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House Books

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Canadian books about houses and home.
House Beneath

House Beneath

edition:Paperback
tagged : canadian

House Beneath is the first book from Susan Telfer of Gibsons, British Colombia. Telfer takes on big issues, such as how to write out of a landscape, which despite its beauty, has been the site of much personal pain. From the deaths of her parents to the birth of her children, here are all the elements of the imagination: art, music, the family and a hard earned faith. Writing about human relationships, family and the British Columbia landscape, Telfer encompasses the doubt of growing up within a …

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As for Me and My House

As for Me and My House

edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback Hardcover

“It’s an immense night out there, wheeling and windy. The lights on the street and in the houses against the black wetness, little unilluminating glints that might be painted on it. The town seems huddled together, cowering on a high tiny perch, afraid to move lest it topple into the wind.”

The town is Horizon, the setting of Sinclair Ross’ brilliant classic study of life in the Depression era. Hailed by critics as one of Canada’s great novels, As For Me and My House takes the form of a …

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Saturday Evening, April 8
Philip has thrown himself across the bed and fallen asleep, his clothes on still, one of his long legs dangling to the floor. . . .

He looks old and worn-out tonight; and as I stood over him a little while ago his face brought home to me how he shrinks from another town, how tired he is, and heartsick of it all. I ran my fingers through his hair, then stooped and kissed him. Lightly, for that is of all things what I mustn’t do, let him ever suspect me of being sorry. He’s a very adult, selfsufficient man, who can’t bear to be fussed or worried over; and sometimes, broodless old woman that I am, I get impatient being just his wife, and start in trying to mother him too.

His sermon for tomorrow is spread out on the little table by the bed, the text that he always uses for his first Sunday. As For Me and My House We Will Serve the Lord. It’s a stalwart, four-square, Christian sermon. It nails his colors to the mast. It declares to the town his creed, lets them know what they may expect. The Word of God as revealed in Holy Writ — Christ Crucified — salvation through His Grace — those are the things that Philip stands for.

And as usual he’s been drawing again. I turned over the top sheet, and sure enough on the back of it there was a little Main Street sketched. It’s like all the rest, a single row of smug, false-fronted stores, a loiterer or two, in the distance the prairie again. And like all the rest there’s something about it that hurts. False fronts ought to be laughed at, never understood or pitied. They’re such outlandish things, the front of a store built up to look like a second storey. They ought always to be seen that way, pretentious, ridiculous, never as Philip sees them, stricken with a look of self-awareness and futility.

That’s Philip, though, what I must recognize and acknowledge as the artist in him. Sermon and drawing together, they’re a kind of symbol, a summing up. The smalltown preacher and the artist — what he is and what he nearly was — the failure, the compromise, the going-on — it’s all there — the discrepancy between the man and the little niche that holds him.

And that hurt too, made me slip away furtively and stand a minute looking at the dull bare walls, my shoulders drawn up round my ears to resist their cold damp stillness. And huddling there I wished for a son again, a son that I might give back a little of what I’ve taken from him, that I might at least believe I haven’t altogether wasted him, only postponed to another generation his fulfillment. A foolish, sentimental wish that I ought to have outgrown years ago — that drove me outside at last, to stand on the doorstep shivering, my lips locked, a spatter of rain in my face.

It’s an immense night out there, wheeling and windy. The lights on the street and in the houses are helpless against the black wetness, little unilluminating glints that might be painted on it. The town seems huddled together, cowering on a high, tiny perch, afraid to move lest it topple into the wind. Close to the parsonage is the church, black even against the darkness, towering ominously up through the night and merging with it. There’s a soft steady swish of rain on the roof, and a gurgle of eavestroughs running over. Above, in the high cold night, the wind goes swinging past, indifferent, liplessly mournful. It frightens me, makes me feel lost, dropped on this little perch of town and abandoned. I wish Philip would waken.

