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Close to the falls

By kerryclare
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A list of books with Niagara Falls as a backdrop
The Petty Details of So-and-So's Life

The Petty Details of So-and-So's Life

edition:Paperback
tagged :

With her second novel, The Petty Details of So-and-so’s Life, award-winning and celebrated author Camilla Gibb probes the bruises of family with humanity, hilarity, and a keen eye for the grotesque to deliver one of the most anticipated books of the year.

A startling and ambitious novel, as funny as it is poignant, The Petty Details of So-and-so’s Life tells the story of Blue and Emma Taylor, who, despite an almost telepathic connection, respond to the sudden disappearance of their explosive …

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“I will make gashes on my entire body and tattoo it.
I want to be as hideous as a Mongol.
You will see, I will howl in the streets.”
-- Arthur Rimbaud, A Season in Hell

The Extinction of the Question Mark

A photograph. A single photograph. White borders blackened with the grease of family fingers groping at the only remaining evidence of themselves: a picture of a man kneeling on all fours in the dirt. He is drunk, he is thin, he is tired. He is Oliver Taylor, a man gazing at a camera like a bewildered animal caught in headlights, looking feral and fetal and altogether strange. It’s the middle of winter, but he seems to have adapted to the bitter cold. A white shirt hangs off his otherwise naked frame like a vestigial remnant of some earlier evolutionary stage; a time when business meant business and men wore suits.

They know he came from elsewhere -- emerged, devolved, transmuted from some earlier incarnation of himself -- because they remember when he lived in a house with a wife, two children, and a cat, and ate roast beef on Sundays and rice pudding for dessert. His wife was called Elaine, the cat called Frosted Flake, and they were those children -- Emma and Llewellyn -- Em and Blue for short.

They liked their roast beef bloody and dripping, and Elaine made the rice pudding with rich, flesh-toned condensed milk because that’s what Oliver’s mother had done during the war. Which war, Elaine never told them, even though they always asked. “The war during which your granny” -- that mysterious entity who lived on the other side of the ocean -- “used condensed milk,” she’d answer obtusely.

Emma and Blue grew up feeling as muddled about the history of the world as they did about their own ancestry. Having learned the futility of asking questions at such a young age, it’s a wonder the question mark didn’t become extinct. They fabricated answers to unasked questions in the rank and damp of the basement where they played “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.” They shared secrets and understanding as they crouched by the furnace with a face like a monster in the bowels of their house in Niagara Falls.

It was there that nine-year-old Blue pulled up his sleeve to show Emma the initials he’d carved into his arm with a homemade tattoo gun made from the broken needles of Elaine’s old Singer. Emma had turned away when he’d started to pull the needles downward through his skin the day before. She’d wanted to cry out but she didn’t dare because they were already in trouble. They often were. It was the middle of a Tuesday afternoon and they were hiding in a place infinitely superior to that space between a Formica-topped desk and a doll’s chair one was supposed to occupy in grades three and four.

Blue preferred wearing graffiti to scribbling it on bathroom walls. Emma preferred darkness to daylight. They both preferred being in the basement to most places above-ground, but it was there, on that day, that Emma stared at Blue’s baby-boy bicep and realized for the first time that she and her brother didn’t wear the same skin.

She’d thought they were identical. She’d thought they were both gap-toothed and lonely and saw all the same things, even though her eyes were grey and his green. She had no idea that while she was staring at the horizon like it was icing on a cake at the edge of the world, Blue was squinting in order to avoid staring directly at all that he saw.

But they had always been different. Emma was a round little pudgeball with the type of cheeks peculiar mothers fantasized about biting. She did somersaults on sticky sidewalks, pale limbs over paler skin; she was a tangled, translucent mass, a “Holy Christ, here she comes.” Her brother, on the other hand, was long and lean and getting longer every day, emerging from baby fat into boy-body with alarming speed. He had muscles as tough as straw, and was unconsciously troubled by his limitless potential for physical growth. He was cautious, doubly so, enough for both of them, his posture hunched and timid, his movements measured and deliberate against the clumsy backdrop of his sister tumbling head, belly, then knees over heels.

“It’s my first tattoo,” he declared proudly, speaking as if he’d just adopted the first strange animal in a bestiary he was planning on housing. Because theirs was a world without questions, Emma didn’t ask the obvious. She simply nodded and put her hand to his forehead to see if he had a temperature. She spent that night, and many nights that followed though, wondering if her little brother was afraid of forgetting his name. She wished she could forget hers. She was, after all, named after her mother’s childhood pet -- not a movie star or a war hero or a favourite aunt, but a bouvier -- a four-legged furry thing with a tail like a sawed-off carrot.

