Shortlisted for the 2016 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize
Globe & Mail "Best Canadian Fiction of 2016"
This breakout novel from Giller Prize finalist Michael Helm is a genre-bending work of astonishing vision and a dazzling story of our times.
A neuroscientist retreats to a secluded cabin in the woods, intending to blow the whistle on a pharmaceutical company and its creativity drug gone wrong. A failed poet is lured to Rome as a "literary detective" to decode the work of a mysterious Internet poet who seems to write about murders with precise knowledge of private details. On the heels of a life crisis, a virologist discovers her identity has been stolen by a conceptual artist in whose work someone always goes missing. After James is an audacious, masterful novel, told in three connected parts, each gesturing toward a type of genre fiction -- the gothic horror, the detective novel, and the apocalyptic. As the novel unfolds in great cities, remote regions, and deadly borderlands, it weaves connections both explicit and subtle, pulling us deeper into a greater mystery that has come to define our times. Gorgeously written, alive with intelligence and wit, full of adventure and suspense, After James confirms Michael Helm's reputation as one of the most electrifying writers of his generation
About the author
- Short-listed, Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize
MICHAEL HELM is the author of The Projectionist, a finalist for the Giller Prize, In the Place of Last Things, a finalist for the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best Book, and Cities of Refuge, a Globe and Mail "Book of the Year." An editor at Brick magazine,he teaches at York University and lives near Dundas, ON.
Excerpt: After James (by (author) Michael Helm)
From Part 1 : Alice After James
When the sun breached the hill that morning it caught for the first time since October the narrow edge of the streambed exposed by a break in the trees. By midmorning the haze had burned off and the light made lenses in the ice that melted themselves beneath the surface. The stream began moving and as the thaw took hold in the leaves clotted on the bank and the mud farther along, the water ran into the shade of birch and maples and coaxed snow into motion as, unexampled in memory, the late-winter warmth became a baking heat all in a day, effecting weeks of return in just hours.
The dog kept to the bed, where the vapours were strongest, crazed into the firstness of things. He had come a long way and had organized the scents as they recurred along the route until a new one came on the air and he found himself moving into the leaves. He was at the source and digging before he understood that the form set into the ground was human. The discovery confused him and he backed off the shape and barked and continued barking until the smell sent him forward again in a wonderment half-full of forgetting, and when he followed up from the human hand along the arm and then uncovered the muddy head, the discovery was new again and he ran up out of the trees and stopped and circled back down, then came up a second time and a third. At some point he lowered onto his belly and looked for a long while in the direction of the humanform until a shortened whimper escaped him, the sound sending him to his feet barking again, hearing the strangeness of his sounding in the air of this new place. Again he took the route down the bank and up, barking the whole time, and he stood high now and was about to go back down when the shot tore through him and sent him over the bank and into the creekbed as if even dead he could regard the humanform yet again and again find it a great mystery uncovered but not dispelled.
That night the dog’s body burned along with that of the human he’d found, and then burned again until its ashes were general with all else on the wind. They lifted on the heat and floated out under stars and over the country thawed and returning with a force beyond that of any since people first appeared. They drifted over the creek now run to a river, and a river run into the broken fields and roads and up into the lower slopes of hills, disturbing even the wet, heavy soil there and exposing shards of pottery and bone that hadn’t breathed in centuries and were now carried by water to greater waters and replaced into other muds with other sediments over them. The ashes fell thinly on the currents in greyblack flakes without distinction, and the knowing that was the dog moved there too, running inland to the heart of the wild returned from its dream to its last waking.
• "A warning, a lament, a virtuoso engagement with our times, After James is a singular, puzzle-box of a novel delivered in gorgeous prose. In three stages, with passing homage to the genres of horror, detective, and apocalyptic novels, Michael Helm brilliantly extrapolates riveting narratives from the wonderment of contemporary biology and physics. Failing to connect to a Godhead of old, the characters in After James are transfigured by pills, or by having to defend themselves against the maniacal genius of a computer hacker, or by warring against viral endemics. Readers may find themselves challenged: the jurors did. Those who persevere will be rewarded. Speculative, revelatory, dramatic, and subtly interconnected, the three sections of After James veer ever closer to an end time, yet the novel celebrates being human, and being here, now" -- 2016 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize Jury Lauren B. Davis, Trevor Ferguson, and Pasha Malla
• “Any attempt to review this book diminishes this book. . . . After James’ beautiful sentences, its intricate and complex structure, its intellectual energy, its philosophical scope and depth – none of these elements can be captured in paraphrase or in critical response.” – Winnipeg Review
• “After James – recently announced as a finalist for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize – has a great deal of suspense and mystery to keep the reader alert, entertained and educated, and tracking the connections in the three tales adds spice to the challenge. . . . The novel is an intellectual exercise in recognizing the overlapping clues, an enjoyment in reading the often-gorgeous writing and a cautionary tale of modern-day dystopian strangeness.” – Winnipeg Free Press
• “While wonderfully engaging and quite elegant when one is immersed in the novel, the interconnected narratives are so complex that discussing them in detail makes one sound like a conspiracy nut. . . . I spent days reaching for connections in After James that Helm seemed to be pointing to, but that were always just beyond my grasp. In other hands this would be frustrating, but Helm’s execution is so masterful that it made for one of the most satisfying reading experiences I’ve had in years.” – Quill & Quire
• “The work resonates so strongly it is impossible to dismiss. A resonance with which no cliché, no banality, interferes.” – National Post
Advance Praise for After James:
• "The honed precision of Michael Helm’s prose is ice over very deep, very black water. After James is a viral secret of a novel, a trance-state all-day immersion read -- but Helm does not deal in airy imagining. Reality shows up all at once in this book, striking us glancing blows of prolepsis, of a familiarity beyond contempt. A profound and truly frightening book, and a necessary one for our times." -- Marina Endicott
• "After James is a 21st century masterclass in the use of genre to explore our ever-changing, and ever-slipping, grasp on reality. Helm draws on a base of knowledge broad and deep, from etymology to neuropharmaceuticals, from poetry to cybersecurity, to craft three murkily connected tales that point toward the best kind of cosmic disquiet: beyond comprehension and just out of sight." -- Christopher Phipps, DIESEL bookstore, Oakland, California
• "In this kaleidoscopic novel the real and the unreal spiral and collide to reveal just how thin the line between truth and fiction really is. Combining elements of horror, mystery and sci-fi, Helm has crafted a literary wormhole. Let yourself fall through. You won't be the same on the other side." -- Emily Ballaine, Green Apple Books, San Francisco
• "Michael Helm's dazzlyingly creative work almost defies categorization. A novel in three distinct, seemingly (or not) unrelated parts, told from different points of view by unreliable narrators with waking dreams. I reveled in the language and the mystery and let it wash over me as I did Kate Atkinson's Life After Life." -- Marion Abbott, Mrs. Dalloway's bookstore, Berkeley, California