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Fiction Literary


by (author) Margaret Macpherson

Signature Editions
Initial publish date
Mar 2012
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2006
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Mar 2012
    List Price

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A yellowed newspaper clipping about a recently released prisoner who has saved a drowning boy triggers a wrenching journey into memory for middle-aged Ruth Callis, forcing her to confront the events of her past and, ultimately, her own act of forgiveness.

Growing up in the far North, Ruth is attracted to the young missionaries working in her town and becomes increasingly involved in the activities of their evangelical fundamentalist church group. Much to the dismay of her long-suffering parents, she turns into an adolescent zealot.

When Ruth moves south to go to university, life becomes less simple, answers less obvious. She becomes involved with Ian, an older man who is unemployed, alcoholic, obsessive, and increasingly volatile. What at first seems exotic becomes more and more frightening. The devastating relationship forces Ruth to re-examine her own twisted ideologies.

A book of rare emotional honesty, Released reveals the selfishness of the so-called righteous, the intense cruelty of human beings, and their divine capability for real love.

About the author

Raised in Yellowknife, now Denendeh, NWT, Margaret Macpherson quickly got an education in the outside world travelling extensively in Europe, Australia, and Central America before settling into an English Lit undergraduate degree at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton in the early ’80s. Macpherson wrote for periodicals and magazines (as well as being sole employee of a Halifax volunteer-run leftist bookstore) during her eight years in Atlantic Canada. In 1988 she and her husband moved to Bermuda where Macpherson worked as a full-time reporter.

Returning to Canada in 1992, Macpherson embarked on a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from UBC and completed the program as a visiting grad student at Edmonton’s U of A. She published a few contract non-fiction books as well as a biography of firebrand Nellie McClung Voice for the Voiceless in the early 2000s, but it was the publication of her short story collection Perilous Departures that launched her literary career. A first novel, Released was nominated for a Manitoba best book award in 2009, followed by a second novel Body Trade which won the De beers NorthWords Prize for Outstanding book in 2012.

Meanwhile, Macpherson formed an extraordinary network of creatives in Edmonton where she acted as a fiction editor of the Other Voices literary journal, became a driving force in the Alberta Branch of the Canadian Authors Association, and later, was elected the AB/NWT Rep for The Writers’ Union of Canada.

While living with her partner and three (occasionally four) children during her middle years, Macpherson worked as a theatre arts editor for the alternative press, and was hired as Writer-in-Residence for the Edmonton Public Library system. She taught creative writing at King’s College University, the U of A Women and Word program, as well as through Edmonton’s Metro continuing education. She also supported her writing by teaching high school English Literature at Northern Institute of Technology (NAIT) while juggling a number of mentorships with younger (and older) writers though the Writers Guild of Alberta.

Macpherson paints, travels, laughs long and often, and continues to explore and record the mystical communion of living things. She has recently moved to Deep River, in Northern Ontario, to begin her third act with her life partner.

Margaret Macpherson's profile page


  • Short-listed, Mary Scorer Award for Best Book by a Manitoba Publisher

Excerpt: Released (by (author) Margaret Macpherson)

I knew they wanted me to shed my family, but I knew in my fickle little heart that I was just not ready for that. I guessed I loved them too much and I was going to have to work on trying to unlove them. The shedding of my clothes had really been pretty easy. I set myself a harder task. Not as hard as shedding the family, it was true, but hard enough. I started wrestling with the problem of food. Sure, it was one thing to get rid of my material possessions, but what about my chubby body, proof that I led an undisciplined and privileged life? None of Jesus' apostles were fat, although I was still holding out some hope for Bartholomew, the one who'd replaced Judas the traitor. I was thinking it was possible, just possible, he'd been on the chunky side. I'd never seen him in the pictures of the disciples that illustrated my brand new Bible. He wasn't at the famous feast either, the last supper, where all they ate was bread and wine together. He was probably somewhere else, having crackers and water, dieting, to be more holy than the others so he could be chosen when they needed a new disciple to make up an even dozen.

He had a fat-sounding name, the type of disciple who might laugh a lot, right from the centre of his big belly. I imagined Bartholomew as an opera singer or a jolly pub owner, even though my version of him had no scriptural basis.

The scriptures were everything, according to the Fellowship of the One True Church of God. And even though it didn't actually say thou shalt not be overweight, it was there in the Bible.

Aaron and Terry, who now led Wednesday Bible studies together, had pointed it out to me. Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, they said. You have to learn to treat it with respect. What I heard them say was quite different. I heard, Ruth, you're fat. God doesn't like fat people. Every time the temple thing came up, I felt disgraced and self-conscious. The Holy Spirit had a lot of room in my temple, that was for sure. It was more like a hotel than a temple, a kind of rundown hotel at that, with no one staying in it because it had a reputation of being a bit on the fleabag side. The Holy Spirit would be wandering around in my hotel thinking what kind of place is this? It's so huge.

I wasn't actually even sure if the Holy Spirit lived in my body. I thought He visited from time to time, but actually lived here, no. Why would He? I was too fat. And the Evil One tempting me with chocolates had made my face break out in pimples.

