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Fiction Satire

The Spirits Up

A Novel

by (author) Todd Babiak

McClelland & Stewart
Initial publish date
Oct 2021
Satire, Ghost, Literary
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2021
    List Price

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Warm, witty, and unsettling all at once, here is an unforgettable story of a family desperate for something to believe in.

Benedict is an inventor whose life’s work is a clean energy machine. It has just made him an overnight sensation and his family is suddenly wealthy. Benedict’s wife, Karen, and his teenage daughters, Charlotte and Poppy, are proud of him. But there are problems Benedict is too busy to see: Karen is deeply unhappy in the marriage and contemplating an affair, Charlotte, who is dealing with a chronic illness, is growing more and more distant, and Poppy is cracking under the pressures of her social circle. And there’s another problem. Benedict holds a rather terrible secret about his clean energy machine.

Then, on Halloween night, an accident threatens to make everything far worse for the family. The accident kicks off a series of hauntings in their beautiful, historic home in affluent Belgravia, and the ghosts make it clear that they want something from them. Karen has to save her daughters — and herself. Meanwhile, Benedict is consumed by the knowledge that he has to achieve the impossible by Christmas. As time ticks ever closer to the revelation of his secret, he spirals further into despair . . .

The Spirits Up is the story of a family haunted by the charmlessness of middle age and the cruelties of modern teenage life. Part social satire and part contemporary ghost story (with a hint of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol), it is an exploration of a timeless question: what happens when there’s nothing to believe?

About the author

Todd Babiak is an award-winning author, journalist and screenwriter. His second novel, The Garneau Block, was a #1 regional bestseller, a longlisted title for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the winner of the City of Edmonton Book Prize. His third novel, The Book of Stanley, is in development for television. Babiak is a columnist for the Edmonton Journal and on the board of PEN Canada. Visit his website at

Todd Babiak's profile page

Excerpt: The Spirits Up: A Novel (by (author) Todd Babiak)

She pulled the Christmas tree from the web-strewn place in the corner. Karen hated artificial trees but this was the one that used to go up in their basement in Edgemont, her tree. The proper one, the white spruce, was always upstairs. Her father decorated it with a ladder. When he disappeared and they had to give up the house to pay some tiny percentage of his debts, the plastic tree, her tree, was the only tree. Her mother died and the six-foot miracle of moulded plastic carried the childhood she most longed for, her true child­hood, before she knew. And for Benedict, an artificial tree from 1989 made the most sense: nothing had to be cut down and the plastic was already in the ecosystem. Last year she had sprayed organic silver fir essential oil on the fake branches to manufacture a hug of nostalgia.

It was not a heavy box but it was awkward to drag up the stairs. A third of the way up, she heard the ping of her phone over Nat King Cole. Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. She crawled over the busted Sears box and ran up the stairs, hoping it was Jak. It was Poppy, advising her they would stop at Starbucks on the way home. Did she want anything? An eggnog latte? Karen did not want a latte and she did not want her daughter, who was struggling with her weight, to spend six dollars on five hundred gooey calories either. Midway through each of the responses she crafted, she erased the words. In the end, she simply wrote, “Nice thought but no thank you.”

She gulped what remained of the Pinot Gris in her glass, slid her phone into her back pocket, and walked back down the stairs. The tree box was not where she left it, and it had not slid down. The box wasn’t there at all. Karen stood at the bottom of the stairs. “Dad?”

The only answer she could hear was Nat King Cole singing in the kitchen. Karen walked back across the basement floor and looked into the rec room. She used the flashlight on her phone to illuminate the space. There it was in its place in the corner. A large dollhouse, two boxes of stuffed animals, Lego scenes, and other toys and games Charlotte had always found irrelevant and Poppy had outgrown were shoved against the back wall next to the Christmas tree along with boxes of children’s books Karen could not bring herself to donate or trade.

No intruder squatted there in the spiderwebs.

Karen sat on the floor. She was sure she had pulled out the Christmas tree, had lugged it halfway up the stairs, but the Pinot Gris had fogged her up. She had imagined it, like she had imagined her dead father upstairs in Charlotte ’s room. She concentrated on the dollhouse, on the beautiful books she had read to the girls. When they were forced to move to some boiled meat apartment building in the welfare part of New Westminster, there would be a reckoning. She did everything she could to slow it down, to live in the present tense, but her girls were nearly grown and this secret shrine to their childhood was essential. Maybe a storage facility? The Nat King Cole album ended and the house was silent apart from the mechanical groan of the furnace.

Editorial Reviews

Praise for Todd Babiak and The Spirits Up:

“A perfect novel for the fall season, from the spooky season to the festive.” —Toronto Star

“A family tormented by the past, a house terrorized by supernatural vandals and a holiday threatened by ghastly apparitions — Todd Babiaks’ new book, The Spirits Up, has all the hallmarks of a good Christmas ghost story.” —Edmonton Journal
Praise for Todd Babiak and The Empress of Idaho:

“If Gillian Flynn, Richard Ford, Vladimir Nabokov, and John Irving got together to write a novel, they would come up with The Empress of Idaho. Plan ahead before you start—once you do, you will not be able to stop.” —Cathal Kelly, author of Boy Wonders

“Todd Babiak’s writing is so perceptive and witty, his characters so thick with life that you’ll find yourself carried along the novel’s twists and turns . . . Part dark comedy, part thriller, and part coming-of-age tale, The Empress of Idaho is a kaleidoscope of masterful storytelling.” —Amy Stuart, author of Still Mine

“An achingly tender read shot through with Babiak’s humour and grace, this novel charms you as it haunts you. I could not put it down.” —Claudia Dey, author of Heartbreaker

“Babiak skillfully develops his characters and their connections in a manner which reveals their individual depths. . . . A powerful, unsettling novel.” —Toronto Star

“Babiak has created a wholly believable boy on the verge of manhood . . . The Empress of Idaho is a brave book. [A] challenging and compulsively readable novel.” —Quill & Quire

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