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A Bird in the House

A Bird in the House

edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback Paperback

One of Canada’s most accomplished authors combines the best qualities of both the short story and the novel to create a lyrical evocation of the beauty, pain, and wonder of growing up.

In eight interconnected, finely wrought stories, Margaret Laurence recreates the world of Vanessa MacLeod – a world of scrub-oak, willow, and chokecherry bushes; of family love and conflict; and of a girl’s growing awareness of and passage into womanhood. The stories blend into one masterly and moving whole: …

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The Sound of the Singing
 
 
That house in Manawaka is the one which, more than any other, I carry with me. Known to the rest of the town as “the old Connor place” and to the family as the Brick House, it was plain as the winter turnips in its root cellar, sparsely windowed as some crusader’s embattled fortress in a heathen wilderness, its rooms in a perpetual gloom except in the brief height of summer. Many other brick structures had existed in Manawaka for as much as half a century, but at the time when my grandfather built his house, part dwelling place and part massive-monument, it had been the first of its kind.
 
Set back at a decent distance from the street, it was screened by a line of spruce trees whose green-black branches swept down to the earth like the sternly protective wings of giant hawks. Spruce was not indigenous to that part of the prairies. Timothy Connor had brought the seedlings all the way from Galloping Mountain, a hundred miles north, not on whim, one may be sure, but feeling that they were the trees for him. By the mid-thirties, the spruces were taller than the house, and two generations of children had clutched at boughs which were as rough and hornily knuckled as the hands of old farmers, and had swung themselves up to secret sanctuaries. On thelawn a few wild blue violets dared to grow, despite frequent beheadings from the clanking guillotine lawn mower, and mauve-flowered Creeping Charley insinuated deceptively weak-looking tendrils up to the very edges of the flower beds where helmeted snapdragon stood in precision.
 
We always went for Sunday dinner to the Brick House, the home of my mother’s parents. This particular day my father had been called out to South Wachakwa, where someone had pneumonia, so only my mother and myself were flying down the sidewalk, hurrying to get there. My mother walked with short urgent steps, and I had to run to keep up, which I did not like having to do, for I was ten that spring and needed my dignity.
 
“Dad said you shouldn’t walk so fast because of the baby. I heard him.”
 
My father was a doctor, and like many doctors, his advice to his own family was of an exceedingly casual nature. My mother’s prenatal care, apart from “For Pete’s sake, honey, quit running around like a chicken with its head cut off,” consisted mainly of admonitions to breathe deeply and drink plenty of water.
 
“Mercy,” my mother replied, “I don’t have to slow up that much, I should hope. Get a move on, Vanessa. It’s nearly five, and we should’ve been there by now. I suppose Edna will have the dinner all ready, and there won’t be a thing for me to do. I wish to heaven she wouldn’t, but try to tell her. Anyway, you know how your grandfather hates people to be late.”
 
When we got to the Brick House, my mother stopped hurrying, knowing that Grandfather would be watching from the bay window. She tidied my hair, which was fine and straight and tended to get in my eyes, and she smoothed down the collar of the white middy which I hated and resented having to wear today with my navy pleated skirt as though it had still been winter.
 
“Your summer dresses are all up to your neck,” my mother had said, “and we just can’t manage a new one this year, but I’m certainly not going to have you going down there looking like a hooligan.”
 
Now that the pace of our walking had slowed, I began to hop along the sidewalk trying to touch the crooked lines where the cement had been frost-heaved, some winter or other, and never repaired. The ants made their homes there, and on each fissure a neat mound of earth appeared. I carefully tamped one down with my foot, until the ant castle was flattened to nothing. Then I hopped on, chanting.
 
“Step on a crack, break your grandfather’s back.”
 
“That’s not very nice, Vanessa,” my mother said. “Anyway, I always thought it was your mother’s back.”
 
“Well?” I said accusingly, hurt that she could imagine the substitution to have been accidental, for I had genuinely thought it would please her.
 
