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Fiction Literary


by (author) Keath Fraser

Initial publish date
Feb 2021
Literary, Family Life
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Feb 2021
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Denise’s stepdaughter Greta is a med student who swims ocean marathons and runs off to Africa with a family friend four times her age—and also battles an eating disorder. When Judy, Greta’s birth mother, returns from Japan (to which she ran off herself, with a Mexican tennis pro) and tries to ingratiate herself with the husband and daughter she left, Denise must navigate their complicated relationships with each other while attempting to bring Greta’s addiction to light—and learning how to live more charitably.

About the author

Keath Fraser's stories and novellas have been reprinted in numerous Canadian and international anthologies. His essays on writing are reprinted in the anthologyHow Stories Mean(PQL, 1993). He is the author of two earlier acclaimed story collections, Taking Cover (Oberon, 1982) and Foreign Affairs (Stoddart, 1985). His novel, Popular Anatomy (PQL, 1995), won the 1996 Chapters/Books in Canada First Novel Award. He has travelled extensively throughout the world and has edited the best selling international anthologies Bad Trips (Vintage, 1991) and Worst Journeys: The Picador Book of Travel (1992). He was born and raised in Vancouver, where he lives at present, and is a director of Canada India Village Aid (CIVA).

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Excerpt: Charity (by (author) Keath Fraser)



It seemed as unlikely as the venerable Shakespeare actor once dating a Supreme. Never having heard of him Greta was certain she had heard one or two Supreme songs. “Baby love, my baby love …” Teasing us she laughed in her unruly way. “Is that the one?” I felt it better to say nothing more in case idle talk increased her willful attraction to this man four times her age and half her weight. If they were more than friends, neither Patrick nor I really wanted to know. A liaison like theirs might be plausible in a celebrity world of relaxed shack-ups, but to us it felt ridiculous.

“He’s peacocking!” said Patrick.

We liked Rudy, it was not that, even my parents had enjoyed his company, and we trusted him once to babysit Greta when our regular sitter had had a conflict. He melted her cheese bagel and dusted the den. At musical chairs she’d made him lift the needle off Baby Beluga so many times he cricked his wrist. He waggled it, that evening on our return, punctuating his account of their time getting acquainted. Like a house on fire? I didn’t ask. Before bed came Princess Mouseskin—although he confessed she hadn’t settled until they played Chinese checkers on her pillow. Younger, two decades ago, our old family friend was already balding and recently into a comfortable retirement.

So no, it was not his lack of trustworthiness, at least not quite. I was puzzled the next morning by what I found on Greta’s bedspread. His effect on her was coincidental. The prospect lately of imagining him bobbing up and down atop our daughter, who would be unable to stop laughing at his effeteness, discomfited us. Having to toilet him before she was thirty could well turn her compulsive laughter manic. She loved long swims, so it seemed grotesque to contemplate for her an abridged future of pre-palliative care. Patrick confided to me, and I wished he hadn’t, it would be like mating the family’s pet goat to a rubber raft. Shamefully then, every time Rudy arrived that summer to take her chopping carrots—once our front door closed, and we watched him in the driveway ushering her regally into his Nash Metropolitan, we fell apart on the floor.


We could as well have wept.

“Vintage slapstick,” said Patrick. “He and that puddle-jumper!”

The fullback bulk she inherited from her father. Until she turned nine, I had cooked leanly for them both, after which, when they wouldn’t suspend their taco top-ups before bed, I gave in to more lamb roasts than were good for either. By fourteen she weighed approximately half her father’s weight, and by nineteen all of it. By twenty I turned to Pacific cod and deluxe veggie burgers, too late to reconstitute her chronic hunger. I knew she was compensating on campus with oriental fare—just not of the Japanese variety. Pork, I guessed, not tuna—thick Shanghai noodles instead of sushi. Patrick had her tested for diabetes and an underactive thyroid, prescribed a statin for cholesterol, and made a valid attempt to put things right by yielding to a better regimen himself. But he was unable to resist the snacks his clinic should not have provided its staff, but did, continuing on his own to measure between Important and Severe on the Body Mass Index and so proving a poor model for the younger doctors, their patients, his own daughter.

Greta herself wondered about bariatric surgery, to reduce the capacity of her abounding belly. Patrick poo-pooed this and checked her further for sleep apnea and atrial fibrillation.

A perfectionist about everything but her weight, she was sailing through college as she had through school. Academically, that is. She enjoyed snap quizzes as much as acrostic puzzles. Do No Harm proclaimed the guiding motto of her current faculty, and if an unexpected headwind blew up in her ethics course, her tack was squally but never unscrupulous. For example, one evening over dinner at Pastis, she put it to us: “When could eliminating sodium chloride entirely from the food you serve be called an act of love?”

“At Macdonald’s,” said Patrick, “definitely.”

She looked serious.

“Go on, sweetie.”

He knew from listening to patients it was better to establish a baseline than answer any query too soon. A case history required forbearance, especially in ethical riddles of the heart, of which Patrick was convinced this was one, and not a practical question about blood pressure. Margaret claimed it was an interesting conundrum if we could imagine the consequences in a world of older men like Kim.

“Rudy?” I said.

“His taste buds,” she explained, “have withered enough. Rudy’s.”

Editorial Reviews

Praise for Charity

“Like Carol Shields’ Unless, and its meditation on goodness, Charity is a powerful work of philosophical and moral inquiry, rooted in skilfully wrought characters and sly storytelling.”—Toronto Star

"Keath Fraser is a master storyteller."—The Malahat Review

Charity—for all its brevity—is] a dense, deliberately paced work … What Fraser is after in Charity is a sincere examination of family in all its moral ambiguity, including its barbed and occasionally corrosive aspects ... Fraser is adept at pulling the rug out from under a reader’s moral surety. That he manages all this in such a compact form proves that the novella is capable of detonating shock waves in a way other genres may have to work harder to achieve—if they are able to do so at all.”—Quill & Quire

"An obliquely teasing novella offering style and insight."—Kirkus Reviews

“Readers in the market for a fiction short might enjoy this comic novella…in which a stepmother navigates the complex relationships between her husband, his ex and their daughter.”—Globe & Mail

"Fraser has crafted a conflict and characters so nuanced that the book could triple in length without feeling inflated. Charity reminds us of the power of a novella, the feel of the narrative straining against the borders of itself, the discipline in not allowing the story to be a single line longer than it needs to be ... Fraser’s characters slyly and unobtrusively rise out of the deceptively slim volume and exist in the room alongside you. It is always a mini-miracle when this happens; and the fact that it happens in such a mini book is a miracle all the more."—Richard Kelly Kemick, Malahat Review

Praise for Keath Fraser

“The sheer exuberance of language, the sureness with which Fraser captures the movements of the working mind, makes this book a joy to read.”—Ottawa Citizen

“Fraser’s controlled and confident writing gives us a rich sense of the longing of his fully drawn characters ... a remarkable, bittersweet celebration.”—Quill & Quire (starred review)

The range of Fraser’s characters is astonishing…not an author who can be ignored.”—January Magazine

“If you really want to journey into the heart of darkness, you’d be advised to travel with Vancouver writer Keath Fraser, a man of extraordinary talents.”Bronwyn Drainie

“Keath Fraser is one of the most intelligent writers working in Canada.” The Malahat Review

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