Quarry by Catherine Graham

In an interview with Shelagh Rogers on The Next Chapter, Catherine Graham tells us that she loves words with multiple meanings. Quarry, the title of her book, can mean a man-made pit, prey, and it comes from the French word “coeur” as in “heart”.

Quarry‘s protagonist, Caitlin Maharg, an only child, grows up beside a water-filled quarry. A hole that is “blasted into being”, just as “grief blasts us” and changes us forever, leaving us with “a pit inside us” that needs to be filled.

As a child, Caitlin learns that her mother is dying. It’s a long, slow death. Her strict and disapproving Nanny moves in and her father spends more and more time away from home. There are surprising and hurtful family secrets underlying everyone’s actions that Caitlin has yet to uncover.

Caitlin feels tied to home, first for her mother, then her father. But she also feels drawn to the quarry. She swims in it whenever she can. When it’s too cold to swim, she sits by it, or watches it out the window of her house. She is drawn to it as though it might be able to fill her up.

I thought I could get through grief like getting from A to B, like swimming underwater to the floating raft but farther – all the way to the other side of the quarry. The touch of wet rock on my hand would signal: ‘end’. I would hear: ‘That a girl!’ or ‘You did it, Caitlin!’ And the grief would be over and I would swim back.

But grief wasn’t like that. The cause – death – finite. There was no other side to touch and return from, only through and through and through until the water of grief became the water inside you, one and the same, and you took it all in.

I feel like Caitlin didn’t get much of a childhood, or a young adulthood, so weighed down by her worries and grief. Will she ever get a chance to break away from it all? And when she does, will she take it?

The star of this book is truly the writing; poetic, lyrical, vivid. It helps to soften the melancholy themes of the book. The cultural references also add relief. The story takes place in southern Ontario during the 1980s, and Caitlin mentions things she watches and listens to, including Little House on the Prairie, St. Elmo’s Fire, and the Oliver soundtrack. She also mentions listening to the “jazzy theme song” for As It Happens on the radio (a CBC radio show that is still running).

Some favourite lines and passages:

Quiet girl, shy girl, cat-got-your-tongue-and-chewed-it-up-like-pink-gum girl, I walked the halls with downcast eyes. I bristled to the itch of girls’ giggles.

Day by day, her healthy body had seeped into mine. I was the sun-drenched barrel above the quarry’s surface; Mom, the guck-ridden part.

Maybe grief was more like snow, falling and falling, taking the shape of your body. There must be some way to make peace, for grief to live on but less heavy. Snow melts to water, water lets you float.

Unsaid words. Words that never hatched, that sat rotten in an abandoned basket.

Time ticks and memory persists. They knit together like colours in a rug and entwine to form patterns. The unexpected ticking of Dad’s watch told me time would never stop. It kept shoving and shoving me forward, and memory kept pressing and pressing me back.


Further Reading: 

Review of Quarry at The Miramichi Reader: “Beautiful phrasing, painting pictures that hold fast in the reader’s mind.” Not only does he speak highly of it, but it also won The Miramichi Reader’s 2018 “Very Best” Book Awards.

Quarry may be Catherine Graham’s debut novel, but she has several poetry collections already under her belt, including The Celery Forest (2017) which is a CBC Books Top 10 Canadian Poetry Collection of 2017 and appears on their Ultimate Canadian Poetry List.

Review in the Hamilton Review of Books: “Like the quarry she swims, Caitlin’s knowing is under the surface of a sweetly naïve self. She operates mostly by rote, doing the bidding of her father, grandmother, and an adored professor (…) until finally something truer comes up for air.  For her, tragedy and secrets “…had boiled my world down to this: What do I have to do to get through the day, and who will help me?” 

30 thoughts on “Quarry by Catherine Graham

    • Naomi says:

      Investigating authors and listening to interviews about the books I read usually gives me more insight into the stories, which makes me appreciate them even more. Even just little things like the different meanings of the title!

  1. A Life in Books says:

    Got to love a review that introduces you to a new meaning of a familiar word: I knew the first two but not the third! The quotes you’ve pulled out are very striking, Naomi, which I suspect mkes the book all the more heartrending.

  2. Alexandra says:

    I love the quotes you use to illustrate your review, and they’re certainly beautifully written and poignant. But it sounds like a heartbreaking read.

  3. whatmeread says:

    Another book I’ve never heard of. I keep thinking you might actually review one I’ve heard of before. But I’m really getting an exposure to Canadian literature through your reviews. That’s assuming this one is Canadian.

  4. wadholloway says:

    It’s always a pleasure to come across really good – as opposed to merely competent – writing, and it’s all too infrequent. My kids were in primary school in the 1980s so I get some of the cultural references, Little House on the Prairie in particular, which they loved. But in my own teenage years in the 1960s our local swimming pool – the Box Hill Dive – in relatively inner suburban Melbourne was a disused quarry, bottomless according to local legend, and freezing!

    • Naomi says:

      It seems right that it would be freezing, surrounded by cold hard rock, but I’ve never swum in a quarry.
      I must be around the same age as your kids, then (I’m 44.). I loved Little House on the Prairie!

  5. The Cue Card says:

    The Quarry seems like a potent metaphor. Swimming there would be a cleanser too from her life. The book cover is quite something — unsettling.

    • Naomi says:

      I still can’t decide if I like the cover. I don’t think I would have read it based on the cover alone. Good thing I would never do that! 😉

  6. annelogan17 says:

    This sounds like a keeper. Southern Ontario is where I grew up so I’m sure many things would ring true for me. And I know these are nothign alike, but living beside a big pit reminds me of the television show Parks and Recreation with Amy Poehler-do you know it? It’s a comedy like The Office 🙂

  7. Karissa says:

    I didn’t know quarry was related to coeur! I always associate quarries with stories of swimmers drowning in them so to me they seem innately eerie.

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