In secret defiance Emma had actually changed her name. She was Tabatha -- daughter of the good witch Samantha -- a pretty little blonde girl who lived in a happy suburban home where mischievous witches and warlocks turned up unannounced for tea and inadvertently distressed her poor mortal father with trickery designed to embarrass him in front of curtain-twitching neighbours.

She sensed Blue’s motivation to identify himself was different. Perhaps he was afraid of getting lost in the street. She pictured some kind stranger, a Jimmy Stewart look-alike in a suit and a white hat, approaching her brother and saying in a voice out of a black-and-white movie: “Why, you look lost, son. What’s your name, boy?” Blue would pull up his sleeve to consult his bicep then and the Jimmy Stewart look-alike would exclaim, “What the dickens?”

If it were the fear of being lost and not found that compelled him to etch a deep, dyslexic “LT” into his arm, she would have suggested a different set of initials. Ones that would lead you back to a house with a swimming pool, or a family with twelve kids, or a mother who would buy you skates and take you to hockey practice. Initials you might want to have monogrammed on a set of towels that belong in a house with a finished basement on some street with a name like Thackley Terrace.

Instead, there they were with Elaine and Oliver, all crammed into a tiny three-bedroom house in Niagara Falls, across the street from a restaurant offering french fries and chow mein available twenty-four hours, even though a big closed sign hung across the door at night because of lack of business. The house, a decrepit building that they’d bought for next to nothing, stood on the tawdry main street, sandwiched between a hardware store and a used-clothing store. In its previous incarnation, their house had been a pet food store, evidenced by the basement full of dog food that was part of the bargain. Before that, as Elaine and Oliver deduced on the basis of what lay behind the cheap drywall, it must have been a porn shop. The building was apparently insulated with mouldy copies of Penthouse.

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Falling

Falling

edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover
tagged : literary, sagas

On a late summer day along the shores of Nova Scotia, a young woman makes a mistake that will claim her life, while at the other end of the beach her brother, Damian, is unaware that she is drowning. Beginning with this shattering event, Anne Simpson’s mesmerizing novel unfolds in unexpected ways.

A year after the accident, Damian and his mother, Ingrid, travel to Niagara Falls to scatter Lisa’s ashes and to visit Ingrid’s estranged brother, once a famous daredevil of the Falls, now blind, …

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The girl on the four-­wheeler turned sharply at the top of the bank and felt the vehicle drop heavily beneath her. There was no time to correct the mistake, though she tried, and the four-­wheeler fell, toppling to one side, slowly, all four hundred and eighty-­eight pounds of it, as it slid down the bank, landing in the stream and trapping her body underneath. Her cry could have been that of an Arctic tern, high above, its wings an open pair of scissors against the blue.

Struggling to free herself, she could only bring her head above water briefly before her exertions wedged the vehicle more firmly in the thick, wet sand.

Damian, she shrieked, raising her head out of the water a second time.

Panicking, she moved her head wildly from side to side, choking, trying to get air, which made her take in water. She heard an overwhelming beating in her ears.

Her body was splayed in the stream. She struggled several more times, with less vigour, and then she ­didn’t move. Though she was face down, one of her hands lay with the palm up so the water moved over her fingertips.

At the other end of the beach, where the rocks piled and tumbled like upended shelves and tables, Damian was dozing. He’d been swimming, and his bathing suit was still damp. The sun was warm on his body — it showed his pelvic bones in relief, touched his features with light — and it had made him sleepy. Each time he exhaled, there was the suggestion of a snore. He ­hadn’t slept well the night before, and now dreams came fleetingly.

He might have been carved in stone, except for the almost imperceptible movement of his chest, rising and falling. A fly landed lightly on his leg, and he reached out a hand to brush it off. Disconnected images flickered in and out of his consciousness until he heard the distant cry of a bird and opened his eyes. After a while he got up, and stretched to one side, the other side. He had a man’s body, with a broad, tanned chest, though his blond hair was as fine and sleek as a girl’s, and would have fallen past his shoulders if it had been loose. He picked up his towel and stood at the edge of the rocks.

The sea glinted and moved and shifted before him, becoming a hard, steely colour where it met the softer edge of sky. A roll of waves fell gently and retreated, leaving the sand darkened, velvety brown, as they drew away. The tides of the Northumberland Strait ­weren’t as high as those of the Fundy, and seemed almost lazy by comparison, and although the water was as warm as that off the coast of the Carolinas, the jellyfish had already come and gone: there were no more of their purplish, nearly trans­lucent bodies, some as large as purses, to be seen on the beach. The light was beginning to slant across the land in early morning and late evening, which meant autumn was coming.

