In this provocative, genre-bending page-turner that transcends time and science, a young man's quest to find his missing sister will catapult him into a dangerous labyrinth of secrets.
After several years of drifting between school and go-nowhere jobs, a young man is drawn back into the big city of his youth. The magnet is his beloved older sister, Grace: always smart and charismatic, even when she was rebelling, and always his hero. Now she is a promising graduate student in psychophysics and the centre of a group of friends who take "Little Brother" into their fold, where he finds camaraderie, romance, and even a decent job.
But it soon becomes clear that things are not well with Grace. Always acerbic, she now veers into sudden rages that are increasingly directed at her adoring boyfriend, John, who is also her fellow researcher. When Grace disappears, and John shortly thereafter, the narrator makes an astonishing discovery in their apartment: a box big enough to crawl inside, a lab rat, and a note that says "This is the only way back for us." Soon he embarks on a mission to discover the truth, a pursuit that forces him to question time and space itself, and ultimately toward a perilous confrontation at the very limits of imagination.
This kinetic novel catapults the classic noir plot of a woman gone missing into the 21st century city, where so-called reality crashes into speculative science in a novel reminiscent of Danielewski's House of Leaves. Three Years with the Rat is simultaneously a mind-twisting mystery that plays with the very nature of time and the story of a young man who must face the dangerously destructive forces we all carry within ourselves.
About the author
Research and writing fiction are how I spend my time. Currently I’m a Neuroscience post-doc at Harvard and finishing up a Creative Writing MFA at the University of British Columbia. I’m also usually involved in the music scene of whatever city I’m living in.
- Short-listed, Kobo Emerging Writer Prize
- Long-listed, Sunburst Award For Excellence In Canadian Literature Of The Fantastic
Excerpt: Three Years with the Rat (by (author) Jay Hosking)
The drapes are closed and only a little pale light filters in around their edges. I can see down the front hallway into part of the kitchen and living room. A blanket is neatly folded over the edge of the couch. Everything is tidy and unused, but it smells stale and musty and dead.
I take a few more steps. Grace’s Bachelor of Science degree, framed on the wall. The standing coat rack, still buried under Grace’s jackets and shawls and scarves. The homemade shelf lined with their indecipherable textbooks. The only photograph John kept, its kitschy frame taken off the wall and now resting on the coffee table. And a flashlight sitting next to the photo.
It quickly becomes clear that the apartment hasn’t been occupied in months. The refrigerator is a dank shock of rotten, twisted shapes and jars greening with mould. The garbage can is still full of John’s bloodied bandages. Though the apartment has been tidied one last time, the front closet remains jammed with newspapers. Bedding for the rats.
It takes me a couple of minutes before I realize what’s wrong with the space. My attention is narrowed, grasping for strangeness in the tiny details, and the obviousness of it only comes to me when I sit on the arm of the couch for a moment. I breathe in sharply.
The door to the second bedroom is open by a few inches.
I stand and walk to the door, press my fingertips against the wood. The oversized key is in the deadbolt. John installed the lock and I strongly doubt he would have provided the landlord with a key. Why am I still holding my breath, trying not to make a sound? I push my arm out and the door swings open, bumping into something soft before the knob hits the wall. The toes of my shoes are on the threshold of the doorway. There is a faint division in the carpet, with the pile in the living room lighter than the bedroom. I step inside.
The room is very dark and the light switch next to the door doesn’t do anything, so I flip open my cell phone for light. My eyes can’t understand the shapes inside. Some large piece of furniture dominates the centre of the room, all right angles and hardwood. I make my way around it to the covered window, peel the duct tape from the wall, and pull away the cardboard. Daylight floods in and for a moment I cannot see.
In the centre of the room is a wooden box that is large enough to house a person, perhaps five feet in every direction. I circle it. The box is made from six identical, sanded pieces that seem to fit together without nails or hinges. The only noticeable feature is a handle at the bottom of the panel that faces me. Otherwise it is a perfect, symmetrical cube without any knots or imperfections in the wood. I have seen the materials of this box but never imagined what it might be when put together. It is a marvel.
The rest of the room is no more comprehensible. A smaller version of the box, another perfectly sanded cube of wood, sits atop a TV-dinner table in one corner of the room. Instead of a handle, one of its sides has a hole lined with black rubber, and an additional slat leans against the table. Piled on the floor are little cloth pouches, their openings drawn tight with strings. They look like bags of marbles. Between the door and the wall is a large burlap sack with something dark spilled on the carpet around it, and next to it are some discarded tools.
And last, I see the small table near the door. On it is a hardbound, sky-blue notebook, and resting on the book is a handwritten note. It is John’s writing.
