A taut, masterful novel of friends and enemies, family and fate, and the relative nature of freedom.
When Myrden returns to his tough St. John’s neighbourhood after fourteen years in prison, he is swarmed by old friends and enemies, and a wife who hasn’t exactly been waiting for him. A cruel twist of fate has made Myrden famous: any wrongfully accused man released after such a lengthy incarceration is soon to be rich.
He clings to his young granddaughter and an old love, hoping his coming settlement can free them from the cycles of revenge and failure that have marked his life. But old scores are not so easily left unsettled.
Written in abrupt prose that brilliantly reflects Myrden’s cautious evaluation of everyone and everything in the overwhelming outside world, Inside pulls the reader forward with the quiet, creeping gravity of Greek tragedy. It is a story about the best kind of friend, the life a man can’t believe he deserves and the value of trying, no matter how doomed he seems to fail, to bring hope into the lives of those still worth loving.
About the author
Kenneth J. Harvey recently won the prestigious Raddall Atlantic Fiction Prize and is the author of several novels, including Shack: The Cutland Junction Stories, The Flesh So Close, Skinhound: There Are No Words, The Woman in the Closet, Brud (Little, Brown), and Nine-tenths Unseen (Somerville House). Harvey has held the post of Writer in Residence at both the University of New Brunswick and Memorial University. He lives in an outport in Newfoundland.
- Nominated, Scotiabank Giller Prize
- Winner, Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize
Excerpt: Inside (by (author) Kenneth J. Harvey)
They had made a mistake. They had realized. Everything he had moved through. The trail behind him. The institutional walls that kept him. The day in and day out. The tangle of men. It was meant to go away.
Each step he took from his cell to the admitting office was fixed in his memory. Years of what was there and what wasn’t. If the thought came to him. He’d shut it off. The things that were missing.
He tried not to feel himself moving. Tightened up against each action. Refused to see the eyes set steady on him. Being led toward 9 a.m. Release.
He had sat in the same admitting office fourteen years ago. He had taken in every detail then. Went spitefully through the process. Money and valuables removed. Receipt signed by him. File started. Name. Address. Next of kin. Religion. Offence. Photo taken. Strip search. Shower in the stall across the way. Clothes returned to him. Cell assigned. His mind troubled by the process for months after. Picking it over, again and again. Impossible to make different.
Now, he was in that room again.
The sheriff handed him the receiver.
“Hello,” he said. The feel of the phone in his hand was something he did not like.
“Hi, Poppy. I see you on TV all the time. You’re famous. You’re coming home, right? I can’t wait to see you.”
Her little voice. Tears blurred the floor where he was looking.
He said few words because words were hard for him after all this time. Then he hung up.
The sheriff gave him his belongings and, with a bowed head, said: “This way.”
He left the admitting office. Saw the shower stall across the corridor. He should be made to take one now. Before they let him out. Clean him off. Scour him. But it didn’t happen. Only what came in mattered.
He followed the uniform through the locked door and across the yard. The high walls topped with coils of barbed wire. The towers with guards in them when he first came in. No guards there now. Video cameras everywhere. Nothing moving in that yard. Just the two of them. Him and the uniform. He looked back at the windows. The faces there watching him go. Time dead in their eyes.
Up ahead, there was a female guard. On a wooden walkway behind a tall wire fence. She unlocked the gate to let them pass alongside the visiting area. Like a school portable when he was young. Then through another locked gate. Keys rattling. Through another door. Not made of steel or wire. A room made of wood instead of cinder block. The sound of it underfoot. Different air. Different mood. Almost normal. Easy. People waiting to visit. Ordinary people who could come and go. Outside life written all over them. The metal detector. Passing through. Thinking he might set it off for no good reason. The video camera showing the other side of the main door. The crowd gathered there in the parking lot. Moving around but silent on that screen. Waiting for his release. He saw the book for signing in and out. Resting on a ledge. The different signatures. He passed by the visitors. They watched him move. Like they had never seen a man move before. He listened carefully. Edgy. Waiting to hear the buzz of the main door. He thought it might not come. The weight in his chest. His breathing. His shoulders aching. Trying not to show anything. Just another day. One exactly like all the others.
“They’re here about you,” the sheriff smiled toward the door.
The female guard was there. Just as the door buzzed. A hand on a button somewhere in the pen. That’s how it always happened. Fingers on buttons somewhere you did not see. Doors buzzing. The female guard leaned and pushed open the metal door. He would not look at her. She was smiling a little. Trying to mean business but be nice.
