Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search

Fiction Siblings

Story House

by (author) Timothy Taylor

Knopf Canada
Initial publish date
Feb 2007
Siblings, 21st Century, Literary
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Feb 2007
    List Price

Add it to your shelf

Where to buy it


In his first novel, Stanley Park, Taylor brought readers into the inner workings of the Vancouver culinary scene, writing evocatively about everything from divine local ingredients to kitchen politics. In Story House, he takes on the rarefied world of architectural design – with some boxing, fishing and reality TV thrown in.

Graham and Elliot Gordon are half-brothers, six months apart, the only sons of Packer Gordon, a famous architect. Graham is the natural son of Packer and his wife. Elliot is the product of Packer’s dalliance with a mistress. The boys are openly hostile towards each other, always have been, and when they reach their mid-teens, Packer decides they will settle their differences in a boxing ring. He takes them to Pogey Nealon, a retired fighter who runs a gym out of the basement of his house on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. There, after eight weeks of training, the brothers box three rounds that will change their lives forever, as their father watches it all from a distance far greater than ringside: through the lens of his Bolex camera.

Some twenty-odd years later, both Pogey and Packer are dead, and it comes to light that Pogey’s house – the scene of Graham and Elliot’s pivotal battle – was likely an early design of Packer Gordon. Now deserted, the boarded-up building is home only to decades-worth of Pogey’s papers and film reels, and a slow rot that eats away at the walls. Graham is an architect himself, gaining recognition not only for his last name but his own work; he’s recently separated from his wife Esther and at a loss for how to make things work. Elliot is an importer of counterfeit brand-name products who works out of an old hotel on Hastings, and is married to a beautiful woman named Deirdre who gave up architecture to raise their young twins. The brothers’ paths have only crossed twice in the intervening years, and for both, that was twice too many.

In spite of their differences, which have only been magnified over time, Graham and Elliot agree to cooperate in restoring the house at 55 Mary Street, with enthusiastic help from the producer of the hit reality TV show Unexpected Architecture. It’s a seemingly doomed venture, but will make for great television. And as the plans for preserving Packer Gordon’s legacy begin to come together, there’s not only a surprising amount of collaboration, but cautious optimism that they might just pull it off. Yet nobody is prepared for what actually takes place when the cameras roll.

About the author

Contributor Notes

Now recognized by both reviewers and readers as one of Canada’s prose masters, Timothy Taylor took a somewhat unexpected route in establishing his writing career. After completing an economics degree at the University of Alberta and an MBA at the Queen’s School of Business, Taylor worked for four years in commercial banking, during which time he arranged to transfer from Toronto to his childhood home of Vancouver, where he still lives. However, Taylor had known since he was a child that he wanted to write, so he made the decision to leave his job and try to make a go of it, establishing his own Pacific fisheries consulting practice in order to give his new freelance writing career some stability.

As Taylor mentioned in one interview, it was all part of the slow process of developing himself as an author: “It’s difficult to have serious writing ambitions and run your own business at the same time. Both pursuits deserve your full attention, but writing won’t return a living wage at the beginning, so there are some hard realities.” Yet Taylor also feels that his writing has benefited immensely from his work in other areas: “I needed exposure to people in different fields with problems and issues and objectives outside the world of writing. If I had tried to start a novel in my mid-20s after studying creative writing, I can’t imagine what I would have written about. I admire people who succeed this way and, recently, I’ve met quite a few.”

During this time, Taylor began writing his first novel, Stanley Park, and also worked on his short fiction, which began to be accepted by literary magazines. This turned out to be a valuable step for Taylor, as he began to feel a part of the literary community. As he said in one interview, “For me, literary magazines were really important to how I ended up making contact with anybody whatsoever. Because, I think, for beginning writers the only dialogue you have going on about your writing – where anybody will actually talk to you – is the letter exchange you have with lit mags … And that conversation – you writing and submitting, and them writing you back this letter – represents this small dialogue, and it’s the only one you’re having.” The time spent perfecting his short stories came to fruition when Taylor’s “Doves of Townsend” was awarded the Journey Prize (Canada’s equivalent of the O. Henry Award) in 2000. Remarkably, he had two other stories on the competition’s final shortlist that year, and was the first Canadian writer ever to have three short stories up for the prize and included in the Journey Prize Anthology.

The following year, Stanley Park was published as part of Knopf Canada’s New Face of Fiction program, to outstanding reviews. (It was at this point that Taylor was finally able to wrap up his consultancy business and write full time.) The novel follows a food artiste named Jeremy Papier into the inner sanctums of Vancouver’s culinary scene, and Jeremy’s father, an anthropologist who camps out in Stanley Park to study homelessness, into the city’s underbelly. As one reviewer commented, “Taylor may be on his way to becoming the head chef of Canadian Letters.” Stanley Park was shortlisted for the Giller Prize, the City of Vancouver Book Award, the Ethel Wilson Award and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize.

