#1 National Bestseller
Finalist, CBC Canada Reads
Finalist, Scotiabank Giller Prize
By turns savage, biting, funny, poetic, and heartbreaking, Megan Gail Coles’s debut novel rips into the inner lives of a wicked cast of characters, exposing class, gender, and racial tensions over the course of one Valentine’s Day in the dead of a winter storm.
Valentine’s Day, the longest day of the year.
A fierce blizzard is threatening to tear a strip off the city, while inside The Hazel restaurant a storm system of sex, betrayal, addiction, and hurt is breaking overhead. Iris, a young hostess, is forced to pull a double despite resolving to avoid the charming chef and his wealthy restaurateur wife. Just tables over, Damian, a hungover and self-loathing server, is trying to navigate a potential punch-up with a pair of lit customers who remain oblivious to the rising temperature in the dining room. Meanwhile Olive, a young woman far from her northern home, watches it all unfurl from the fast and frozen street.
Through rolling blackouts, we glimpse the truth behind the shroud of scathing lies and unrelenting abuse, and discover that resilience proves most enduring in the dead of this winter’s tale.
About the author
Megan Gail Coles is a graduate of Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador, the National Theatre School of Canada, and the University of British Columbia. She is the Co-Founder and Artistic Director of Poverty Cove Theatre Company, for which she has written numerous award-winning plays. Her debut short fiction collection, Eating Habits of the Chronically Lonesome, won the BMO Winterset Award, the ReLit Award, and the Margaret and John Savage First Book Award, and it earned her the Writers’ Trust of Canada 5×5 Prize. Her debut novel, Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club, was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and a contender for CBC Canada Reads, and it won the BMO Winterset Award. Originally from Savage Cove on the Great Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland/ Ktaqmkuk, Megan lives in St. John’s, where she is the Executive Director of Riddle Fence and a Ph.D. candidate at Concordia University.
- Commended, #1 National Bestseller
- Commended, A Globe and Mail Book of the Year
- Nominated, CBC Canada Reads
- Nominated, Scotiabank Giller Prize
- Winner, BMO Winterset Award
Excerpt: Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club (by (author) Megan Gail Coles)
Olive waits below the sad mural painted in memory of some long ago drowned boy.
She can see up and down Duckworth Street from her perch though there’s not much to see this early in the morning. A scattered taxi slogs by carrying fiendish-looking passengers who attempt to discreetly smoke from barely cracked windows. Discretion is a skill they have fallen out with but they don’t know that yet. They still fancy themselves stealth, piling four parka-plied humans into a single toilet stall, scarves dangling beneath the door, telling tails on them all.
Volume control is a thing of delusion in the confined spaces they inhabit. It will be years before this is fully realized by those who escape the scene or are thrown into adulthood by overdose or pregnancy. These lucky few will feel overwhelmingly, retroactively embarrassed by their one-time rock star fantasies. Olive can hear them bawling about their supposed betrayals as clouds of tobacco smoke and slurry syllables updraft skyward through the slightly parted window.
But Olive forgives them their make-believe follies.
They are no better or worse than most of the half well-off, half grown-up humans she has met. They are just flawed and vulnerable to the pitch. Olive is no different. She has chased the white dragon into smoky rooms where grad students complained about unkindly thesis feedback while wearing thousand dollar watches. A holiday-tanned winter wrist, a baggie held aloft, another Volvo fob serving key bumps round the ring. Under such circumstances, Olive is for the most part silent. She can pass for one of them until she releases language into the world.
Olive often holds her rural tongue for fear of being found out. She is not a card-carrying member of the townie majority. And rarely are there other fugitive faces for Olive to hide behind on nights when she wants to get on the go. There was a Mexican painter once. A Russian musician. There was the one Pakistani fellow whose name Olive could never recall. She did not think it was unpronounceable, she just could not pronounce it.
There are lots of words still beyond her reach.
Like Olive can think of no words to describe the pain felt where her pants nearly meet her feet. She winces and tucks her chin farther inside her coat. She tries to push her neck back to save from catching skin in the zipper. She sniffs back hard and swallows a slippery lob. Her grandmother would not approve of hoarding mucus in the body but her grandmother would not approve of much of what she does lately. Olive sighs and swells and swallows spit to slide the lob along.