“Try not to tear up and down stairs like you did last week,” my mother said anxiously. “You’re too old for that kind of shenanigans.”
 
Grandfather was standing on the front porch to greet us. He was a tall husky man, drum-chested, and once he had possessed great muscular strength. That simple power was gone now, but age had not stooped him.
 
“Well, Beth, you’re here,” Grandfather said. “Past five, ain’t it?”
 
“It’s only ten to,” my mother said defensively. “I hoped Ewen might be back – that’s why I waited. He had to go to South Wachakwa on a call.”
 
“You’d think a man could stay home on a Sunday,” Grandfather said.
 
“Good grief, Father,” my mother said, “people get sick on Sundays the same as any other day.”
 
But she said it under her breath, so he did not hear her.
 
“Well, come in, come in,” he said. “No use standing around here all day. Go and say hello to your grandmother, Vanessa.”
 
Ample and waistless in her brown silk dress, Grand mother was sitting in the dining room watching the canary. The bird had no name. She did not believe in bestowing names upon non-humans, for a name to her meant a christening, possible only for Christians. She called the canary “Birdie,” and maintained that this was not like a real name. It was swaying lightly on the bird-swing in its cage, its attentive eyes fixed upon her. She often sat here, quietly and apparently at ease, not feeling it necessary to be talking or doing, beside the window sill with its row of African violets in old ginger jars that had been painted orange. She would try to coax the canary into its crystal trilling, but it was a surly creature and obliged only occasionally. She liked me to sit here with her, and sometimes I did, but I soon grew impatient and began squirming, until Grandmother would smile and say, “All right, pet, you run along, now,” and then I would be off like buckshot. When I asked my grandmother if the bird minded being there, she shook her head and said no, it had been there always and wouldn’t know what to do with itself outside, and I thought this must surely be so, for it was a family saying that she couldn’t tell a lie if her life depended on it.
 
“Hello, pet,” Grandmother said. “Did you go to Sunday school?”
 
“Yes.”
 
“What did you learn?” Grandmother asked, not prying or demanding, but confidently, serenely.
 
I was prepared, for the question was the same each week. I rarely listened in Sunday school, finding it more entertaining to compose in my head stories of spectacular heroism in which I figured as central character, so I never knew what the text had been. But I had read large portions of the Bible by myself, for I was constantly hard-up for reading material, so I had no trouble in providing myself with a verse each week before setting out for the Brick House. My lines were generally of a warlike nature, for I did not favour the meek stories and I had no use at all for the begats.
 
“How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle,” I replied instantly.
 
“Second Samuel,” Grandmother said, nodding her head. “That’s very nice, dear.”
 
I was not astonished that my grandmother thought the bloody death of Jonathan was very nice, for this was her unvarying response, whatever the verse. And in fact it was not strange, for to her everything in the Bible was as gentle as she herself. The swords were spiritual only, strokes of lightness and dark, and the wounds poured cochineal.
 
Grandfather tramped into the dining room. His hair was yellowish white, but once it had been as black as my own, and his brown beaked leathery face was still handsome.
 
“You’d best come into the living room, Agnes,” he said. “No use waiting here. Beth says Ewen’s gone away out to South Wachakwa. It’ll be a wonder if we get our dinner at all tonight.”
 
Grandmother rose. “Yes, I was just coming in.”
 
Grandfather walked over to the window and peered at the plants on the sill.
 
“Them jars could do with a coat of paint,” he said. “I’ve got some enamel left in the basement. It’s that bottle-green I used on the tool-shed.”
 
“Is there no orange left?” Grandmother enquired.
 
“No. It’s all used up. What’s the matter with bottle-green?”
 
“Oh, nothing’s the matter with it, I guess. I just wondered, that’s all.”
 
“I’ll do them first thing tomorrow, then,” Grandfather said decisively.
 
