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Fiction Disaster


by (author) Paul Quarrington

Random House of Canada
Initial publish date
Apr 2005
Disaster, 21st Century, Literary
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Apr 2005
    List Price

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From one of Canada’s beloved fiction writers comes a tale of love and loss, guilt and forgiveness -- and finding redemption in the eye of a hurricane.

Few people seek out the tiny Caribbean island of Dampier Cay. Visitors usually wash up there by accident, rather than by design. But this weekend, three people will fly to the island deliberately. They are not coming for a tan or fun in the sun. They are coming because Dampier Cay is where it is, and they have reason to believe that they might encounter something there that most people take great measures to avoid -- a hurricane.

A lottery windfall and a few hours of selfishness have robbed Caldwell of all that was precious to him, while Beverly, haunted by tragedy and screwed by fate since birth, has given up on life. Also on the flight is Jimmy Newton, a professional storm chaser and videographer who will do anything for the perfect shot. Waiting for them at Dampier is the manager of the Water’s Edge Hotel, “Bonefish” Maywell Hope, who arrived at Dampier by the purest accident of all -- the accident of birth. A descendent of the pirates who sailed the Caribbean hundreds of years ago, Hope believes if he works hard enough, he can prevent the inevitable. Until, that is, the seas begin to rise . . .

Cinematic and harrowing, spiced with Quarrington’s trademark humour, Galveston shows just how far people will go to feel alive.

About the author


Paul Quarrington won numerous awards for his work, including the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour and Canada Reads 2008 for his novel King Leary. His Governor General's Award-winning Whale Music was made into a critically acclaimed feature film. He also won awards for his writing for the television series Due South and for his screen play for Perfectly Normal. On January 21, 2010, he succumbed to lung cancer and died at his home surrounded by friends and family. He is missed.


Paul Quarrington's profile page


  • Nominated, Scotiabank Giller Prize

Excerpt: Galveston (by (author) Paul Quarrington)

After Four a-clock the Thunder and Rain abated, and then we saw a Corpus Sant at the Main-top-mast Head, on the very Top of the Truck of the Spindle. This sight rejoiced our Men exceedingly; for the height of the Storm is commonly over when the Corpus Sant is seen aloft; but when they are seen lying on the Deck, it is generally accounted a bad Sign.

A Corpus Sant is a certain small glittering Light; when it appears as this did, on the very Top of the Main-mast or at a Yard-arm, it is like a Star; but when it appears on the Deck, it resembles a great Glow-worm. The Spaniards have another Name for it (though I take even this to be a Spanish or Portuguese Name, and a Corruption only of Corpus Sanctum) and I have been told that when they see them, they presently go to Prayers, and bless themselves for the happy Sight. I have heard some ignorant Seamen discoursing how they have seen them creep, or, as they say, travel about in the Scuppers, telling many dismal Stories that hapned at such times . . .

–William Dampier, A New Voyage Round the World

There once was an island named Dampier Cay. It lay to the southwest of Jamaica, making a triangle with that country and the Caymans. Dampier Cay was, technically, under English governance; it retained the pound as its official currency, for example, even though no one on the island accepted, or carried, the local money. All transactions were made using the American dollar.

Dampier Cay was a narrow strip of land, a few miles long, that nature had pushed forth from the water for no good reason. Still, it was land, and people built there. Because there was not much of it, property was relatively expensive. Some wealthy white people owned estates. The black people who worked for the white people lived in a tiny hamlet, Williamsville, which was near the centre of the island. Dampier Cay ran north and south, but it was bent in the middle. There was a harbour there; aside from a couple of local fishing trawlers, it was rarely used.

On either end of Dampier Cay were resorts. At the south end was a big hotel. It claimed the best beaches and was popular, by island standards, with tourists. At the north end was a place called the Water’s Edge, a collection of buildings that sat near the bottom of the island’s only significant hill.

