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Fiction Siblings

Half Life

by (author) Krista Foss

McClelland & Stewart
Initial publish date
Mar 2021
Siblings, Contemporary Women, Coming of Age
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Mar 2021
    List Price

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A raw, absorbing, tender, and witty novel about a woman's long-overdue reckoning with memory, truth, and the multiverse of familial love.

Elin Henriksen is a middle-aged single parent under pressure. Her formidable mother's health is declining, her fearless teenage daughter wants to leave but won't say where, and the new high school principal has problems with her unorthodox teaching of physics.

And then there is the upcoming ceremony at the Art Museum. In ten days, a gallery will be named after her late father, Tig Henriksen, a modernist furniture designer whose sought-after cult pieces hide a troubled narrative. With a mixture of anticipation and dread, Elin prepares to reunite with her once-estranged siblings--Mette, a free-spirited singer-songwriter, and the serious, emotionally distant architect Casper--hoping they'll finally grapple with hard truths they've so far refused to accept.

In the countdown to the event, as her daughter's risk-taking mounts, her mother's fragility intensifies and strange packages land on her doorstep (including a yellow-eyed dog), Elin's only relief is confiding to a dead physicist.

Struggling with the paradoxes of truth and clarity, love and witness, genius and ambition, and her own ambivalent connection to her confessor, she inches toward confronting not just the explosive potential of memory but the costly fallout of silence.

Told with dazzling insight, intelligence, and compassion, Half Life is a beautifully rendered story about family truths and the profound human need to be believed.

About the author

Contributor Notes

KRISTA FOSS's short fiction has appeared in Granta and has twice been a finalist for the Journey Prize. Her first novel, Smoke River, won the Hamilton Literary Award. She's an award-winning essayist who has worked as a bartender, journalist, and teacher. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia and lives in Hamilton, Ontario.

Excerpt: Half Life (by (author) Krista Foss)

Bets has chosen a café-diner in Cudahy just beyond a row of puddlers’ cottages with an easy atmosphere and comfort food. It is intimate and appealing, the kind of place you’d go to break up with a lover or fire an employee, because a scene would be so conspicuous here, and if he or she left in a huff, it would feel okay staying, finishing their meal and yours.

Sitting across from each other, Elin and Bets are over-polite. They comment on the heaping plates of food being delivered to a couple at the bar. Elin pretends to be interested in the quirky art on the walls, the decent wine and beer list, the strangely uncomfortable chairs, and a display case of homemade pies.

But what she thinks about, with a rash-like itch of fear and curious hurt, is the large brown envelope sticking out of Bets’s purse.

Elin can’t see how she missed it, with her new obsessive mailbox checking.

They are relieved when a server who is a few years older than Bets arrives and takes their drinks order. Elin reminds herself that the kinds of good things she’s wanted for her daughter also come in envelopes.

While Bets studies the menu, Elin takes another peek. The face of it—with return address, postal marks, logos— is turned away from her. All she can see is the envelope’s perfectly intact tongue, neither dimpled nor torn, folded over the top end. This is so like Bets, this meticulousness, opening an envelope without destroying any part of it. How can it not be something precious to her, some fulfilment of a secret wish?

Over and over, Bets has said, I’m travelling. I’m starting in London and then I’m wandering Europe for a while. If my money lasts, a whole year. The ticket’s bought and paid for.

Elin has not believed her. Ideas change. Money never lasts as long as you want. Those European capitals, so enthralling at first, gradually weary travellers, ultimately disappoint. (Though she’s never been, Elin has overheard another teacher say as much.) Moving around can be lonely and fail to elevate. Now, at least she has a fallback; the envelope’s shaped for something serious and grounded: adulthood.

The server is back with their drinks and asks if they’d like to order. Elin has her eyes on the menu, but nothing is registering. Where? she wonders. Which school? She’s hoping for science. All those hours coaching Bets through binomial theorem and differentiation. And physics: the subject for which she had the most help, and which caused the most tears.

Mom? Are you ready?

Elin senses the server shift impatiently from one foot to the other, and eye the door where new customers enter.

I’ll give you a few more minutes.

Pasta special.

Elin blurts it. Bets will wait until the ordering is done before she starts a conversation about the envelope.

Anything to start?

She wants a salad, but its delivery will be another interruption. But then Bets orders a starter, something with hot cheese and rosemary bread cubes, that will postpone the substance of their conversation until later.

There’s a palpable hollow in the server’s cheeriness. Her eye twitches with impatience. Restless, Elin thinks. This is not where she imagined being at this stage in her life.

Editorial Reviews

Praise for Half Life and Krista Foss:

“Every sentence is alive in this miraculous novel—one in which the listening ear of Niels Bohr bends towards an aspiring physicist, where history walks beside science, and where a world ‘undaunted by paradox’ exists only in theory. What do we believe, and who, and why? How do we continue if denied the love entwined with belief? What if forgiveness itself becomes a lasting injury? Krista Foss has a vast heart. She is a stunning writer.” —Madeleine Thien, author of Do Not Say We Have Nothing

“This is the most beautiful novel I’ve read in a long time. Each chapter reveals new treasures: holographic, exquisite, shattering. I read it with wonder. Krista Foss is an artist.” —Sarah Selecky, author of Radiant Shimmering Light

“A sensitive portrayal of one woman's attempt to find her place in the world, while grappling with the decades-long fallout from a family rift. Emotionally complex and beautifully written, Foss's Half Life is a tender exploration of the perils of silence and the power that can come from speaking the truth.” —Saleema Nawaz, author of Songs for the End of the World

“Krista Foss wields language with the precision and beauty of a shard of glass, delicate yet knife-like. With intelligence, wit, and uncanny insight, she explores the complexities of family dynamics gently and viscerally, like a tongue probing an aching tooth. Half Life is a mesmerizing novel about the chain reaction set off by the choices we make, the stories we tell ourselves, and the secrets we keep.” —Amy Jones, author of Every Little Piece of Me

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