Far off, so far as to be dreamlike, was a line of blue hills on the western coast of Cape Breton. To the north were the headlands of Cape George, but Ballantyne’s Cove was beyond the nearest cliff, with its reddened, exposed soils. On the water, some distance out, and apparently equidistant between the coasts on either side, was a white sailboat, but its sails were furled. There was no wind. The sky was clear, devoid of any clouds, and it promised to be hot all day.

Damian got up and moved over the rocks with a kind of animal grace, dropping from this shelf of stone to that one, over a small crevice where some broken beer bottles lay, and at the edge of the rocks he leapt down to the sand below. He paused and ran his hand over initials carved in the stone: Hey man! It’s­­­ 15°C — Oct. 21, 2000. J + E.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw something yellow, sticking up out of the sand. He ­couldn’t figure it out for a moment. It was all wrong. Lisa’s kayak. But why —

Lisa, he shouted.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Too Close to the Falls

Too Close to the Falls

A Memoir
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook

Heartbreaking and wicked: a memoir of  stunning beauty and remarkable grace. Improbable friendships and brushes with death. A schoolgirl affecting the course of aboriginal politics. Elvis and cocktails and Catholicism and the secrets buried deep beneath a place that may be another, undiscovered Love Canal – Lewiston, New York. Too Close to the Falls is an exquisite, haunting return, through time and memory, to the heart of Catherine Gildiner’s childhood.

And what a childhood it was …

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Over half a century ago I grew up in Lewiston, a small town in western New York, a few miles north of Niagara Falls on the Canadian border. As the Falls can be seen from the Canadian and American sides from different perspectives, so can Lewiston. It is a sleepy town, protected from the rest of the world geographically, nestled at the bottom of the steep shale Niagara Escarpment on one side and the Niagara River on the other. The river’s appearance, however, is deceptive. While it seems calm, rarely making waves, it has deadly whirlpools swirling on its surface which can suck anything into their vortices in seconds.

 

My father, a pharmacist, owned a drugstore in the nearby honeymoon capital of Niagara Falls. My mother, a math teacher by training rather than inclination, was an active participant in the historical society. Lewiston actually had a few historical claims to fame, which my mother eagerly hyped. The word cocktail was invented there, Charles Dickens stayed overnight at the Frontier House, the local inn, and Lafayette gave a speech from a balcony on the main street. Our home, which had thirteen trees in the yard that were planted when there were thirteen states, was used to billet soldiers in the War of 1812. It was called into action by history yet again for the Underground Railroad to smuggle slaves across the Niagara River to freedom in Canada.

My parents longed for a child for many years; however, when they were not blessed, they gracefully settled into an orderly life of community service. Then I unexpectedly arrived, the only child of suddenly bewildered older, conservative, devoutly Catholic parents.

I seem to have been “born eccentric” — a phrase my mother uttered frequently as a way of absolving herself of responsibility. By today’s standards I would have been labelled with attention deficit disorder, a hyperactive child born with some adrenal problem that made her more prone to rough–and–tumble play than was normal for a girl. Fortunately I was born fifty years ago and simply called “busy” and “bossy,” the possessor of an Irish temper.

I was at the hub of the town because I worked in my father’s drugstore from the age of four. This was not exploitive child labour but rather what the town pediatrician prescribed. When my mother explained to him that I had gone over the top of the playground swings making a 360–degree loop and had been knocked unconscious twice, had to be removed from a cherry tree the previous summer by the fire department, done Ed Sullivan imitations for money at Helms’s Dry Goods Store, all before I’d hit kindergarten, Dr. Laughton dutifully wrote down all this information, laid down his clipboard with certainty, and said that I had worms and needed Fletcher’s Castoria. His fallback position (in case when I was dewormed no hyperactive worms crept from any orifice) was for me to burn off my energy by working at manual labour in my father’s store. He explained that we all had metronomes inside our bodies and mine was simply ticking faster than most; I had to do more work than others to burn it off.

Being in the full–time workforce at four gave me a unique perspective on life, and I was exposed to situations I later realized were unusual for a child. For over ten years I never once had a meal at home, and that included Christmas. I worked and went to restaurants and delivered everything from band–aids to morphine in the Niagara Frontier. I had to tell people whether makeup looked good or bad, point out what cough medicines had sedatives, count and bottle pills. I also had to sound as though I knew what I was talking about in order to pull it off. I was surrounded by adults, and my peer group became my coworkers at the store.

