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Fiction Small Town & Rural

Lives of Short Duration

by (author) David Adams Richards

afterword by Alistair MacLeod

McClelland & Stewart
Initial publish date
Sep 2011
Small Town & Rural, Literary, Family Life
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2011
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Apr 1993
    List Price

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The Terris are engaging people, but they are a family in collapse. Alcoholism, drugs, and loveless sex have reduced them to a petty and wasted bunch. Worse, they typify aspects of the larger community besieged by financial woes and by creeping economic and cultural Americanization.

What David Adams Richards accomplishes is no mean feat: his characters are at times vicious, sleazy, and even outright dim, yet he manages to entitle them to the interest and sympathy of the reader.

Even more now than at its first publication in 1981, Lives of Short Duration’s sharp, essential insights have significance for readers seeking to understand the modern Canadian predicament.

About the authors

David Adams Richards was born in Newcastle, New Brunswick. His celebrated body of work has earned numerous awards and accolades to date, most notably for his prose, poetry, novels, and screenplays. All examine the fundamental conflict between individual conscience and truth versus community, history, and perceptions.

Adams Richards recent novels include River of the Brokenhearted (2003), a depiction of a family whose fortunes rise and fall with the success of its movie theatres, The Friends of Meager Fortune (2006), an exploration of the dying days of the lumber industry, which won the Commonwealth Prize (Canada and the Caribbean), and The Lost Highway (2007), a suspenseful story of greed, betrayal, and Murder. Lines on the Water, about fishing on the Miramichi, won the Governor General’s Award for non-fiction in 1998, making Richards one of a very select group; he is only the third person to win Governor General literary awards in two different categories. The first novel in his Miramichi trilogy, Nights Below Station Street, received the Governor Generals Award for fiction in 1988. Mercy Among the Children was co-winner of the Giller Prize in 2000. It has also won the Canadian Booksellers Association Libris Award for both novel of the year and author of the year in 2001.

David Adams Richards, né en 1950 à Newcastle, au Nouveau-Brunswick, est un auteur prolifique : il a fait paraître treize romans, un recueil de nouvelles ainsi que trois essais. Son succès critique et commercial ne cesse de s’accroître. Le roman Road to the Stilt House a été mis en nomination pour un Prix littéraire du Gouverneur général en 1985, et en 1988 l’auteur recevait cette même distinction pour Nights Below Station Street, premier volet de sa trilogie du Miramichi. Evening Snow Will Bring Such Peace a été primé par la Canadian Authors Association en 1991, et trois ans plus tard, For Those Who Hunt the Wounded Down a valu à Richards la récompense littéraire Thomas Head Raddall Atlantic Fiction Prize.

Les œuvres plus tardives de Richards sont tout aussi bien reçues par la critique. En 1998, son essai Lines on the Water sur la pêche à la ligne dans le Miramichi est honoré du Prix du Gouverneur général, et il se place dès lors au sein d’un groupe enviable : il est seulement le troisième auteur à obtenir la prestigieuse récompense dans deux catégories. En 2000, Mercy Among the Children [La Malédiction Henderson] remporte ex aequo le Giller Prize et, en 2001, la Canadian Booksellers Association récompense Richards du Prix Libris dans les catégories roman de l’année et auteur de l’année. Parmi ses romans les plus récents, on compte River of the Brokenhearted (2003), les hauts et les bas d’une famille au fil des succès et des défaites d’une salle de cinéma; The Friends of Meager Fortune (2006), qui explore de la fin de l’ère de l’industrie forestière, qui a valu à son auteur le Prix du Commonwealth pour la région du Canada et des Caraïbes; et The Lost Highway (2007), une intrigante histoire d’avarice, de trahison et de meurtre.

David Adams Richards' profile page

Alistair MacLeod was born in Saskatchewan in 1936 and raised in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. He has published two internationally acclaimed collections of short stories: The Lost Salt Gift of Blood (1976) and As Birds Bring Forth the Sun (1986). In 2000, these two books, accompanied by two new stories, were published as Island: The Collected Stories of Alistair MacLeod. In 1999, MacLeod's first novel, No Great Mischief, was published to stellar critical acclaim. The novel won the Dartmouth Book Award, the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award, The Trillium Award, the CAA Award, and the Canadian Booksellers Association Libris Awards for Fiction Book of the Year and Author of the Year. In 2001, No Great Mischief was awarded the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, one of the world's most prestigious literary prizes.