That novel was followed by Silent Cruise, a spectacular collection of short fiction, in 2002, and Story House in 2006. Today, Timothy Taylor continues to publish stories in Canada’s leading literary magazines, as well as writing travel, humour, arts and business pieces for various periodicals and writing for film.

Excerpt: Story House (by (author) Timothy Taylor)

17 years before the ­beginning

Pogey remembered them appearing from nowhere. Ghosting into view. He remembered them like a punch he hadn’t seen coming: only later, when consciousness had ­returned.

He didn’t hear the car arrive on the street above, didn’t hear the gym door open up top, or feet on the stairs. He was working target mitts with one of the neighbourhood kids. ­One-­two. ­One-­two-­hook. ­One-­two-­hook with an uppercut. Again. Gloves slapping home in the basement air. The bell marked the round. Pogey turned. And there they ­were.

“Hey,” said the blond one. Chunky, with the colouring of indulgence, of a life spent on pleasure boats: light tan, ­sun-­bleached crewcut. Easy on the feet too, as if he’d been in the room before. As if he knew its dimensions and ­possibilities.

Pogey crossed over to the ropes. “Lessons are five an hour. ­Drop-­in fee is a buck.”

“We’re here to fight,” the kid said. “Each other.”

Fourteen, fifteen years old. Not train, not spar. ­Fight.

“You got a name, killer?” Pogey asked ­him.

Graham ­Gordon.

“And you?” Pogey said to the other. A different sort altogether, this one. Asian maybe. Lean, ­bony-­shouldered with long dark hair and hard eyes. With insolence etched in the smirk lines, in the bad posture. And yet that same quality, unhurried possession of his particular space such that Pogey found he did not dispute the ­claim.

“Elliot,” Graham said. “My brother.”

Which elicited a snort from the ­dark-­haired one as he dropped his gym bag and squinted around the room like a dubious matchmaker. “­Half-­brother,” he ­said.

Pogey took the stairs in twos. He found the third party to this transaction leaning against the front fender of a ­late-­model Lincoln Town Car, scanning the facade of the building. A ­six-­footer. Older than Pogey expected, maybe seventy, with a faintly squandered feel about him. Houndstooth jacket, ascot, white shirt, cufflinks like Scrabble tiles: one G, one E. ­Cigarette-­stained fingers and ­all-­concealing sunglasses intended for the unforgiving light of glaciers. These lenses lowered heavily on Pogey as he emerged, affording him the special discomfort of seeing, in reflection, precisely what was under hard ­appraisal.

“You’re Nealon,” the man ­said.

Pogey nodded. ­Squinted.

“Packer Gordon,” he said finally, lifting himself from the car and extending a hand. “I take it you’ve met my boys.”

First thing Gordon wanted to know was why there were clamshells littering the front steps and sidewalk in front of the building. The detail seemed to annoy ­him.

Crows, Pogey said. Crows that for reasons he couldn’t explain favoured 55 East Mary Street over all other buildings in the neighbourhood. For strutting and making a racket, yes. But also for the killing of dozens of razor clams daily, which they dropped from the eaves to shatter on the steps below. “But are we talking birds here, or about your two warriors downstairs?”

They had boxing experience, apparently. The younger one, Graham, boxed intramural at some fancy boys’ school in the hills. “Elliot,” Packer Gordon volunteered, “takes a more or less ­self-­taught approach to life.”

Decisive first instincts came naturally to Pogey. Still a ­flint-­hard welter in these his middle years, with 117 amateur fights behind him, he knew how to assess incoming risk. He knew about pulling the trigger. “Sorry, but I’m full up with kids,” he said. “We’re busy in the summer.”

Gordon motioned him close, dropping his voice. And Pogey, leaning forward, now caught sight of himself again, this time in the car’s side mirror, the white front of his own building, where he lived, where he’d run his gym for thirty years, sweeping upward and into the blue sky behind him like a temple, serene and attendant. Taut with ­judgment.

“They box,” Gordon said. “The problem is they prefer fighting.”

“Everyone prefers fighting,” Pogey said, still leaning in, voice low. “It’s easier.”

Which provoked a laugh. Packer Gordon liked that. “I’m an architect,” he said. “I’m aware of how much easier it is to release force than restrain it.”

Pogey straightened up, blinking. He remembered losing himself in the resumption of gym noise below. Someone rang the bell to start another round. Shoes shuffled on the concrete floors. The heavy bags began to groan on their turnbuckles. The speedbag winding out. All the machinery of fight school reeling again into motion. And, missing the moment for escape cleanly, he heard himself say only, “How’d you ever hear of Nealon’s Gym?”

Gordon blew past that question, on to terms, money and others. He wanted a closed gym. He wanted Pogey’s undivided attention paid to just these two. He wanted to set up a camera and film three rounds, the outcome of which would apparently settle all matters between the ­boys.

