Funny booksCreated by 49thShelf on April 27, 2012
Brian Lembeck – 'Pulpy' – takes life slow and steady. He likes his office job, and he likes his gentle, figurine-collecting boss, Al. He even likes the bitter receptionist, though he's the only one who does. He likes his wife, Midge, too, and their ice-dancing lessons. Midge works as a candle-party hostess &x2013 she quit her office job when Al …
Rutledge, an aging, divorced man, has treated himself to a Cruise on the Mariola. The Cruise is not just any cruise. It’s the whole shebang. It's around the world. It’s a lifestyle change: G & Ts and tuxedos and cigars and cognac galore. The service is top-rate. And Rutledge’s steward, Raoul, is a good kid.But then a day trip to a Caribbean p …
27-year-old Frieda Zweig is at an impasse. Behind her is a string of failed relationships and half-forgotten ambitions of being a painter; in front of her lies the dreary task of finding a real job and figuring out what “normal” people do with their lives. Then, a classified ad in the local paper introduces Frieda to Gladys, an elderly woman wh …
SHORTLISTED FOR THE AMAZON.CA FIRST NOVEL AWARDA NEW STATESMAN READ-ALL-ABOUT-IT SELECTION FOR 2012A BARNES & NOBLE DISCOVER GREAT NEW WRITERS PICK, 2012A SALON.COM WHAT-TO-READ AWARD-WINNER, 2012A TOP FIVE BOOK PICK, CHATELAINEAN iTUNES CANADA BEST OF 2012 FICTION PICKAN AMAZON.CA BEST BOOK OF 2012 EDITOR'S PICKA LARGEHEARTED BOY FAVORITE NOVEL OF …
A delightfully offbeat story that features an opinionated tortoise and an IQ-challenged narrator who find themselves in the middle of a life-changing mystery.
Audrey (a.k.a. Oddly) Flowers is living quietly in Oregon with Winnifred, her tortoise, when she finds out her dear father has been knocked into a coma back in Newfoundland. Despite her fear o …
The plane is a row of gold circles and a cockpit. One of those circles will carry my head halfway home. I count back fourteen. That circle. In the cockpit the pilots are having a good time. Boy are they. Coffee cups have to be put down. They are really laughing. One puts a hand on the other’s shoulder. Then the one with the hand leans over and kisses the other’s cheek. A quick impulsive happy peck.
A fellow passenger joins me at the terminal window. Hey, I tell her. Our pilots just kissed.
I’m thinking that kiss bodes well for our safety.
She pretends she has a cup to throw away.
That is my plane. With the word nap resolving on its tail. How do I feel about that acronym. Not great.
My phone rings and it’s Linda.
Winnifred isn’t moving.
Never assume a tortoise is dead. Rule Number One of Tortoise Ownership. What’s the temperature in your apartment. Remember it’s winter. It’s still dark. She ’s not nocturnal. These and other environmental factors have likely caused her to withdraw into her shell. Her heart beats maybe once an hour. Be patient. Wait an hour.
Still, I crouch down next to the window. Feel the heat coming up from the vent. Is my tortoise dead. Should I go back.
My own heart is all apatter. This is being alive. Can you feel the body worry before every beat. I can. Will this be the last. No. Will this be the last. No.
Should I go back.
I look up at the pilots who are possibly in love and I don’t want to catch any other plane but this one. This is my plane.
Yesterday I peered down into her castle and she was beside the pool making the same journey I’d seen her start two days ago. I knocked on her shell. Excuse me, Winnifred.
No legs emerged. No little ancient head.
I picked her up and held her under my armpit. This usually worked. I did have a heat lamp, but paper castles tend to be flammable.
Finally she woke up.
There, I said. I put her in the pool.
I knelt down beside the castle with windows that look out onto my kitchen. Many times I have seen Winnifred poke her head wistfully through one of those windows. Many times I have seen her drop a piece of lettuce like a note.
She climbed out of the pool and creaked over to the window.
I have to go home for a while, I said.
Winnifred is old. She might be three hundred. She came with the apartment. The previous tenant, a rock climber named Cliff, was about to embark on a rock climbing adventure that would not have been much fun for Winnifred. Back then her name was Iris. Cliff had inherited Iris from the tenant before him. Nobody knew how old Iris was or where she had come from originally. Now Cliff was moving out. He said, Would you like a tortoise.
I would not say no to a tortoise, I said.