Alistair MacLeod's profile page

Excerpt: Lives of Short Duration (by (author) David Adams Richards; afterword by Alistair MacLeod)

Child of mine
child of mine

Came the song.

Georgie’s girl was pregnant. She was going to pack her suitcase and leave forever, money or no money. But Georgie kept shouting: “We got her all – eh there Lois?”

The girl cursed. She kept looking at her feet. There were bugs about her.

Lois said: “Georgie, you just shut yer goddamnable mouth, we’re having a party.”

“Money or no money,” the girl managed to say. Lois looked at the girl, her undernourished body. She was three months pregnant, her thin arched back hooked so that the spine showed. It was late. Under the floodlight they’d set up the flies were buzzing. The men George had invited to the party had taken sides in the argument, a few for George and a few for the girl – actually a few more for George because it was his party. It was his house also, now. The roasting pit still crackled with flame.

One of the men said: “Georgie can burn the bridge if he wants – its not up to her. Well, let me ask a civil question, is it up to her or is it up to George? I say it’s up to Georgie – eh Georgie?”

Lois watched.

“No arguments,” she shouted. “We’re having a goddamn party.”

Her blouse was opened. You could see the rose tattoo above her left breast and her hair was up in twenty curlers. From her tight shorts. But George wasn’t going to argue. With a swing at his girlfriend, just to show who was boss, he walked onto the span that crossed the river carrying a canister of gasoline and a pig’s head impaled on a stick. Everyone was yelling. The pig’s head, with its relaxed grin impaled upon a spruce stake that Georgie had cut, had grinning eyes (as if it too was happy to have itself cooked and eaten – you might so think anyway). And then George with his medallion jiggling, singing:

Pearl Pearl Pearl – oh don’t you marry Earl, He will lay you on your back and he will twiddle with your ———

Oh Pearl you are a ——— girl.

On into the night.

“George, you jeeser, we’re tryin to have a good time,” Lois yelled.

The long span shuddered when Georgie walked on it, and underneath the river silent, still swelled with rain water.

The body of the girl shivering.

“Money or no money George,” she said. “You act crazy – I’m leavin.”

George waved his fist at her and poured gasoline over the span.

“Get back here George – or ya’ll get no more wine from me, boys oh boy,” Lois said.

“Yes – come on back here Georgie,” one of the men said. Donnie was running along the opposite shoreline. He was yelling: “Oh – Lester isn’t home he isn’t, Lester isn’t.” His voice, his arms waving.

“Lester isn’t home –”

The men all looked confused now. George himself looked confused. But he tried to light a match. The span swayed – you could hear the ropes. Leona, the youngest of Lois’ three children, ate a piece of pork, with her pretty party dress on, her hair in bows. Across the river, along the hollow, the American camps. The Americans had come up from the pools for the evening, one, a professor of theology from Maryland, having taken a four- pound grilse from Simon’s pool in the dying moments of the evening. You might think. It was dark. The rain that had sent them into the house had stopped, yet water still lay along the summer hedges, the smell of lilac.

“Get me some toilet- paper,” George said, as if he were angry.

“I have no paper to get ya,” Lois yelled. “And none of you jeesers make a move for paper,” she yelled to the men. Some were wanting to go for toilet- paper and others weren’t. George was at the centre of the span, the pig’s head tilted. Under the bridge the pleasant moving shadows of water.

“Some just like to take charge,” George yelled. “But I’m going to burn down this span if it takes till doomsday – doomsday, you hear me – doomsday.” And then the song, “Oh Pearl Pearl Pearl,” coming and going with the rhythm of the pig’s swaying head.

“Goddamn George, you ruin everything,” Lois shouted.

“But ya aren’t ruinin my fun, you hear that – you aren’t ruinin my fun.”

Slowly with a furl and then a bright purple rush along the walkway the gasoline caught, and Georgie laughed: “Got it done – got the job done boys.”

Lois herself gave a yell, lifted her left leg and kicked at the air. Georgie’s girl was crying. The fire brightened her hair, shone against her. George ran as the span caught, veering this way and that, his own shirt- sleeve on fire – him laughing, the pig’s grinning head swollen.

George stood with his mouth opened slightly. The spruce splay the pig’s head rolled on, careened in the centre of the span. All Lester Murphy’s buildings, his gazebo behind the brick wall with pagoda lights, took on in the flaring withering flame a dormant oppressive shape, and then eerily was blackened out as the fire grew. Little by little you could see the span swaying, fire creating wind, then sinking. Donnie waved.