“I’m not letting a couple kids in my ring I’ve never even seen before.”

So they would train. So Pogey could assess them for however long he needed. So they would prove ­themselves.
Now a money clip was out. Bills peeled off in a way that suggested impulsive spending, often beyond available means. And Pogey was nodding as the cash whispered into his palm, nodding until Gordon had forked over more than Pogey could have hoped to collect in two months ­running.

“You’re telling me you want to rent my gym for the entire summer?”


Thursdays. Eight Thursdays. Pogey remembered they trained hard. He had them skip five rounds, do callisthenics five more, stretch, go for a jog. They didn’t pull on bag gloves until the second week, by which point he’d withheld the true business of boxing for long enough that they wanted nothing more than to curl their hands into fists, to feel canvas under the balls of their feet. All this while hardly a word of argument passed between them, no revealed schism. Only opposing energy that polarized everything within their ­field

Editorial Reviews

“Cities reflect the souls of their inhabitants, and nothing lays claim to the soul of a city more than a novel that uses it as a character…. Timothy Taylor does it right…. [He] knows Vancouver’s arteries and bones. His portraits of that spectacular city … are as complex and well-rounded as a Tolstoy character.”
Calgary Herald

“Taylor has a knack for imbuing his stories with lyric realism, unearthing beauty in the mundane and trivial…. Story House is never less than eminently readable.”
Winnipeg Free Press

“A writer with chops…. Story House is a mesmerizing novel, populated by strong, complex characters and driven by a multilayered plot that is both archetypal and completely original…. Although this is a serious work, there are short bursts of brilliantly funny writing that demand to be reread.… He clearly challenged himself to write a more complex novel than Stanley Park, and he succeeds in stunning fashion.”
The Vancouver Sun

"Taylor’s very good at conjuring vivid visuals, a talent played out in spades in the novel’s tragic final act. . . . Story House is a big, brainy novel. An ambitious project. . . . Taylor’s book [is] intelligently and solidly built."
The Globe and Mail

"Taylor is a master of the dramatic in medas res and abrupt transition. . . .tour de force writing. . . . Taylor harrows the house of the dead in gripping fashion; he deserves all his accolades, and then some."
National Post

"Story House reveals all of Taylor's hallmarks and strengths. No one writes about work with such attention to the minutiae. It's not merely getting the facts; Taylor enters the language and customs of distinct societies and reveals them with astonishing verisimilitude. He immerses readers in alien worlds. . . . Story House is a thrilling tour de force, a most impressive achievement of idea and implementation, of structure in service of function. It's architectural, really. And Timothy Taylor is one of very few writers who could have made it work so well."
Ottawa Citizen
Praise for Timothy Taylor:

“[Taylor is] one of the most graceful young stylists around… unflaggingly intelligent.”
“Taylor writes with the wonder and joy of a kid who has had his nose pressed to the candy-store window and all of a sudden finds himself inside, with one cautious eye glancing back over his shoulder.”
Georgia Straight
“Taylor reminds me of Munro: an edgier, hipper version. He has the miniaturist’s eye for telling gestures and objects, and a magical ear for cryptic dialogues about ordinary things … It was said of James Joyce that he could create a character by describing the way he held an umbrella. Taylor has that talent …”
The Vancouver Sun
“Timothy Taylor is a major talent who continues to make his mark on the Canadian literary scene.”
Times Colonist (Victoria)

“Taylor is a fine prose craftsman.”
—Andre Mayer, eye Weekly
Praise for Stanley Park:
Stanley Park is an assured debut that stands well above many first novels. Taylor is a writer of undeniable talent who has proven himself adept at both the long and short form, and whose wave will no doubt reach the shores.”
—Stephen Finucan, Toronto Star
“Timothy Taylor writes straight, strong, unadorned prose ... Taylor is as good as the American novelist Jim Harrison when it comes to writing about textures and tangs, colours and sensations.”
Quill & Quire

Praise for Silent Cruise:
“An intriguing collection of short fiction [from] a master stylist … Taylor’s use of language is exact. He has a gift for choosing exactly the right word to express an idea or an emotion, giving his writing a feeling of strength and precision. Each character rings true, enabling the reader to become engrossed in the stories. Silent Cruise is excellent writing and enjoyably hypnotic.”
The Hamilton Spectator
“Taylor has an obvious gift for plots, one of the storytelling arts that is irresistibly alluring, but which has fallen somewhat into disuse among short-story writers. These are page-turners, with dramatic turns of events and ‘hidden stories’ that are revealed in surprising, trump-card endings … Taylor is blessed with a prodigious dramatic imagination … Nearly every story Taylor has published has been singled out for some prize or honour, and this first collection affirms that he is more than just lucky.”
The Globe and Mail

Other titles by Timothy Taylor

Related lists