That hill was called Lester’s Hump. Reporters were confused by that, for a while, because after the storm a man named Lester was found at the top, along with two white women. But Lester’s Hump had been so called for over two hundred years, ever since William Dampier had directed Lester Cooper to cart liquor and victuals up to the top. Dampier had seen weather coming.

But the Day ensuing, which was the 4th Day of July, about Four a-Clock in the Afternoon, the Wind came to the N.E. and freshned upon us, and the Sky looked very black in that quarter, and the black Clouds began to rise apace and moved towards us; having hung all the Morning in the Horizon.
The island’s east coast, much of it anyway, is a rock cliff that rises a mean height of twenty-five feet. It seemed reasonable protection should the weather and the water get into cahoots, but William Dampier had seen many odd things in his journeys, and heard much odder. He’d heard about waves that stood thirty yards tall. So he directed Lester Cooper to take the flour, sugar, suet, etc., to the summit, and the other men laughed and called it Lester’s Hump.

There is, today, a small cross at the summit of Lester’s Hump. It is made out of wood and whitewashed, and someone attends to it, keeping the cross pristine and cultivating a small bed of flowers around its base. At the foot of Lester’s Hump there are ghostly suggestions of civilization and order – scattered timbers and pieces of metal and machinery. Further south, trees have been thrown over and lie criss-crossed, like wooden matches that have been rattled in the box and then tossed onto the ground. Beyond this is where Williamsville once stood. A handful of black people still live there, in hastily built, ramshackle constructions. Oddly, there are a few estates that stand in good condition, but the owners have boarded the windows and put up optimistic For Sale signs. The big hotel remains, although no tourists ever go there, because Dampier Cay no longer exists.

It was a fairly easy matter for Dampier Cay to disappear, because it had never proclaimed its existence with any authority. It was not even on all maps. Many derive from the originals made by William Dampier, who was the Royal Cartographer, although he spent much of his time buccaneering with his Merry Boys. Ironically, having named the island after himself, Dampier left it off his depiction of the area. Where it should have been dotted, Dampier fashioned a large and ornate C to begin the word Caribbee.


To get to Dampier Cay, in the days when it still existed, either one had to know exactly what one was doing – only one tiny airline serviced the island, the airport a glorified bungalow near Miami, Florida – or else one came by chance.

Gail and Sorvig, whom you will meet, stumbled upon the island, or at least the knowledge of its existence, at a travel agency in New York City. One of them had idly picked up a small flyer from the Water’s Edge. The print was crooked, rendered out of Letraset, and announced prices much cheaper than any other resort. The flyer also featured a drawing of a bonefish, sleek and fierce-looking. The drawing was made by a man named Maywell Hope, although, when you meet him, you may find that hard to credit. Hope made the flyer and took it to the post office in Williamsville, where he and the postmistress mimeographed two hundred copies. Hope and the postmistress then used her computer to select random vacation bureaus around the world, and mailed them out.

Maywell Hope made the flyer over the protestations of Polly Greenwich, his common-law wife and the owner of the Water’s Edge. Polly possessed a kind of grim optimism, and was convinced that business was as good as could be expected. Polly herself had come to Dampier Cay by chance, from New Zealand. Her first husband had died from cancer, he had withered away; and when he was gone, Polly boarded an airplane, not caring where it was headed, then she bought a berth on a cruising yacht, and one day the ship anchored at Dampier Cay. While the rest of the passengers went snorkelling, Polly wandered the small island until she came upon the collection of buildings at the bottom of Lester’s Hump. She had lunch in the little restaurant and, sipping her coffee afterwards, decided to purchase the place. It wasn’t a life she would have designed, but at least it was a life, it had purpose and parameters. There was even a bonus, a lover who came with the deal, the tall sunburnt fishing guide and transport captain, Maywell Hope.