George took his wine, picking it up out of the dirt behind the roast pit, and walked over to the porch. He giggled slightly, then became quiet. Donnie walked back and forth on the other side of the river.

“Fuckin retard,” George said when he noticed him. Then he looked at his grand- daughter, still sitting with a piece of charred pork in her hand, chewing unconsciously.

Georgie’s girl – a girl he’d managed to bring home when he came back from some city or other last summer – a girl who’d grown up in town 30 miles below here and whose own parents had kicked her out until Lois had won the $50,000 on Atlantic Loto and she’d invited them here for a champagne breakfast, stayed near the riverbed, her arms wrapped about her stomach, the faded beach- robe like the thousands of garments somehow boughten to be needless. At intervals, and quite suddenly, she’d look up at the fire, her face betraying a childish enthusiasm.

“And you went to technical school – and what in God’s name did you do in technical school except smoke dope?” George said under his breath, watching that roast pit that still somehow had the flavour of lukewarm blood. Lois stood, her hands on her thighs, her shoulders tilted backward, watching the fire and shaking her head. Four men stood at various distances from each other, but all somehow in close proximity to Lois.

“Bradley,” Lois yelled. “Bradley – you little jeeser, where are you?”

“I’m not doin nothin,” Bradley said.

“Ya – well get the hell away from those marshmallows – we aren’t going to have any marshmallows tonight.”

“Why not?”

“Because we aren’t – because we aren’t.”

She shook her head.

“Some span, eh boys,” George said watching it. He grunted, was quiet. There was a smell of grease; some plywood boards floated along the water like vessels in distress crying from bow and stern.

“Didn’t I say I was gonna burn that – didn’t I say when I moved inta this place I was gonna burn that?” George turned about, moving slightly on his hips. He kept mashing his hands together – looking at them they seemed like strange powerful things. He shrugged, picked up a strand of grass, blew on it, made a sound and turned to Leona, who was staring up at him. “That’s what ya do when ya fart eh,” he said. The little girl in her happy party dress, with the very words happy party dress written upon it, that Lois had picked up for her, chewed quietly and looked across the river.

“We got a fuckin arsonist across that river,” George said.

“You know what my teacher says, Uncle Georgie?” she said.

“No – what does yer teacher say?” George said, still looking at his hands, smelling them. He seemed confused and touching his leg quickly he took his hand away and looked at it.

“My teacher says – she says I’m the most wonderful little creature, I’m the most splendid little creature, and I got four stars.”

“Me hands Jesus near burnt,” George said suddenly. He grunted, shook his head.

The men stood like Toms in heat all at a distance from each other, staring at Lois, whose breasts were visible in the flashes of light, who still kept her hands on her thighs, one heel arched.

“Yes me hands burnt, dear,” he said to Leona. “And where’s that Packet,” he said suddenly, in fury. “Eh, where is your uncle Packet – ya know where he is eh, oh oh oh, I could tell ya where he is, off with the squaw Emma Jane Ward, who should be strangled she’s such a knowitall, strangled up, thumb prints on her, leave her on the road, what I say – and who did Little Simon get all mixed up with, follow around like a sick dog before he died – eh, boat- people girl, that’s right – boatpeople girl – oh, thought she was too good for him, much too good – for my son – yellow cocksucker, ya see her all yellow, stinkin yellow – yellow bum on her, dear – yellow everything – and that jeesless Packet wouldn’t come ta no party – too good ta come ta any parties, even though his own flesh and blood goes around throwin parties, just like when I was in Toronto and he passed right through there – oh for Jesus sure, and now who’ve we got? Ya see Little Simon that day after he went and bought the one a present and she laughed right in his face, right up his gob and then went to work at McDonald’s, which is good enough for the bastard, but I know – can’t help but know, ya know what ya know – how in cocksucker can we get jobs in this country if they’re lettin those no- nourished Pakistanis and Cambodian Jiggiboos in – I met a woman in TO – oh the very best of a place that cocksucker – makes disposable diapers, says they’re all up there now makin disposable diapers, every one of them and she got so screwed up listenin to them talk that she missed the handle on the press and cut about nine fingers off, and Packet – burnt my hand dear, smell it,” he said, holding his hand to her face.

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