Everything came in. Everything went out. That one door opened to the outside. No handcuffs. Fresh air. Fresh noise and movement that hurt his ears and eyes. Everyone turned to face him. Came toward him. Almost rushed. No restraints. His body filled with warning. Muscles stiffening. His bundle of belongings tucked tighter under his arm. His big hands dangled by his sides. People in the crowd spoke his name right away. They called him Mister Myrden. All of them calling that name out. There were cameras and microphones. Just as there had been before he went in. Some of the same people. Standing there with changed faces. Everything else the same. The need in them still rabid.
The air was cold. There was wind out here. No walls for it to run up against. It stung his skin. He felt it in his hair. In his scalp. In his fingertips so they pulsed to his heartbeat. The landscape beyond the crowd stretched away. Further and further. Such endless height and distance. Dizziness in his head and stomach.
“Mister Myrden. Mister Myrden . . .”
His name again and again. And the push of them blocking his way so it was difficult for him to get through.
He was driven to his wife’s house by his son, Danny. Nineteen years old. The second youngest of five boys and one girl. The house belonged to someone else. He had no idea who. He never asked. He only knew that his wife lived there now.
He sat in the back because the front was too much for him. The big window. The movement of everything at once. It pained his eyes. He thought he might throw up. He watched out the door window in a daze. A smaller piece of glass. The view sharp and confined, framed there. And it kept going along. So many people outside. Moving around as they pleased. Nothing was stopping him. Holding him back. Preventing him.
The car slowed at a set of lights. A thin woman in a coat walked by. Glanced in at him. Nothing to hold her eyes there. Just another man sitting in a car. She kept going. Walking. Her legs a blur. He shut his eyes. He feared that it might be wrong. Opening his eyes, he looked over his shoulder. They were moving again. Cars and vans following him. The people in there all wanted to know what he thought. How does it feel to be a free man? What are your plans? Who really killed Doreen Stagg? Mister Myrden. Freedom. Plans. He watched toward his son. He saw Danny’s hand on the steering wheel, the tattooed words on his fingers.
Winner of the Winterset Award.
Named a best book of the year by The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Ottawa Citizen, Talking Books (CBC Radio), Canwest News Service, Ottawa Xpress, National Post, Amazon.ca and Quill & Quire.
"Why had I never heard of this phenomenal Newfoundland writer? . . . What can be done about this ignorance? Nothing, save to shout Harvey's name from the rooftops and tell you to buy this book. Inside is MARVELLOUS, STRANGE, BEAUTIFUL, SAD . . . always utterly potent. There is no other writer like him, Canadian or otherwise."
–The Globe and Mail
"Compassionate, endlessly inventive and daring, [Inside] is manifestly the work of a major writer, and one who single-handedly shifts our literary centre of gravity to the east."
"Inside is the kind of novel that brings temporary life back to such clichés as 'gripping' and 'page-turner' . . . . There is no small irony in the fact that the emotionally blunted Myrden will probably stand as one of the more vivid and full-blooded characters of all the Canadian novels being published this year."
"Newfoundland writer Kenneth J. Harvey's latest novel Inside is a potent, at times punishing, prose masterstroke. It further cements Harvey's renown as one of Canada's most dynamic and daring writers. . . . Inside is a visceral, muscular and timely tale."
"Powerful and tragic. . . . A well-crafted tale of a man struggling to find redemption."
–The Works (UK)
"Inside is a gripping, moving story, and a strong follow-up to Harvey's The Town That Forgot How To Breathe, and Shack, a short story collection. . . . A great book and a real achievement."
—The Telegram (St. John's)
"There is an insistent, angry edge here that is unsettling and yet exhilarating, perhaps because we have all felt it. Inside feels like 12 rounds in the ring. Readers will emerge battered, but somehow invigorated."
—Quill & Quire
"A tough, unrelenting novel, thrilling and darkly eloquent and, in the end, a celebration of what life offers in even the harshest of circumstances."
—John Banville, Booker Prize-winning author of The Sea
"Edgy, redemptive and utterly compelling."
—Sandra Martin, Elle Canada
Praise for Shack: Short Stories (2004):
"Kenneth J. Harvey’s star is rising. . . . His writing is so darkly, massively powerful that it will likely sweep all his potential competitors away with inexorable, tidal force."
—The Globe and Mail
Praise for The Town That Forgot How to Breathe (2003):
"An eerie and gripping story, the work of an extravagantly haunted imagination."
—J.M. Coetzee, Nobel Prize-winning author of Disgrace