A dark, satiric novel about a woman whose attempt to escape crises in her health and marriage ends up causing more chaos.
Cat's career has stalled, her marriage has gone flat, and being a stay-at-home mom for two young kids has become a grind. When she finds out, all within a few days, that she is pregnant, that a lump in her breast is the worst thing it could be, and that her husband has done something unforgivably repulsive, she responds by running away from her marriage and her life — a life that, on the outside, looks like middle-class success. Her actions send waves of chaos through the lives of multiple characters, including a struggling house cleaner, a rich and charismatic yoga guru, and even an ailing dog. What follows is a dark comedy about marriage, motherhood, privilege, and power.
A RARE MACHINES BOOK
About the author
Nathan Whitlock is the author of the novels A Week of This and Congratulations On Everything. His work has appeared in the New York Review of Books, The Walrus, The Globe and Mail, Best Canadian Essays, and elsewhere. He lives with his family in Hamilton, Ontario.
Excerpt: Lump (by (author) Nathan Whitlock)
EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER 1
Baby Jessica is her sister Claudia’s little girl. She comes with bags of necessary things, jars and bottles and folded towels and extra outfits and comforters and diapers with pale green trees on the front. Cat watches her niece a couple of times a month, whenever her sister needs a break — a mental health day. But it’s the girl who needs the break. Baby Jessica, not quite two years old, is already in swimming, Song Circle, storytime at the library, baby yoga, and something called Creative Play, which happens in the large, open front room of a hippie mom in Claudia’s neighbourhood and involves parents lying on their backs with eyes closed while their babies climb over them like little dogs.
When Isabelle was a baby, Cat tried to do those kinds of things, too. She signed up for anything that looked enriching, that got her out of the house. Anything with the word creative in the name. She never lasted long. She couldn’t maintain the smiling, earnest facial expression that was required. She didn’t have access to the Encouraging Voice, which they were always being urged to use. She couldn’t pretend that all she ever wanted to do was sit on the carpet with her baby and sing about wheels on the bus or robins in the rain, or that she didn’t want desperately to be back at her job, surrounded by adults. The song that really bothered her was the one about Bingo, the dog with the disappearing name. The blank hiccup that gets bigger with each passing verse. You keep singing until the poor dog is entirely gone, clapped right out of existence. Cat preferred the one about monkeys jumping on the bed, and their mother who gets repeatedly scolded by the doctor.
“We try to avoid that one,” she was told. It reinforces the idea that mothers must defer to medical authority, that they don’t have the inherent wisdom to solve such a situation on their own. It’s condescending and paternalistic.
Baby Jessica doesn’t nap, which Cat finds sinister. Claudia says her wonderful baby started sleeping through the night as soon as she was weaned off the boob — though she says breast, not boob, believing they all ought to be past the point when anything to do with their bodies can be seen as shameful.
“I’m not ashamed,” Cat tells her.
“Yes, you are,” Claudia insists. “If you have to use all these cutesy nicknames, that’s what that means. Does Silas still say peepee instead of penis?”
Yes. And Isabelle used to refer to her vagina as her whizzo, her own invention.
Baby Jessica says ’gina the same way Donald Trump says China: hard and aggressive on the first syllable. Loud and proud. This my ’gina.
Cat calls Baby Jessica The Only Baby Ever. The only baby ever to take a step. The only baby ever to hug another child. For the baby’s first Christmas, Claudia sent out a custom-made card with Jessica’s globular face on the front, wreathed in bright gold. A singular cherub, the infant queen of the angels. The previous year’s card was an ultrasound image of Baby Jessica inside the womb, Photoshopped to look like she was inside Santa’s sack. The best gift of all.
“She knows we have two of our own, right?” Donovan asked Cat.
“Baby Jessica is of a different order,” Cat told him. “She’s The Only Baby Ever.”
“Isabelle or Silas will hear you say that and repeat it in front of your sister.”
“She’d take it as a compliment.”
Cat checks her phone. A job search site she signed up for in a moment of panic has sent her its weekly roundup of employment opportunities she is under- or overqualified for. Her mother has sent her a link to a story about the incidence of West Nile virus in southern Ontario, and another about plants that naturally repel mosquitoes. Cat has told her repeatedly that mosquitoes are not a problem in Toronto the way they are in Peterborough — the air is too dirty, the blood all wrong.
An email reminder that she booked a spot in a CycleFit class flies in like a bird. Just thinking about it makes her tired, but she worries how another no-show will appear to the other women in the class, women who see their schedules and routines as divine law, who talk about their children and their spouses (male and female) like they are partners in a small, successful firm. Cat gets home from those classes exhausted
from trying to not look frivolous. If, at the end of a session, she jokes that her ideal cool-down exercise involves lifting something in a glass with a long stem, her fellow cyclists-to-nowhere will move in on her.