Maywell had come to Dampier Cay by the purest of chance – he was born there. So was Lester Vaughan, retained at the Water’s Edge as gardener and general handyman. The two had actually been fast friends as boys, and as young men they had shared many evenings at the Royal Tavern, consuming vast quantities of rum in honour of their ancestors. Then, you know, events had taken place. Maywell Hope no longer drank; Lester claimed he’d given it up but too often would return to the bottle. Lester would disappear, sometimes for days on end, and, when he turned up again, most often could be found sleeping it off in the tiny cemetery beside the pale blue church.

There are three more people to meet. These people came neither by chance nor by design – or perhaps more accurately, by a combination of the two. What I’m getting at is that these three came because Dampier Cay was where it was, and they had reason to believe they might encounter something there, something most people take great measures to avoid.

Editorial Reviews

“It's brilliant; I loved every page of it. It has a lovely lightness, the words and characters, and it manages always to be funny and real.”
—Roddy Doyle

“Lovely and amazing …. A stylistic tour de force; readers will be — yes — blown away. Galveston is a novel of great compassion; Quarrington does a knockout job of conveying to us the importance of every human breath.”
Quill & Quire
“Paul Quarrington takes readers into the eye of a storm.”
The Ottawa Citizen
“Buy Galveston right now, but save it for a rainy day–a really rainy day. Paul Quarrington’s ninth novel (and one of his best) is a terrific, brilliant, near-perfect piece of vacation reading for that inevitable low in every holiday when black clouds gather, the sky turns to thunder, plans fall apart and a paper world is preferable to the real one. Galveston will keep you engrossed page by page until daylight fades, the power goes out or a bottle of wine gets the better of you….”
—T.F. Rigelhof, The Globe and Mail
“His characters are drawn just to the edge of believability and treated with wry humour and dry wit…. Quarrington expertly creates extraordinarily visual imagery of storms and approaching hurricane, and effortlessly weaves the weather around the turbulent lives of his characters.”
The Calgary Herald, Sarah Deveau, 15 May 2004

“Quarrington has a dark side…in Galveston, the darkness is more apparent than ever. So while there are times when the catastrophe does get laid on a bit thick, Quarrington, who invariably writes about misfits, writes about them wonderfully here. He lets his characters voice all their screwy and occasionally bang-on pronouncements on fate, luck, regret, loss and God’s silence…. Everyone talks about the weather, another old saying goes, but no one does anything about it. Well, Quarrington has: he’s written an engaging and intelligent novel about it. Put this on the back cover of the next edition: reading Galveston is more fun than watching the Weather Channel.”
The Montreal Gazette, Joel Yanofsky, 15 May 04

“In a startling tour de force of comedy, tragedy and wry observations on the nature of loss, guilt and sorrow, Quarrington’s tale delivers a wallop like a gale-force wind. Loose as a fable but taut as the need to survive, Galveston is a rollicking depiction of man versus the cyclone within…. Quarrington…writes cinematically and the tension evokes the harrowing noir of Key Largo or the explosive ride of Twister. The magnitude of deadly force fills the pages and reading it becomes a storm watch itself.”
The Citizen’s Weekly, Richard Wagamese, 16 May 2004

“But throughout all of Canadian literature, there remains one constant truth: There’s odd, and then there’s Paul Quarrington odd.”
—Corey Redekop, Winnipeg Free Press, 16 May 2004

“His lean, masterful prose is slicked with irony and can raise a smile.”
—Rebecca Wigod, The Vancouver Sun, 9 June 2004

“Paul Quarrinton’s sense of humour definitely lies on the quirky, even bizarre, side of life…. Galveston’s humour is a veil over the astonishing grief that human beings can endure. Quarrington makes you laugh, but also slams you in the solar plexus.”
—Candace Fertile, Times Colonist, 20 June 2004

"A terrific novel, as impressive for its compassionate inquiry into the psychology of obsession as for its remarkable narrative urgency."
—Barbara Gowdy

Praise for The Spirit Cabinet:
“No one gives humanity to life’s oddballs as well and as sensitively as Paul Quarrington.”
—Roddy Doyle

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