I’m sorry to put this on you. It was my fault, all of it, and it was supposed to be mine to deal with. Don’t stay in there too long. Take the photo, the light, and one of those pouches with you. If you don’t see anything right away, it can always be taken apart and put together somewhere else. This is the only way back for us. Thank you.
Some vague story begins to thread its way through the last two years of my life.
I put down the note and look at the large wooden box next to me. I reach down for its handle, first pulling outward without luck, then upward. The side of the box slides up a little and creates a crack of darkness at the bottom. I look down into that space, see movement, and jump back. A moment later I realize that it’s reflected light. The floor inside the box is a mirror. I tug on the handle again and the slat slides up by a few feet. The interior of the box is empty but completely covered in mirror, without frames or borders, the edges of the glass connecting seamlessly with one another. The entire inside of the box is reflective surface.
I leave the second bedroom, pace the living room, open and close the fridge, sit down, stand up. I look into the master bedroom, then the washroom, but my thoughts are only of the box and John’s written request. I curse at myself and wring my hands. On the coffee table is the framed photo, John and Grace on the day they moved into the apartment. They are smiling without re- serve and I can see myself among the friends in the background of the picture. I grab the photo and flashlight and walk back into the second bedroom.
I work swiftly. The picture frame comes apart without difficulty and I pocket the photograph in my hoodie. I pick up one of the small pouches and it is full of some malleable material. A quick inspection of the large sack on the floor reveals that it’s full of soft dirt. The pouch goes in my other pocket. I glance into the box, and after brief consideration I go back to the pile of tools. There I find the hammer, silver and shiny, and feel calm with its weight in my hand. I take one last breath, a pause to consider whether I am doing the right thing.
Then I crouch and step inside the box, using my fingertips to gently lower the open face until I am enveloped by an overwhelming, total darkness.
Shortlisted for the 2017 Kobo Emerging Writer Prize, Speculative Fiction Category
One of the NP99: National Post’s best books of 2016
One of Booklist's Best Crime Novels of 2017
“Three Years with the Rat is a mind-warping thriller that will make you question reality as you conceive of it. One of the most assured and haunting debuts I've read in recent memory.” —Blake Crouch, author of Dark Matter and the Wayward Pines trilogy
“Complex like David Mitchell. . . Three Years with the Rat is a taut work of sci-fi noir with undertones of Paul Auster’s eerie New York Trilogy.” —Maclean's
“Smart and spooky…Hosking grounds the fantasy and philosophical speculation firmly in a detailed version of Toronto in the early 21st century, and his plot bounces nimbly among the three years of the title, answering questions earlier chapters raise while opening up new ones. The ending pays off all the preceding buildup, pulling narrative strands together with satisfying finesse while venturing into new territory.” —Publishers Weekly
"Neuroscientist Hosking turns in a startlingly fine performance with his first novel, about a man so determined to find his missing sister that he risks his own reality to solve the mystery of her disappearance. It’s quickly apparent that this is one of those mind-bending thrillers in which time and space are fluid concepts, but Hosking draws us in completely to his labyrinthine narrative." - Booklist
“A remarkable blend of mystery, family drama, love story, and time travel narrative, Jay Hosking's debut novel is masterful indeed.” —Annabel Lyon, author of The Sweet Girl
“A dark and imaginative novel—Hosking is unafraid to venture into strange and undiscovered territory. Intellectually adventurous.” —Charles Yu, author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe
“An envious debut. Memento meets Looper with a touch of Ray Bradbury. Time will slip by as you read this story... and that will only frighten you more.” —James Renner, author of The Great Forgetting
“Hosking confidently unravels time, friendship and memory in this eerie debut novel, exposing the lies we tell to protect ourselves and the stories we use to survive.” —Andrew F. Sullivan, author of Waste and All We Want is Everything
“An up-close and personal portrait of troubled genius, a mad scientist story for the new millennium, Hosking offers up a thought-provoking distillation of the private lives of high-achievers in a story that confronts its characters with a mysterious manifestation of their ambitions, desires, and vulnerabilities — a compelling and unsettling book.” —Lee Henderson, author of The Road Narrows As You Go
“Hosking’s time-looping tale deftly teases the reader with well-deployed reveals and intrigues with elegantly limned science-fiction ideas ... [his] prose is limpid and tonally sophisticated; he’s a graceful wordsmith as well as a cerebral idea man...A potent, sophisticated combination of science-fiction novel and psychological thriller.” —Kirkus
“Ambitious and mind-stretching.” —Quill and Quire
“A psychological revenge tale and a fantasy of interdimensional proportions.” —The Globe and Mail
“Succeeds brilliantly, drawing us completely into a labyrinthine narrative.” —Booklist
“A really gone girl…A potent, sophisticated combination of science-fiction novel and psychological thriller.” —Kirkus