Drinking alcohol can be so damaging after a workout, they tell her. If she wants, they can send her a list of restorative teas.
“Thank you!” she tells them, sweating, red as raw beef.
She fishes an extra-strength Tylenol out of the bottle in her bag, her third of the day — the bottle says four, max, so she still has some room left. She swallows the pill, washing it down with the chunky remains of a green smoothie she made for herself that morning. For months now she has been swallowing Tylenol like vitamin C. She refuses to Google the dangers of taking too much over too long a stretch of time, knowing that whatever information she finds will either be confusing or alarming. There is already enough to worry about. She has lost sleep over the appearance of new moles on her arms and back, her stomach is always upset, she is always tired, and the little lump on her right boob has gone from being a joke to a worry and back again so many times, she isn’t even sure where it stands now — a joke they worry about, or a worry they joke about, like the kids?
There are new pains, too. Strange, sudden bolts of hard lightning that shoot up her spine and down her arms. There is a deep, lingering pain in her lower back, like someone drugged her in her sleep and inserted something there as a sick joke, a quarter or a bolt or a rusty bottle cap. She kneads at it with her fingers, trying to dissolve the pain. When she stretches her arms high above her head, she has to catch her breath, as if that movement puts a fold in her lungs. Claudia finally convinced her to tell her doctor about the lump by bringing up the story of a woman from their old neighbourhood who, at the age of thirty-five and with a newborn baby, was found to be riddled with tumours and was dead within a year. Claudia barely knew the dead woman — she found out from something posted on Facebook — but speaks of her in a way that suggests the loss of a spiritual twin.
In her bag, next to the Tylenol bottle, is a slim box containing three unopened pregnancy tests, tiny magic wands with the power to see inside her, to detect new life. Her period is overdue by a few weeks. There is a question mark in her abdomen, a hollow space. All she has to do is pee on one of the little wands and the mystery is solved. But she fears this peemagic. Twice already she has brought the tests with her into the bathroom and sat on the toilet, holding the box in her hand, willing herself to unseal the package.
She shifts around the contents of her bag to hide the box.
Telling her doctor about the lump sparked a series of tests Cat is certain will answer none of her questions. The problem, she’s convinced, is her — her character, her existence — not any foreign or invading ailment. She is fundamentally wrong, lumpy to the core.
Lump is both a page-turner and a disquieting and complex take on marriage, illness, and privilege. Whitlock is wry, smart, and never boring.
Zoe Whittall, author of The Best Kind of People
With a lightness of touch that compares favourably with Tom Perrotta, Whitlock proceeds to explore heartbreaking reverberations caused by iffy motivations, rash decisions, and self-interested actions. Literarily, Lump is a captivating performance.
Lump is a dark exploration of marriage, parenthood, illness — and how trying to control the uncontrollable can lead to even more destruction. Whitlock’s approachable writing style makes this heavy story a breeze to read.
Rachel Matlow, author of Dead Mom Walking
I knew this book was going to be funny and sharp but I had no idea how devastating it was going to be.
Amy Jones, bestselling author of We're All In This Together & Pebble and Dove
An unflinching look at the limits of denial, Whitlock's latest will have you laughing and gasping in equal measure. I couldn't put it down.
Julie S. Lalonde, author of Resilience Is Futile
A deftly crafted, entertaining, original, and memorable novel.
Midwest Book Review
With wit and empathy, Whitlock skirts the simplicity of a villains-versus-victims narrative and instead gets at larger, more significant issues of power, privilege, freedom, and responsibility.
Quill & Quire, starred review
Lump is a wonderfully dark comedy, a look into marriage, motherhood, class, morals and privilege. It's smart, funny, and one of my favourites for the year thus far.
David, bookseller at Words Worth Books
To paraphrase Mo Willems, if you EVER find yourself in a Nathan Whitlock novel, LEAVE!! But reading one, as opposed to being a character, is a lot more fun. His latest, Lump, traces a downward spiral that went lower than I believed it could, which is why I was so gripped.
Kerry Clare, author of Waiting for a Star to Fall
Succession-level family dysfunction. Whitlock invites readers to witness Cat’s destruction, and boy are we along for a ride.
The Miramichi Reader
In Lump, things fall completely, often hilariously, apart for a seemingly perfect Toronto family. With a keen eye and plenty of verve and humour, Nathan Whitlock peels back the facades of a cast of urbanites to reveal messy truths, ugly appetites, and highly questionable decision-making.
Elyse Friedman, author of The Opportunist
Parenthood, money, marriage, illness — everyday mini-tragedies morph into snort-worthy comedy when put under Nathan Whitlock's microscope. Lump drives in shivs of self-recognition on every page, along with lines you'll want to share with the stranger sitting next to you on the subway.
Andrew Pyper, author of The Residence