About the Author

Zsuzsi Gartner

Zsuzsi Gartner is the author of the critically acclaimed story collection All The Anxious Girls on Earth. A former senior editor at Saturday Night magazine, she is currently creative director of Vancouver Review's Blueprint B.C. Fiction series. She is the winner of a 2007 National Magazine Award for Fiction and the recipient of numerous awards for her magazine journalism. Her stories have been produced on radio in Canada and the U.S. Gartner has lived in Winnipeg, Calgary, Toronto and Ottawa and now lives in Vancouver, a utopian dystopia.

Books by this Author
Summer of the Flesh Eater

He moved in onthe Canada Day long weekend. As the children circled the cul-de-sac on their Razors and Big Wheels, like planes stacked in a holding pattern, he arrived with a U-Haul hitched to the Camaro and started unloading. No moving company, just him. He wore what’s commonly referred to as a “muscle shirt,” but some would call a “wife beater.” Stefan Brandeis noted that he hadn’t seen a grown man in cut-offs that tight since Expo 86. We later had a spirited debate about whether his was in fact a conventional mullet or ersatz “hockey hair.” The first thing he wheeled out of the U-Haul was a hulking, jerry-built barbecue. He seemed friendly enough. He flashed what Trevor Masahara called “a big, shit-eating grin” at those of us who’d gone over to welcome him with a pitcher of iced matcha tea spiked with Kentucky Gentleman.

“Shake hands with the Q,” he said, patting the hood of the barbecue as if it were a loyal hound, the half moons of his prominent cuticles edged in grease. Karlheinz Jacobsen’s wife later commented that he smelled a bit ripe and the other women made a show of fanning the air in front of their faces. Kim Fischer’s wife even enthusiastically snuffled Kim’s exfoliated pits like a truffle pig. At the time, it seemed they were being a trifle judgmental, but one thing we’d always appreciated about our wives was that they spoke their minds.

It bears mentioning that he did something else that first day as we gathered around his “Q” trying to make small talk. Without missing a beat, he reached down to rearrange himself inside his cut-offs. This is something we’ve never talked about, not even Stefan B. Some things are better left unannotated.

Afterwards, he sat down on his new front steps and drank beer straight from the can, wiping his lips with the back of his hand, exaggeratedly rotating his shoulders as if attempting to recalibrate himself. It had all been amusing at first, some kind of sideshow. Like having a Molson ad shot on your very own street. This was before the dog and the Dodge one-ton arrived.

That day is easy to recall with a great deal of clarity for another reason. We’d always been spared the smell from the rendering plant across the Burrard Inlet. But on July 1, there occurred a shift in the wind that continued unabated throughout the summer. The congealed odour of pyrolyzed animal parts would enter the cul-de-sac and then just hang there, as if snagged on a hydro line. It came and went, some days thankfully better than others. Can you smell it, we’d ask hopefully at the gelato shop two blocks away on Mountain Highway. Didn’t you smell it on Albermarle Drive as well, we quizzed our letter carrier, who took to pelting through her rounds on the cul-de-sac as if Cerberus were at her heels. It was difficult to believe we were the only ones in our North Vancouver enclave saddled with the almost gelatinous stink. There were days when even the leaves of the silver birches that edged the ravine behind our properties appeared to curl back from it. The cedars and the Sitka spruce, more stoic trees, stood their ground.

close this panel
Darwin's Bastards

Darwin's Bastards

Astounding Tales from Tomorrow
edited by Zsuzsi Gartner
also available: eBook
More Info
The Journey Prize Stories 18

There’s always a whiff of mystery, and perhaps even duplicity, to the work of literary juries — at least when viewed from without. All three of us have been there: the writer, nose pressed to the wrong side of the looking glass, marvelling at the machinations of those charged with judging our work against that of our peers. So we could lay down a bunch of jive here about the almost sinister alchemy that transpires when three headstrong lovers (and writers) of fiction meet to thrust and parry over which handful of stories, out of a dizzying seventy-five submitted to the Journey Prize this year (read blind, of course), ultimately deserve the limelight.

We could tell you there was blood on the floor.

We could tell you what we were looking for, checklist firmly in hand: Stories with sentences that flaunt and swagger, that seesaw and flirt, sentences you just might want to curl up inside of for a week; stories savage with wit and wisdom; stories that startle; stories that know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em; stories with complex emotional undertow, that have that requisite “X” factor — compelling the emotions as well as the mind. Although, to be honest, we didn’t know what we were looking for until we actually stumbled across it — but shhhh.

We could wax academical about themes. Why so many stories about babies, or fear of babies? About death and near-death? And why are the guys in these stories so weird, the small fry so preternaturally intelligent, the women so bloody-minded? Is it just us? The state of CanLit? Something in the non-medicated, organic beef jerky?

We could. But why try to connect the dots? As American writer Jayne Anne Phillips once wrote, “Any piece of fiction that really works is a perfect example of itself.” In other words, all the best stories are sui generis — they have no evil twins. Any confluence of theme here is accidental; we were seduced by particulars rather than universals.

So why not let the stories speak for themselves?

There’s Lee Henderson’s “Conjunctions,” a “Metamorphosis” for the twenty-first century: “As I awoke one morning from uneasy dreams I found myself back in grade four.” Hard to resist a story in which a grown man finds redemption while wreaking havoc in the carefully constructed schoolyard pecking order of a bunch of ten-year-olds.

Equally at ease with their own slant logic are Craig Boyko’s two stories: “The Baby,” a clever work that is as much a paean to the power of storytelling as to fatherhood, and “Beloved Departed,” a tour-de-force recasting of the Orpheus myth.

Clea Young’s “Split” is spring-loaded with tension, its sentences taut enough to hold a tightrope walker, as two old friends — one a new mother, the other hugely ambivalent about babies — talk about sex (“The organic track of Jed’s tongue like snail-glue over her body was enough.”) and who they used to be.

With “Cretacea,” Martin West has created a fully three-dimensional world for his acerbic, politically jaded, historically savvy Luddite of a narrator to ride shotgun over. The smartest political satire ever set in the Alberta Badlands.

The world’s tallest free-standing structure hovers like a sentinel in the distance over Heather Birrell’s “BriannaSusannaAlana,” through which bright urgency surges like an electrical charge as three sisters try to reconstruct what they were up to the day a murder was discovered in their neighbourhood.

And just when you thought the second-person singular had outlived its rather short-lived welcome, along comes Nadia Bozak’s “Heavy Metal Housekeeping,” a wrenching ode to the travails of motherhood and to the surprisingly delicate T-shirts worn by concave-chested acolytes of Metallica, Anthrax, and Megadeth.

That’s just some of them — thirteen stories in all (we’re not superstitious). And no blood on the floor.

close this panel
Show editions
close this panel

User Activity

more >
Contacting facebook
Please wait...