No tasks could be undertaken today, but there was no rule against making plans for Monday, so my grandfather invariably spent the Sabbath in this manner. Thwarted, but making the best of a bad lot, he lumbered around the house like some great  wakeful bear waiting for the enforced hibernation of Sunday to be over. He stopped at the hall door now and rattled it, running hard expert fingers along the brass hinges.
 
“Hinge is loose,” he said. “The pin’s worn. I’ll have to go down to the store and see if they’ve got one. That Barnes probably won’t have the right size – he’s got no notion of stock. Maybe I’ve got an extra one in the basement. Yes, I have an idea there’s one there. I’ll just step down and have a look.”
 
I heard him clumping down the basement steps, and soon from the area of his work-bench there arose the soft metallic jangle of nails and bolts, collected oddments being sifted through. I glanced at my grandmother, but if she was relieved that he was rummaging down there, she gave no sign.
 
I did not know then the real torment that the day of rest was for him, so I had no patience with his impatience. WhatI did know, however, was that if he had been any other way he would not have passed muster in Manawaka. He was widely acknowledged as an upright man. It would have been a disgrace if he had been known by the opposite word, which was  “downright.” A few of my friends had downright grandfathers. They were a deep mortification to their families, these untidy old men who sat on the Bank of Montreal steps in the summertime and spat amber tobacco jets onto the dusty sidewalk. They were described as “downright worthless” or “downright lazy,” these two terms being synonymous. These shadows of wastrels, these flimsy remnants of past profligates, with their dry laughter like the cackle of crows or the crackling of fallen leaves underfoot, embarrassed me terribly, although I did not have any idea why. Walking down main street, I would avoid looking at them, feeling somehow that they should not be on view, that they should be hidden away in an attic along with the other relics too common to be called antiques and too broken to be of any further use. Yet I was inexplicably drawn to them, too.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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A Good House

A Good House

tagged : literary

Bill Chambers has come home from the second World War with several fingers of his right hand missing but with his will to restore his family life intact. He wants the best for his wife,

Sylvia, and his children, Patrick, Paul and Daphne, and with his steady job at the hardware store, the future stretches out before him. so opens Bonnie Burnard’s brilliant, superbly crafted novel about three generations of an ordinary small-town family from the 1950s to the 1990s. As the family members spread ou …

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The Guardians

The Guardians

edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback
tagged : thrillers

From acclaimed author Andrew Pyper, a gripping novel of psychological suspense about four men haunted by a secret from childhood.

There's no such thing as an empty house...

Trevor, Randy, Ben and Carl grew up together in the small town of Grimshaw as many boys do--playing hockey on the local team, the Guardians, and forging friendships that run deep. Twenty-four years later, Trevor, recently diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and faced with his own mortality, learns that his old friend Ben has co …

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Excerpt

[ I ]
 
 
The call comes in the middle of the night, as the worst sort do.
 
The phone so close I can read the numbers on its green-glowing face, see the swirled fingerprint I’d left on its message window. A simple matter of reaching and grabbing. Yet I lie still. It is my motor-facility impairment (as one of my fussily unhelpful physicians calls it) that pins me for eighteen rings before I manage to hook the receiver onto my chest.
 
“I don’t even know what time it is. But it’s late, isn’t it?”
 
A familiar voice, faintly slurred, helium-pitched between laughter and sobs. Randy Toller. A friend since high school—a time that even Randy, on the phone, calls “a million years ago.” And though it was only twenty-four years, his estimate feels more accurate.
 
As Randy apologizes for waking me, and blathers on about how strange he feels “doing this,” I am trying to think of an understanding but firm way of saying no when he finally gets around to asking for money. He has done it before, following the unfairly lost auditions, the furniture-stealing girlfriends, the vodka-smoothed rough patches of his past tough-luck decade. But in the end Randy surprises me when he takes a rattling, effortful breath and says, “Ben’s dead, Trev.”
 
Trev?
 
