2021 Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction — Finalist
A modern queer tragedy about a pilot's last words, an interrupted celebration, and the fear of losing everything.
“Utterly engrossing. Coen is a hero for our era, darkly struggling amid the aftershocks of loss, but doing so with dignity, humanity, and passion.” — Timothy Taylor, author of The Rule of Stephens
When the airplane piloted by Elias Santos crashes one week before their wedding day, Coen Caraway loses the man he loves and the illusion of happiness he has worked so hard to create. The only thing Elias leaves behind is a recording of his final words, and even Coen is baffled by the cryptic message.
Numb with grief, he takes refuge on the Mexican island that was meant to host their wedding. But as fragments of the past come to the surface in the aftermath of the tragedy, Coen is forced to question everything he thought he knew about Elias and their life together. Beneath his flawed memory lies the truth about Elias — and himself.
From the damp concrete of Vancouver to the spoiled shores of Mexico, After Elias weaves the past with the present to tell a story of doubt, regret, and the fear of losing everything.
About the author
Eddy Boudel Tan writes stories that uncover how strange and extraordinary life can be, some of which can be found in Joyland, yolk, Gertrude Press, and the G&LR. His debut novel, After Elias, was released in 2020. Eddy lives in Vancouver.
- Short-listed, Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction
Excerpt: After Elias (by (author) Eddy Boudel Tan)
I used to call the shadow my old friend. It seemed less frightening that way. I would say it with a wry smile, but nobody else would find it funny.
It has been such a long time since the shadow last came around. “I think I’ve been defriended,” I once said to Elias. He just looked at me, unamused.
I suppose I’ve been too busy with the wedding arrangements to think much about the shadow. It doesn’t like to be forgotten though. It always lingers nearby. As I arrived at the hotel yesterday, I should have predicted that the shadow would make an appearance. After all, it is an old friend.
The Terrace Bar is different today. I feel it as soon as I step inside. Something foreign in the air greets me like a scent I can’t quite place. It’s darker here than in the rest of the hotel. It struck me as odd when I first saw it yesterday, this gloomy cavern hidden within a palace of light.
My eyes adjust and all I see are flowers. They’re an unnatural shade of yellow, worn by a woman softened with age, her skin like an overripe plum. She’s seated alone at a table and stares straight ahead, motionless. The sadness on her face is even more unnerving against the yellow flowers of the dress hanging limply on her.
A few other guests sit at tables scattered throughout the room. Like the woman in the floral dress, their stares are fixed on something in front of them.
The bartender stands behind the long countertop to my left, framed by a wall of glass bottles. He greeted me with such warmth yesterday. Every smile he gave felt earned, inviting my confidence whenever he leaned forward or held eye contact longer than what I’d usually find comfortable. Now his arms are crossed over his chest, his eyes narrowed. A dishtowel lies forgotten over one shoulder. He’s staring in the same direction as everyone else in the dim room, his head tilted upward as though listening to god.
Following their gaze, I see it’s something ordinary: a television set mounted on the wall behind the bar’s counter. I can’t quite tell what they’re watching, but it looks like the ocean. The waves are more grey than blue, churning across the screen with lashes of foam.
Why is everyone so interested in this?
Several jagged objects come into view. They rock along with the rhythm of the waves, the red paint bold against the coldness of the sea. Their shapes lack symmetry.
Are they little boats?
A woman appears on the screen. She’s dressed inoffensively in neutral tones and crisp lines. Her delicate hands are placed on the surface of a lacquered desk. I hear her voice but don’t hear the words.
My body begins to shiver like a taut wire as my phone vibrates in my pocket. I don’t reach for it, like I normally would. It goes off again. And again. I just let it continue its inaudible cry, a silent alarm bell. But I don’t need to read the messages or answer the calls. I know what has happened, why everyone at home suddenly feels the need to get hold of me. I know what everyone in the room is seeing on the television, what those floating objects are. I know, because I’ve always known this would happen one day. Today is that day.
The shadow comes to me.
I recognize it immediately, even though it has been so long.
It cloaks itself around my body. I feel its touch, a sickening static. A familiar numbness washes over me.
It seeps into my skin. The pricking begins softly before it gets sharper, quicker. A thousand stabbing needles.
It whispers in my ears. A deadening hum surrounds me.
Hello, old friend.
Invisible hands wrap around my throat.
I can’t breathe.
I can’t move.
If I had been paying closer attention earlier, I might have seen it in the periphery of my vision, felt its touch against the tips of my fingers. It was so close.
I don’t know how long I stand there before my legs can move again. They march me out of the dim room, and I stumble through the hall. The light sears my retinas. The sound of my shoes on the cold floor becomes louder with every step as the hum subsides. I find my suite, the door emblazoned with numbers polished so well I can see my reflection in them. My hand shakes as it fumbles in my pocket for the key.
I throw myself into the room and slam the door shut behind me. I pull the curtains closed and switch on the television above the dresser.
This must be a mistake.
The unholy messenger in the neutral tones stares back at me, though she seems less benign. There is an emptiness in her eyes as her lips move. I can understand her words now.
Flight XI260 was on its way to Vancouver from Berlin when it crashed into the Arctic Ocean one hour ago. There were 314 passengers on board, including fifteen crew members, one relief pilot, one captain, and one co-pilot.
A face appears, and I know it so well. The square chin and uneven lips that make him look more arrogant than he is. The arrowhead slope of his nose, something he’s always been self-conscious of.
Most striking of all, the darkness of his irises. Almost black, they reflect the light as tiny white orbs — two satellites in the night sky.
He’s the man I’m supposed to marry in seven days, this co-pilot.
His name is Elias.
Eddy Boudel Tan has written an immersive, unpredictable, engaging first novel propelled by mystery, softened by tenderness, and enriched with little wisdoms.
Patrick Nathan, author of Some Hell
One of the most anticipated LGBTQ books of October 2020
Intriguing... The novel has plenty of rewards
After Elias promises from the start to be a puzzle. This is no simple mystery, and the layered psychological struggles and revelations kept me furiously turning pages until the very end. With chapters that shift through time along with the narrator's emotions, a cast of very real but relatable secondary characters, and a haunting sense of the past, After Elias gifts the reader with gorgeous, economic prose and the pace of a thriller. I couldn't put it down.
Natalie Jenner, author of The Jane Austen Society
A truly rare and wonderful book, utterly engrossing throughout. Coen is a hero for our era, darkly struggling amid the aftershocks of loss, but doing so with dignity, humanity, and passion. Tracking Coen’s progress towards answers is a riveting and emotional journey. Watching him in his relationships is a richly rewarding meditation on love, friendship, betrayal and the undying hope for reconciliation.
Timothy Taylor, author of The Rule of Stephens
It's rare to find a book that works well as a deeply emotional exploration of grief and as a suspenseful thriller, but After Elias manages this feat.
Arresting... [a] deftly crafted novel.
The novel is sad, beautiful, and haunting.
Midwest Book Review
Eddy Boudel Tan has crafted a page turner from a set of unlikely ingredients — tragedy, grief, pain and the darker shadows of the human mind. But most of all he has written tenderly, resplendently, about love.
Christopher J. Yates, author of Grist Mill Road
In his heartfelt and highly engaging debut, Eddy Boudel Tan asks us to stare into the dark waters of one man’s personal tragedy and help make sense of the pieces that wash up onto the shore. At times mysterious and surprising, [After Elias] is a compelling and tightly bound examination of grief, shame, doubt and the darkness that conspires to dissolve our most beloved relationships. A joy to read.
Christopher DiRaddo, author of The Geography of Pluto