I was alone in Portland and the trees were giant. I picked her up and she blinked at me with her upside- down eyelids. I felt instantly calm. Her eyes were soft brown. Her skin felt like an old elbow. I will build you a castle, I whispered. With a pool. And I was true to my word.
Hold her under your armpit, I tell Linda.
And I hang up.
That was rude, but I am not myself. I am unslept. I am on automatic pilot. This image brought to mind by the pilots who clearly aren’t. What does automatic pilot mean. I picture an inflatable pilot, but that is from a movie. Automatic pilot is just a computer. It is what flies the plane when the pilots take a nap or make out. It is what kicks in metaphorically when your dad is in a comma, sorry coma, and you are summoned home and you must make arrangements for your tortoise.
Last night I stepped outside carrying Winnifred in her castle and the sky was busy with stars.
Look, Win, I said. The past. Because the past is what you are looking at when you look at the stars.
Winnifred looked up.
That’s where I’m going tomorrow, I said.
We drove out to Oregon City where the streets are all named after presidents in the order they were elected, so you can’t get lost if you are American and know your presidents. Linda and Chuck live on Taft. When I pulled up, Chuck was outside smoking with his actor friends.
As I climbed the steps, one of the actor friends said, Am I hallucinating or is she carrying a castle.
Yes, a castle.
Four people at my gate are knitting. Knitting needles are allowed on planes again. At security there was a new and definitive list of Objects You Cannot Take in Your Carrion Carry- on Luggage. All the usual weapons from the game of Clue were there, minus knitting needles, and with the addition of snow globes.
I patted my pockets and said, Where’s that snow globe.
The security woman in blue pinched the bridge of her nose like I was causing her pain right there.
Move on, please.
In the little kiosk inside security there were knitting needles and wool for sale. Christmas colours. So knitting is enjoying a revival.
I limped on to my gate.
Earlier, in the apartment, I had tripped over my carry- on bag in the dark. I had lain in the dark and thought, I won’t go, I’ve been hurt. I lay there and looked up at the sloped ceiling, still bumpy with Cliff ’s climbing holds. Cliff liked to refer to the ceiling as an overhang.
I had sent him an email saying, My dad is in a comma and waiting for me to open his eyes. Must depart. Apartment available for your use. Tortoise with Linda and Chuck.
I sent him a second email: I meant coma.
I lay on the floor. My cab with its little Napoleon hat was puffing in the street.
Get up. Go.
When the right person arrives at the bedside of the comatose person, the comatose person opens his eyes. Everyone knows this. This is Rule Number One of Comatoseness.
Yesterday Uncle Thoby called and said, Oddly. There’s been an accident.
Which word made me sit down on the kitchen floor. Accident, I said.
Your dad received a severe blow to the medulla oblongata as he was walking home. From, this is unbelievable, a Christmas tree. Hanging sideways out of a pickup truck.
Uncle Thoby’s voice was okay until he got to pickup truck. Then it broke down. I didn’t understand. Hit by a Christmas tree. Or walking home from a Christmas tree. Or what.
Hit by. On his way home.
I thought about this. Finally I said, I have a question. Are you ready.
Here it is. I’ve got it. What is a medulla oblongata.
A brain stem.
Oh. Right. So a Christmas tree stem had collided with my dad’s brain stem. And now he was in a coma. I put my hand on the back of my neck. I had forgotten that the brain has geography. The human brain is 1,400 cubic centimetres of geography. Our heads fit inside airplane windows for Chrissakes. We are small and we can be pitched out of our geography.
I’ll come home, I said.
Earnest, small-town Lawrence Campbell is fascinated by his poetry professor, the charismatic and uncompromising Jim Arsenault. Larry is determined to escape a life of thrifty drudgery and intellectual poverty working for his parents' motel and mini-golf business on Prince Edward Island. Jim appears to the young poet as a beacon of authenticity - me …
He sat on his desk, positioned in front of this enormous window with the sunlight streaming all around his outline. I could barely look at him without going blind. He saw me squinting and shading my eyes and squeezing them shut when they started watering, but he didn't move, or close the curtain. He had a little teapot on the desk beside him and he kept picking it up and listening to it. He told me my poem should have a dead person in it.
"Maybe a murder or something," he said, "to make it more exciting."
I didn't know what to say so I talked about what was in the poem already. I said I thought that maybe it was a little wordy, that I hadn't figured out how to distill my ideas yet. I figured he could speak to this - none of his poems are any more than ten lines long, and half the time each line has no more than three or four words in it. He just sat there listening to his teapot as I rambled away, carefully using words like distill and cumbersome.