Ollie my dollie, get a tissue.
Her grandmother’s voice is always a program running in the back of her mind. But Olive can’t sacrifice a tissue on mere mucus this morning. Her store of napkins is running low and the last time she tried to hock and spit the wind gust blew snot back onto her sleeve. The line of mucus running from her lips to her elbow turned her weak stomach over. A middle-aged woman in a bright blue Canada Goose coat muttered oh for the love of god as she hurried past the translucent boundary. This made Olive feel gross.
She swallows that gross feeling down again while she waits.
She can distract herself for a time from the damp soak settling in her heels by watching the craven-faced respectable people meander to their grown-up jobs after a weekend of pretending to be twenty-five. They are not twenty-five. They are not even thirty-five and feel as such. Most internally promise to stay home with the kids next weekend as they turn their faces to or from the sunshine depending on the quantity of painkillers ingested in the car. This temporary commitment to sobriety is bookended by revolving party systems.
Some relish vitamin D while others resent it.
The division will not last long, though, as the sun already has started to duck back inside the nimbostratus. It will storm again today as surely as the nearly forty will go out again in four days’ time. The babysitter will be called. The cat will be let in. They will flee their houses for a little look around.
Get the stink of house off ya.
They will reliably cloak this smell of domestication in alcohol and nicotine and self-loathing until Monday. Mondays are for quitting everything. Again. Except when it storms on Monday. Then quitting everything is pushed to Tuesday.
Today is such a Tuesday.
The weekend warriors refuse to sell out and so have fully bought in pound for pound.
Olive is just the same. She too had been sold the notion of party drugs as lazy fun and then fast gobbled them hand over fist. Swallow, snort, smoke; ingestion is an irrelevant matter of personal preference and ease. There is no wall to wall them out. Or in. Drug trends are trendingalong regardless of national media reports daily updating all on their progress east and upward. Olive has watched the same scenes play out on repeat in dark corners of the late night since arriving in Sin Jawns.
And they’ve gone and stashed the kits everywhere to protect against the siren call. A first line of defence kept behind wine bars. Under the bathroom sink. In purses. And Olive knows she must address the long list of reasons why self-medicare is needed to comfort her.
Although Small Game Hunting is often tragic and heartbreaking, its finale offers a glimmer of hope that we are invited to be brave and wait for. The hope that sees women, both tattered and changed by the work of male violence and power, not at a loss for agency or warmth. In the end, Coles’s powerful novel is a tale of resilience.
Early in Small Game Hunting, a Nigerian immigrant asks the heroine about her true origins: ‘You don’t look all white,’ he says. In other words, this is not your traditional Newfoundland novel of social isolation. Instead, Megan Gail Coles portrays the harsh existence of the islanders as emblematic of the human condition itself. The characters’ lives unfold around a fine restaurant. They are physically and emotionally crippled by their society’s devastating inequalities, the women psychologically maimed by repeated sexual assault. Coles’s narrator storms against the status quo in a kinetic novel that dazzles, challenges, and exhilarates.
Scotiabank Giller Prize Jury Citation
The lure of Coles’s often glorious use of language and the importance of reading books that do exactly what Small Game Hunting does — force the reader to face truths that have been hidden and swept away for far too long, to be made uncomfortable and prompted to think rather than be simply entertained — are reason enough to give this up-and-coming author’s new work serious consideration.
Quill and Quire
Beautifully fluid writing pulls the reader right in and keeps them gliding along. Fans of Rene Denfeld, Alice Sebold, and Eowyn Ivey will want to check this book out.
What recommends this novel most is the way its author stays with her characters’ hurt, how she holds it without reverence but understands how those wounds can motivate like nothing else . . . Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club is a dark, taut, funny novel that feels for its characters’ pain while remaining caustic toward the enablers and the kinds of violence that polite society allows.
Globe and Mail
A profound read, offering up perfectly crafted sentences in the thoughts of the motley cast of characters.