In 59 Glass Bridges, an unnamed narrator travels through a maze that is at once mutable and immutable: walls fall to vine-filled forests, hallways to rivers, bridges to lamp-lit boats. What remains is the desire to escape. He is led along his harrowing path by Willow, a mysterious figure who cajoles him and responds to questions in a winking sphinx-like manner, with answers that are often more baffling than clear. Interspersed are the memories of the narrator, of his childhood and adolescence, and of his grandmother, a wise artist who at once pushes his creativity, while leaving him the freedom to craft his own journey.
Playing with the imagery and landscapes reminiscent of Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy, Steven Peters' debut reveals how pivotal moments in our lives give substance and shape to the labyrinths in our minds.
About the author
Steven Peters was born in Winnipeg and currently works as a copywriter in Calgary. He earned his Master's Degree in English at the University of Calgary, where he annoyed his creative writing instructors by sneaking fantasy into perfectly serious Canadian Literature. He has an abiding love for coffee, sweater vests, and Sir Patrick Stewart. 59 Glass Bridges is his first novel.
- Nominated, Best Speculative Fiction at the Alberta Book Publishing Awards
Excerpt: 59 Glass Bridges (by (author) Steven Peters)
Of course, there is no monster in this maze. Still, I can't help but compare myself to Theseus as I unravel a bright red mitten and trail the lengthening string behind me.
The comparison is imperfect. Theseus' ball of yarn anchored him to the labyrinth's doorpost--a surefire exit strategy. My string dangles. Theseus delved into his labyrinth willingly, hunting the monster that haunted its halls. I ... well, I'm not sure how I got here.
No Minotaur, though. That's a plus.
I pretend I'm a mythical hero hunting for an exit, because it's better than the reality: I was probably kidnapped, then dropped off in an abandoned building when they realized my net worth was in the red. Nobody's forking up a ransom for li'l old me.
I have no memory of the past ... day? Maybe longer. I'm in an abandoned office building, or something like it. And whoever put me here took my clothes, and dressed me in the most ridicul--hmm.
There's a fork in the path.
I look back the way I've come--down a long, empty hallway. Not "empty" as in "devoid of people," but really empty. There are no seats set against the wall with cracking pleather cushions; no vending machines pimping sugary beverages; no polyethylene plants in plastic IKEA pots. And, more conspicuously, no doorways branch off, no dents deface the drywall, and no scuff marks mar the linoleum tile. I've seen nothing to distract me from this purgatorial plane of white.
But here, two paths diverge.
I look left. More hallway. I look right. Ditto. Each path is identical, as far as I can tell, and each promises an undifferentiated adventure in blandness.
I arbitrarily choose the right-hand passage and trail my mitten's innards around the corner. I revel in the vein of cherry red in a world of inoffensive whites.
I'm trying to make the best of my shitty situation. My cell phone is missing--so no calling for help--as is my wallet. Who knows what charges I've already racked up. Worse, in lieu of my normally carefully crafted façade--skinny fit denim, chambray in various fall hues, and a haircut that suggests I'm trying, but not too hard--I woke up wearing the most absurd frippery I've ever seen.
I'm decked out in khaki pants with too many pockets, a baby blue windbreaker, and a white tee stained with ... coffee? I hope it's coffee.
And my shoes. Ugh. Bulky Reeboks with condom-thin soles from the turn of the century, or whenever school-bus yellow was in vogue. They squeak against the linoleum as I turn down a random corridor in another intersecting hallway.
My other accoutrements include a striped neck scarf that would make Doctor Who proud, a cheap chrome watch, and the crème de la crème--a weathered brown Stetson. It's the hat that really embarrasses me. I'm not a cowboy. Well, maybe once ... for Halloween ... as a child.
I don't take the hat off.
And, of course, I have a red mitten. Had a red mitten. I unravelled it because what's the point of just one mitten?
The watch though--that's a slap in the face. Someone took my five-hundred-dollar cell phone and slipped this piece of crap on my wrist instead. And it's broken--sans an hour hand or any indicator of the date. Minutes and seconds march proudly by, but I have no clue how long I've been stuck in this building.
This goddamn building. A maze, I'm sure of it. Or maybe it's just an office building, abandoned for its lack of actual offices--and its M.C. Escher floor plan.
Here's another branching path, this one with three options. Or four--I could turn back. But no, I eeny meeny miny mo my way down the left-hand fork.
Should I be marking my path with something more permanent than a loose thread? I doubt this will help me retrace my steps very far. My pockets are mostly empty though, save for ... what's this?
I pull out a small book bound in gaudy orange leather. A Bible? Sort of--it's a Gideon New Testament replete with the Psalms and Proverbs, like the one I owned as a child. The cover is rippled with bends and the leather's stubble is worn smooth. It's been well loved by someone--probably the bastard who stole my clothes and dressed me from the bottom of the Salvation Army bin.
Inside, two pages are bookmarked with nickels and other pages are dog-eared. Sooty fingerprints stain many pages and I see spots that look like tear stains. Verses throughout are underlined and some of the margins are tattooed with red ink.
Unfortunately, the previous owner of this New Testament wrote their verse in Italian. These notes could be all important--instructions on how to escape, perhaps? The secret to eternal life? Or they could be nothing at all--Bible study notes? A recipe for mom's meatloaf?
If only I could read Italian.
Still, while I'm not a religious man, the Bible gives me hope. At least it's proof that someone other than me exists. Someone else stuck in this maze--or the deranged architect who put me here. Probably someone wearing my chambray.
I'd love to pay that bastard back in kind. Or ... maybe not. I might be lonely. I might be happy just to see another human being.
How long have I been wandering now? How many times has that minute hand tripped sixty? I haven't seen anyone in a while. I can't be more exact than that.
Praise for 59 Glass Bridges:
"With considerable skill and sensitivity, Robert Pepper-Smith reveals something both tragic and magical in his story of three friends whose childhood village and its essential orchards are flooded by an ambitious government, driving the population out of their homes and into the dangers and uncertainties of a larger world. In exploring the survivors' fates he has given us a wonderfully original, ambitious, and engaging novel."
~ Jack Hodgins, author of Cadillac Cathedral and The Resurrection of Joseph Bourne
"The Orchard Keepers is a novel of fierce, quiet resistance. Against a backdrop of the flooding of Columbia River valleys for hydroelectric dams in the 1950s and the displacement of Guatemalan farmers by foreign mining interests in the 1970s, the lives of the characters incandesce, defying despotism in all its forms. Staunch, independent, unique, they bear witness to the real power of human connection, patiently transmitting language, memory, and nurture."
~ Karen Hofmann, author of After Alice and Water Strider
"A quietly but powerfully political book about uprootedness and connection to the land."
~ Jade Colbert, The Globe and Mail