decide if he wants to start a fight about it or not, so it’s all just jokes for now. It’s halfway sweet that he feels the need to protect me from my own father. And halfway insulting. I get mad at him for getting mad and pretending he’s not. I do it by pretending I’m not.

They are both alike and unalike, and give each other a wide berth, aware of each other and their respective positions. They occupy the same physical space, but at different times. You see this stuff in nature documentaries.

In Your #1 Killer, a mother doesn’t know what to do about her son who has come home after being away but stays hidden away in their house. He finally takes a shine to a questionable and concerning activity:

I tell him I’m proud of him, but proud isn’t the right word at all. It’s more like less-worried-but-not-by-much.

What great short story collections have you read lately?

Thank you to Biblioasis for sending me a copy of this book for review!

For Remembrance Day…

An essay written by my daughter: 

(Taken from her blog, with permission)

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Imagine….

Imagine at first, everything is bright and loud and clear. Joking with other guys your age. The boat ride there, the sky and ocean the same shade of brilliant, dazzling blue. The morning sun, throwing sparks off the glittering expanse of water. It is starting to fade, though, just a little.

Imagine the first day. Going to the battlefield with so many soldiers, and leaving it with so many less. The colours aren’t as bright as they were yesterday. Sweat drips from all the guys’ faces, but somehow, the smell isn’t as strong as usual, and your body feels so heavy and your eyes keep brimming with tears, and all you want to do is sleep.

Imagine the days are going by so slowly, too slowly. It keeps fading, and you’re aware of that, but you feel as if you can’t stop it. The wind sweeping brownish-gray leaves across the drooping grass isn’t as cold or as sharp as you remember it being on the first day.

Imagine thinking of your mother every day, wondering if she’s okay, hoping she’s not worrying too much, but of course she is, because she’s your mother. And imagine wishing your eight-year-old sister would stay inside, instead of going out into possible danger to play.

Imagine the day he left. Your little boy, going off to war. So young, too young, to be allowed a gun. Your little girl doesn’t understand. She runs outside joyously to play with her friends, but you collapse as soon as she’s out the door.

Imagine waiting for letters, for any news at all, of what’s happening out there. Your son couldn’t be hurt yet. It’s too soon. And even though you know a letter couldn’t get here this fast, you still keep looking out the window for the mailman.

Imagine the days are going by so slowly, too slowly. Colours blur together as you think about what could happen. Your throat feels drier than usual, and you wonder if the red of the teapot was a bit brighter before .

Imagine trying to stop worrying, but being unable to digest the leaden knot that has taken residence in your stomach. Your throat is always too tight, your shoulders are sagging, and the children’s laughter seems so far away.

Imagine it’s faded completely now, a trail of ashes. Your soul is gone, leaked out the bottoms of your boots as you marched. The world is black and white, all you can hear is a constant rain of gunfire, and you feel nothing. Nothing at all.

Imagine your cheeks are wet and salty, now more often than not. The letters from your boy are still coming, but shorter, with less personality. Your daughter’s cheeks are no longer pink, the teapot no longer red; the colours have faded, because you know. He won’t be the same when he comes home. He’s only eighteen. If he comes home, he won’t be the same.

Imagine….

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