An audacious New Face of Fiction debut: nine riveting stories that announce a major writer in the tradition of Yann Martel and Barbara Gowdy.
Unexpected humour and tenderness intertwine with loneliness and hopefulness in this remarkable book from an already acclaimed writer. In nine richly varied stories, written in intense, clear-eyed prose, the re …
Blue tube, green tube, clear tube, fat tube. A Dr. Seuss rhyme. The tubes run from robotic Magi gathered around the incubator, snake through portholes in the clear plastic box, then burrow into the baby’s pinkish grey skin. One tube up her left nostril. One tube down her throat. One tube into an arm no wider than a Popsicle stick. One tube tunnels into her chest. The skin of her chest is so thin. The baby’s mother can almost see the tiny organs beneath, the way shrimp is visible under the rice paper of a spring roll. The baby doesn’t move. Doesn’t cry. To the mother, the baby, with its blue-black eyes, is an extraterrestrial crash-landed on her planet. Hidden away and kept alive by G-men while they assess what threat this tiny alien might pose.
“What kind of mother will you be?” Jacob asked. He and An sat side by side on a braided rug watching a flickering candle on An’s coffee table. An said, “I won’t be a mommy who bores people with the trials and tribulations of teething.” Jacob disagreed: “You’ll be like those TV-commercial moms who fret over whether to buy two-ply or three-ply toilet paper.” From the coffee table, An picked up a blue ceramic cup, the kind used for espresso, and handed it to Jacob. “Real traditional,” she said. “Real Norman Rockwell.” Jacob grinned and stood, stretching his long legs. While he was in the bathroom, An got up and dropped a jazz CD in her player. Then she went into her bedroom and lay on her bed. Before the first song ended, Jacob came out of the bathroom. “You were fast this time,” An said. Jacob replied that he’d been practising at home. He handed her the espresso cup and kissed her forehead. “I don’t love you,” he said. An replied, “I don’t love you, too.” After he’d let himself out of the apartment, An drew Jacob’s semen into a syringe. She hiked up her peasant skirt and slid off her underwear. Then she lay on her bed, two pillows propped beneath her rear. It was the first time with the pillows: gravity, she reasoned, would help.
Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Otherwise known as NICU. The doctors pronounce it NICK U, as if it were a university. “Our kid is studying at NICK U,” Jacob jokes with a nurse, who stares at him blankly. An thinks of NICK U as a baby hatchery, one that smells like the stuff dentists use to clean teeth. The incubators, a dozen aquariums, are not in neat rows, but here and there, the way progressive schoolteachers arrange desks. Ventilators hum, monitors flash, alarms sound, a baby makes a noise like a gobbling turkey. Meanwhile, neonatologists complete their rounds. Some spill a hot alphabet soup of acronyms–ROP, BPD, C-PAP–in An’s lap. Others say, with a hand on her shoulder, “We realize how stressful this must be.” To them all, An wants to yell: “Nick you!” Better yet: “Nick off and die!”
Four months into An’s pregnancy, Jacob moved into a top-floor apartment in her building. He called the place the pent-up suite because, according to An, the former tenants, a sulky husband and wife, were passive-aggressives. To exorcise the couple’s demons, Jacob wandered around his stacks of moving boxes spritzing a citrus deodorizer. “If marriage is an institution,” he said, “married people should be institutionalized.” An wondered if this was a veiled reminder: that she and Jacob were not a couple, that they weren’t bookends propping up Dr. Spock’s Baby and Childcare. Still, the move into her building had been Jacob’s idea. An concurred, though. Proximity without intimacy: it sounded good to her. She had no desire to actually live with Jacob or any other man. Men’s bathroom habits, the Q-tips caked with earwax they left on the sink, depressed her. In her foolish twenties, she’d shared a loft with a boyfriend whose puppy-dog good cheer had made her want to drive him out into the country and leave him there. “Maybe more marriages would last if couples didn’t live together,” she said to Jacob as he unpacked a food processor the size of a space probe. “Maybe couples should buy two semi-detacheds and each live on either side,” she added. Jacob laughed his nose-honking laugh. “That’s why you always strike out at love, An,” he said. “You’re so semi-detached.”
Between the twenty-third and twenty-fourth week of An’s pregnancy, the placenta began to separate from the uterine wall. Semi-detached, An thought, when the doctor told her. By this time, she was lying under a spotlight in the emergency ward of the Royal Victoria Hospital. Her contractions were a minute apart. A nurse, the one who’d injected her with antibiotics earlier, yelled out, “Cervix fully effaced!” The warm amniotic fluid trickled over An’s thighs, and the obstetrician soon announced, “She’s crowning,” as if An herself were Queen Victoria. Then came the huge, irresistible urge to push. When the neonatologist lifted her newborn daughter, An saw the tiny infant bat the air with one arm as if to clear everyone away, the doctors, the nurses–even her exhausted, terrified mother.
Though An hadn’t wanted a baby shower, Jacob gave her one anyway. The theme, fittingly, was showers. The weather co-operated by drizzling. First, they took in the stage musical Les parapluies de Cherbourg, co-starring An’s mother, Lise, who played an umbrella-shop owner in Normandy who meddled in her daughter’s affair with a kind-hearted mechanic. The daughter got pregnant by the mechanic but ended up marrying a diamond importer she didn’t love but grew to respect. During the standing ovation, Jacob whispered, “Only the French can make a comédie musicale depressing.” Backstage, Lise pulled An into her dressing room and shut the door. Her stage makeup was as cracked as a Rembrandt.
From the Hardcover edition.
“Considering the number of popular and prize-winning writers who have a Journey Prize as part of their resume, it’s no exaggeration to suggest that this volume is the future of Canadian writing. . . . And the future seems bright indeed.” — Robert Wiersema, Ottawa Citizen
The Journey Prize Stories is widely celebrated as the premiere showca …