Annabel Lyon is one of the country’s most electrifying new literary voices. Written in tough, crystalline prose, these stories explore our need by turns to connect with the people around us, to pull back, to reach out again. When a struggling businessman adds an Adults Only section to his video store, he inadvertently gives his put-upon sister-in-law another chance at happiness. A baffled father does his best to understand the anxiety that keeps his thirteen-year-old daughter awake at night. The facts surrounding a murder become a tangle of contradictions when three teenagers each tell their side of the story. A man’s lifelong devotion to the girl abandoned to his care is not enough to save her from herself. As Lyon bravely delves into the gulf between what is said and what is left unsaid, she reveals to us the awkward and familiar gestures we use to fill our lives.
About the author
Annabel Lyon is the author of two books of adult fiction, Oxygen and The Best Thing For You. All-Season Edie is her first work for children. She lives in New Westminster, British Columbia, with her husband and two children.
Excerpt: Oxygen (by (author) Annabel Lyon)
The week Martin is off in Italy, she begins to eat like a student again. She sits on the floor in the honeycomb of glass cubes which is their house, chewing Mr Noodles and little red Spartans. The honeycomb clots onto a cliff over the ocean. To visit them, you take an elevator which sets you in their living room.
They are both lawyers, hence this business of the apples is unnecessary. But the way he slops food around, wine in the vegetables. His copper pans, hung and preening. He has taken an airplane to the opera.
“I have candles somewhere,” she had said. Martin sat in her apartment. They had just met. Martin didn’t like sitting on the floor, couldn’t settle his knees, but she had no chairs apart from the piano bench, which was tucked under the piano. She had an air mattress and a sleeping bag. She was camping.
He could not comprehend such a sad manner of living. But he also had an old small feeling of safety, something of heat and soap, sleep and lunch. Perhaps it was the novelty of clean light on a first night.
They live together, now: he and she and the piano. She had the grand when she had nothing – black and cocked, three brass feet. She lugs it everywhere, although her ambitions are ash and she now mocks her years of practice, under the tutelage of a hobgoblin named Flannery.
Her name is Hero. She knows the stories: Hero and Claudio, Hero and Leander. But she thinks her name is not more strange than Sita, say, or Miriam.
Sita was Martin’s first love. She and Martin have remained friends. She and Hero have become friends also. When she phones she says, “Hero! Here is Sita.”
Miriam, Martin’s ex-wife, would not go to Verona to sit on rocks and watch opera. Nor will Hero. “What is stopping you from going alone?” she asked him.
Something had been stopping him. Something should be stopping him, but he cannot think what. He has money and his firm owes him time. There are no kiddies to juggle, nobody is dying, there is no one out there in his life’s net who cannot spare him for a week.
Rome is a surprise. Martin expected rusticity, quantities of rough black wool, a certain sloppiness of breasts. Instead he spies trim young Romans, dark heads and pudding skin. They are uniformly slender, beautifully garbed, coiffed and shod.
Still, the city frets him until he cannot concentrate. Pigeons, beggars, priests – yes, yes. But Italian money is silly and all the famous sites look like pictures of themselves. Heat plaques him with sweat. He sees actual gypsies, a woman in the shadow of a column trying to breastfeed a child of three or four. The child’s blond head lolls, it has one pit and one eye. The city writhes with cats.
He thinks he could like it here in winter.
Sita comes to visit. She steps from the elevator in clothes the colour of sand, bringing pears and a pack of brown sugar. “I’m going to make you a crumble,” she says.
Hero eats a white slice of pear, luscious and gritty. She watches Sita whisk brown goo in one of Martin’s pans on a ring of his nubby blue flames. “Now, what’s all this,” Sita says.
Hero can’t tell if she’s talking to her or the goo. “He’ll be back,” she says, guessing. “It’s just for a week.”
“There’s nothing in your fridge.”
Sita’s husband is Salm. Sita and Salm own a restaurant called Pan-Pan. You can eat chocolate things there, also bamboo and curries. It’s a narrow, fashionable restaurant with one table in the window. Rich schoolgirls go there for Darjeeling at dusk.
The crumble is warm and lovely, fragrant with cloves but not too sweet. The women eat. Sita, washing up, will not hear of help, so Hero watches the afternoon movie on the big blue television. The movie is in black and white, with serious men in hats and trench coats shooting at men in black cars, and women with hats and furs looking weepy and pouring drinks and explaining at great length about someone named Floyd who never showed up. They all sipped their drinks and said that Floyd was certainly a rat.
“Come look at this,” Hero calls to Sita.
Sita comes and perches on the arm of the sofa, watching.
“They have little ladies’ guns in those handbags,” Hero says. “For delicate shooting.”
“I might have a baby,” Sita says.
Why does this make Hero so happy, so carbonated with pleasure? Of course the baby is Salm’s. It will have damp black hair and a baby’s goofy giggle. Sita will be an excellent mother. “You will be an excellent mother,” Hero says. “What’s this ‘might’?”
“Can I use your phone?”
Martin and Hero almost met at Pan-Pan. They sat back to back, alone, alone. Hero listened to Martin and the waitress, who seemed to know one another. She brought their black coffees and bills at the same time. They bumped chairs getting up and smiled like good people, but Hero busted their groove by going to the washroom.
“Can I use your phone?”
Last night he phoned from Italy. She said, “Here we are, speaking across vast distances.”
“No, no,” he said. She understood he was not talking to her. “Si, no. Go away.”
“Are you on the street?”
“I just ate melon,” he said. “I have to go line up soon.”
“Good!” she said encouragingly.
Hero and Martin met on the pavement outside Pan-Pan. Martin waited, slowly decking himself with scarf, gloves. It was not the first time he had seen her there. He would have spoken to her, suggested they sit together, but for Sita, his happy mother owl.
“I have candles somewhere,” she said a little later.
And now she lives in his house, this Hero, this peanut butter brunette who once, when he had flu, made him a citrus salad with squashy hunks of grapefruit, orange and lemon.
“Can I use your phone?” Sita says.
“Almost every line in Oxygen contains a secret treat – the tart heart of a candy; an undetonated hand-grenade.…Lyon tattoos the page like a born wordsmith – in indelible ink, in dizzying colours.…Inhale Oxygen with caution; it’s like a dangerous new drug.” —Zsuzsi Gartner
“Impressive.…Take-your-breath-away stories.” —Michelle Berry, Globe and Mail
“New pinpricks of light appear constantly, and whole galaxies come into view. . . . Her prose is as sleek and hardpacked as a good argument.” —National Post
“Lyon is like a jeweler, arranging bits of story into hard brilliance.…Oxygen is diamond-sharp.” —Uptown
“Annabel Lyon is so sparky and wise. She writes of sadness and of menace, but with a heady lightness. The people in her stories breathe. Their dialogue sasses. If Oxygen were a songbook, it would be jazz.” —Caroline Adderson
“A bravura performance. . . . Lively, funny, and impassioned. Oxygen is caffeinated writing, in the best sense.” —Quill & Quire
“Lyon’s versatility shines through in both form and content. . . . [The stories are] virtuoso feats of wordplay that show a writer willing to experiment boldly with language. . . . An impressive debut.” —Toronto Star
“A taut thread of unspoken tension runs through each densely crafted world Annabel Lyon creates.…She neither sugar-coats, nor takes us by the hand, but gives it to us straight.…Lyon is indisputably an artist, not to mention a painstaking and exacting craftsperson.” —Vancouver Sun
“Oxygen demonstrates why [Annabel Lyon] has left the country’s literary elite breathless.” —Elm Street
“Her prose is riveting.” —The Danforth Review