I wondered if the Holy Spirit was too embarrassed to live in my fat body. I knew I wasn't created that way. I was created to be perfect and it was only my greed and gluttony that had made me so huge and unappealing to the Holy Spirit. I knew He lived in the bodies of some of the people in the Fellowship, the fit, sleek people who didn't ever smoke or drink or eat pizza or chocolate. Their bodies were like spas for the Holy Spirit. I imagined Him relaxed in there, dressed in some sort of toga and lying on one of those chaise lounge thingies, poolside. In those clean small bodies he was able to manifest Himself whenever the occasion arose.

I decided to give up food. Jesus had, hadn't He? Forty days and forty nights He spent in the wilderness, drinking only water, preparing Himself for the crucifixion. If He could do something like that for me, surely I could do something like that for Him.

I didn't tell anyone at first. It was between God and me. I wanted to prepare myself for the End Times, which were coming. I wanted to prepare my body to become a temple for the Holy Spirit so He could shine through me as a testimony to truth in the last days before the Second Coming.

"Watch and pray, people!" shouted one of the super Elders from the pulpit. "Watch and pray, oh people of Zion. The End is coming soon. Watch and pray."

"Watch and pray and don't eat," I repeated to myself, sitting in the pew, wondering if the visiting Elder's head was going to explode, he was so worked up and red-faced. If Jesus was coming back to claim His own I wanted to be light enough so He could lift me up at the end of the world. I knew that all the true believers would be taken away in the Rapture, before the wrath of God rained down on the sinful world, but I was a little bit scared that I wouldn't go up with the saints, my being so big and all. Stopping eating would help that, too. Help me get taken away in the twinkling of an eye.

I knew the End Times were upon us and the Rapture was soon. I figured the Second Coming was two years away, three tops. I had to be in good spiritual shape to take what was coming, according to the Fellowship. Persecution. People would laugh at us. Maybe even revile us or hit us. Count it all joy, my brethren. Count it all joy. That's what they said. I was going to count it all joy, too, but first I needed some assurance that the Holy Ghost was going to take the hit for me. Otherwise, how could I count it joy?

Editorial Reviews

Good versus evil, coming of age, first love -- all articulately presented in a gripping narrative...what more could you want in a novel? Edmonton's Margaret Macpherson has published non-fiction (Nellie McClung: Voice for the Voiceless) and short stories (Perilous Departures), and her story-telling skills are now impressively showcased in Released, her first novel published by Winnipeg's own Signature Editions. It's the story of Ruth Callis, the youngest of five children who, remarkably enough, grow up in a happy home. Macpherson splits her narrative into two alternating accounts, one giving the trials and tribulations of Ruth's growing-up years, and the other dealing with her love affair, at age 20, with Ian Bowen, a somewhat mysterious fellow 16 years her senior. At the most critical point of the novel, the two accounts converge.

The Callis family lives in a Northwest Territories town, where the father works for a gold-mining company. Though the mother doesn't exactly like it up North, she hasn't let it embitter her, and the kids seem to get along well with both parents. Much is made of Ruthie's childhood dental problems and the family affectionately calls her Toothie. She seems well adjusted, and she has at least two good friends, one of whom is an aboriginal girl called Jax. Ruthie's innocence and gullibility become clear in this latter relationship, but Jax doesn't take advantage of her. Later, though, when Jax is no longer around, Ruthie -- at age 14 -- falls under the influence of the local evangelical church, and the young men who call themselves Elders. "If I ever wanted to be like them," she muses, "I was going to have to start getting serious about the stuff around me." Meaning she should divest herself of her possessions. And so she puts together a bagful of her clothes and gives it to the thrift store in town. She also starts to fast, believing she'll only be acceptable to God when she loses weight. Brainwashed as she is, Ruthie is unruffled by her schoolmates who call her "Jesus freak," and she fails to see the harm the Elders may do to her -- but, eventually, she does.

Meanwhile, in the parallel narrative, the older Ruth, now at university in the Maritimes, goes to a bar one night and meets Ian. "I'm not the type to fantasize about kissing a stranger, but it happens like a brief shock, a pop-up cartoon picture of us kissing, my tongue touching that plump lower lip." Ian has a past he doesn't speak about but, impressionable as she is, she feels as wholeheartedly attracted to him as she once was to God. It's only a matter of time until Ian will disappoint her, but Ruthie seems unable or unwilling to read the warning signs -- she has to experience whatever Ian has in store for her. One of the best sequences tells of their hitchhiking trip to Sudbury, where her parents are now living -- and to Toronto. Macpherson packs a wallop with her scenes of violence, but even after those, poor Ruthie seems to want to see some good in the person if not the deed.

The author opens and closes the novel with Ruthie's situation some years after the events of the story, a frame that seems rather unnecessary to the book's effectiveness, just as Ruthie's sojourn to Australia seems tacked on. But, as a whole, Released is absorbing -- you're pulling for Ruthie no matter what she does. This is an accomplished and ultimately satisfying first novel.

Winnipeg Free Press

Other titles by Margaret Macpherson