"I think maybe it's a little cumbersome?"
Everything I said went up in a question. I sounded like I was still in high school. I knew I had to learn how to stop talking like that, especially around this guy, but it got worse when I was nervous.
"No, no, it's not cumbersome. It just needs something to happen. Nothing happens in it. There's nothing wrong with a lot of words - I like words."
"But your poems are so..." I wanted a really perfect word for this. Terse. Brief. Scant. Scant? Scant was good. But did it have any negative connotations? Would he think I meant insubstantial?
"...short," I said, before the silence could thicken.
"Those are my poems," he said. "And my poems are great. I'm trying to learn not to insist that other writers write poems like mine. In fact I prefer that they don't. Listen to this for a minute." I thought maybe he was going to recite something, but instead he extended the little teapot so that I was compelled to get up out of my chair and come toward him.
I listened. It was full of tea. I could feel the heat radiating toward my cheek. It was making a buzzing sound, sort of like a horsefly.
"Hm," I said.
"It's buzzing," he said. "Why do you suppose it does that?"
"I think maybe air is trapped in there or something."
"Well, it's weird," said Jim Arsenault, the greatest living poet of our time.
I sit obsessing on this, fingers poised over my typewriter keys. Every time I blink, the silhouette of Jim outlined against his sun-filled window flashes inside my head, like it's been burned into my corneas. I hear him saying, Well, it's weird. I hear him saying everything but what I wanted to hear about my poetry. I hear more exciting, which means not exciting. It's hard to come up with something new, hearing that. It seems like it might be easier - more fun, more inspiring too, somehow - to tear the page from my typewriter's grip, slowly, without releasing the catch, so that it kind of shrieks as if in drawn-out pain.
I have a poem called "Poem Poem" taped to the window above my typewriter - by Milton Acorn, who is my hero because he is an unschooled genius who, like me, is from Prince Edward Island. The poem is about the good days and the bad days of writing poetry. The first stanza talks about a good day, how Poems broke from the white dam of my teeth. / I sang truth, the word I was... Heart and fist thumped together, it says, a line I love.
Then the second stanza describes the poem "I write today," how it "grins" at him while. It is truth,I chop it like a mean boy / And whittles my spine says Acorn with regard to this poem, the word I am not.
That's the poem. I look at it when I'm feeling lonely, and when I feel like a moron - a not exciting moron - for sitting in front of my typewriter thinking I'm a poet. Sometimes I love it, though - some days are as different from one another as the two stanzas of the poem. That's why I have it up there. Sometimes, even if I'm not writing, just the feel of being alone in my apartment in front of the typewriter is enough. I take off my shirt. I can see myself, I can see what I look like sitting here wearing nothing but jeans and glasses, me and my pale teenage limbs. I look like a poet. I know that I do. I believe in it, those days.
I, I'll type. And that will be enough.
Then there are the other days, when nothing is enough. The poem grins. It grins because it knows it is a terrible poem. It grins in embarrassment. It grins in pity. It grins in superiority. I may be a terrible poem, it grins, but at least I have one comfort. At least I'm not a terrible poet. At least I'm not the guy who sat in front of a typewriter for two hours coming up with the likes of me.
A girl named Sherrie is busy reading her work for Jim and the rest of us - mostly for Jim. I am busy being made uncomfortable by it. It's all about desire and sex, but there is nothing arousing going on in the least. I expected to not like it because it would be sentimental, but that isn't the problem. It's just Sherrie standing up there with her yellow curls going everywhere like a doll or a crazed cheerleader, semi-whispering about "folds in flesh" and "shimmering" this and "shuddering" that - it makes me queasy. It's only our second class, for God's sake. Meeting, Jim wants us to call it.
Jim doesn't seem to mind Sherrie's stuff. He stands with the same demeanour he has whenever anybody reads. He leans slightly against his desk, stares at the ground, and folds his arms way back behind his head, so that his elbows stick out on either side of it like huge animal ears, a rabbit man. He'll stand that way for as long as twenty minutes sometimes, depending on whatever anyone's reading. There is a guy named Claude from Moncton who writes villanelles. These villanelles go on forever sometimes, and Jim will just stand there all contorted until the very last line.
What would you do if your child was a furry feral creature or your new love interest a potential serial killer (or worse, a fictitious cliché)? In The Odious Child, Carolyn Black invents her own blend of urban fantasy, crafting a unique storyscape that she populates with a series of mostly nameless figures who are trapped in social roles that they …