My father worked behind a counter which had a glass separating it from the rest of the store. He and the other pharmacists wore starched white shirts which buttoned on the side with “McCLURE’S DRUGS” monogrammed in red above the pocket. The rest of us wore plastic ink guards in our breast pockets which had printed in script letters “McClure’s has free delivery.” (The word delivery had wheels and a forward slant.) I worked there full–time when I was four and five and I suspected that when I went to school the next year I would work a split shift from 6:00 to 9:00 a.m. and then again after school until closing time at 10:00 p.m. Of course I would always work full–time on Saturday and Sunday when my mother did her important work with the historical board. I restocked the candy and makeup counters, loaded the newspaper racks, and replenished the supplies of magazines and comics. I read the comics aloud in different voices, jumped out of the pay–phone booth as Superman and acted out Brenda Starr “in her ruthless search for truth,” and every morning at 6:00 a.m. I equipped the outdoor newsstand of blue wood with its tiered layers with the Niagara Falls Gazette.

My parents were removed from the hurly–burly of my everyday existence. My father was my employer, and I called him “boss,” which is what everyone else called him. My mother provided no rules nor did she ever make a meal, nor did I have brothers or sisters to offer me any normal childlike role models. While other four–year–olds spent their time behind fences at home with their moms and dads, stuck in their own backyards making pretend cakes in hot metal sandboxes or going to stagnant events like girls’ birthday parties where you sat motionless as the birthday girl opened her presents and then you waited in line to stick a pin into a wall while blindfolded, hoping it would hit the rear end of a jackass, I was out doing really exciting work. I spent my time in the workforce delivering prescriptions with Roy, my coworker.

One thing about a drugstore: it’s a great leveller. Everyone from the rich to the poor needs prescriptions and it was my job to deliver them. Roy, the driver, and I, the assistant who read the road maps and prescription labels, were dogged as we plowed through snowstorms and ice jams to make our deliveries. The job took us into mansions on the Niagara Escarpment, to the home of Dupont, who invented nylon, to deliver hypodermic needles to a new doctor on the block, Dr. Jonas Salk, an upstart who thought he had a cure for polio, to Marilyn Monroe on the set of Niagara, to the poor Indians on the Tuscarora reservation, and to Warty, who lived in a refrigerator box in the town dump. The people we delivered to felt like my “family,” and my soulmate in this experience was Roy.

 

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Falling Angels

Falling Angels

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged : literary
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The Day The Falls Stood Still

The Day The Falls Stood Still

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook Paperback
tagged :

Steeped in the intriguing history of Niagara Falls, this is an epic love story as rich, spellbinding and majestic as the falls themselves.

1915. The dawn of the hydroelectric power era in Niagara Falls. Seventeen-year-old Bess Heath has led a sheltered existence as the youngest daughter of the director of the Niagara Power Company. After graduation day at her boarding school, she is impatient to return to her picturesque family home near the falls. But when she arrives, nothing is as she left it. …

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The Withdrawal Method

The Withdrawal Method

edition:Hardcover
also available: eBook Paperback

Winner of the Trillium Award

Pasha Malla's extraordinary stories grant us entry into fascinating worlds: the complex world of children acting out half-understood fantasies of adulthood; the modern world of young couples navigating hairpin emotional turns; a near future world where Niagara Falls has run dry.

The Withdrawal Method is a remarkably inventive, assured, and smart collection from one of our best young writers, one who pairs emotional depth with great technical skill. These extraordinar …

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Cataract City

Cataract City

edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback
tagged : literary

Owen and Duncan are childhood friends who've grown up in picturesque Niagara Falls--known to them by the grittier name Cataract City. As the two know well, there's more to the bordertown than meets the eye: behind the gaudy storefronts and sidewalk vendors, past the hawkers of tourist T-shirts and cheap souvenirs live the real people who scrape together a living by toiling at the Bisk, the local cookie factory. And then there are the truly desperate, those who find themselves drawn to the borde …

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Things to Do When It's Raining

Things to Do When It's Raining

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook Paperback

When secrets tear love apart, can the truth mend it?—from The Globe and Mail–bestselling author Marissa Stapley.

When secrets tear love apart, can the truth mend it?

Mae Summers and Gabe Broadbent grew up together in the idyllic Summers’ Inn, perched at the edge the St. Lawrence River. Mae was orphaned at the age of six and Gabe needed protection from his alcoholic father, so both were raised under one roof by Mae’s grandparents, Lily and George. A childhood friendship quickly develope …

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