This is my first, not-quite-awake thought. Nobody’s called me that since high school, including Randy.
 
“How?”
 
“A rope,” Randy says.
 
“Rope?”
 
“Hanging. I mean, he hung himself. In his mom’s house.”
 
“He never went outside. Where else could he have done it?”
 
“I’m saying he did it in his room. Up in the attic where he’d sit by the window, you know, watching.”
 
“Did his mom find him?”
 
“It was a kid walking by on the street. Looked up to see if that weird McAuliffe guy was in the window as usual, and saw him swinging there.”
 
I’m quiet for a while after this. We both are. But there is our breath being traded back and forth down the line. Reminders that we aren’t alone in recalling the details of Ben’s room, a place we’d spent a quarter of our youth wasting our time in. Of how it would have looked with the grown-up Ben in it, attached to the oak beam that ran the length of the ceiling.
 
“Maybe it’s for the best,” Randy says finally.
 
“Take that back.”
 
“I didn’t—it’s just—”
 
“Take that stupid bullshit back.”
 
“Fine. Sorry.”
 
Randy has led the kind of life that has made him used to apologizing for saying the wrong thing, and the contrite tone he uses now is one I’ve heard after dozens of defaulted IOUs and nights spent sleeping on my sofa between stints in rented rooms. But then, in little more than a whisper, he says something else.
 
“You know it’s sort of true, Trev.”
 
He’s right. It is sort of true that with the news of Ben McAuliffe’s suicide there came, among a hundred other reactions, a shameful twinge of relief.
 
Ben was a friend of mine. Of ours. A best friend, though I hadn’t seen him in years, and spoke to him only slightly more often. It’s because he stayed behind, I suppose. In Grimshaw, our hometown, from which all of us but Ben had escaped the first chance we had. Or maybe it’s because he was sick. Mentally ill, as even he called himself, though sarcastically, as if his mind was the last thing wrong with him. This would be over the phone, on the rare occasions I called. (Each time I did his mother would answer, and when I told her it was me calling her voice would rise an octave in the false hope that a good chat with an old friend might lift the dark spell that had been cast on her son.) When we spoke, neither Ben nor I pretended we would ever see each other again. We might as well have been separated by an ocean, or an even greater barrier, as impossible to cross as the chasm between planets, as death. I had made a promise to never go back to Grimshaw, and Ben could never leave it. A pair of traps we had set for ourselves.
 
Despite this, we were still close. There was a love between us too. A sexless, stillborn love, yet just as fierce as the other kinds. The common but largely undocumented love between men who forged their friendship in late childhood.
 
But this wasn’t the thing that bridged the long absence that lay between our adult lives. What connected Ben and me was a secret. A whole inbred family of secrets. Some of them so wilfully forgotten they were unknown even to ourselves.
 
 
Only after I’ve hung up do I notice that, for the entire time I was on the phone with Randy, my hands were still. I didn’t even have to concentrate on it, play the increasingly unwinnable game of Mind Over Muscles.
 
Don’t move.
 
It’s like hypnosis. And like hypnosis, it usually doesn’t work.
 
Everything’s okay. Just stay where you are. Relax. Be still.
 
Now, in the orange dust of city light that sneaks through the blinds, I watch as the tremor returns to my limbs. Delicate flutterings at first. Nervous and quick as a sparrow dunking its head in a puddle. An index finger that abruptly stiffens, points with alarm at the chair in the corner—and then collapses, asleep. A thumb standing in a Fonzie salute before turtling back inside a fist.
 
You know what I need? A week in Bermuda.
 
These were the sort of thoughts I had when the twitches showed up.
 
I need to eat more whole grains.
 
I need a drink.
 
The hand-jerks and finger-flicks were just the normal flaws, the software glitches the body has to work through when first booting up after a certain age. I had just turned forty, after all. There was a price to be paid—a small, concealable impediment to be endured for all the fun I’d had up until now. But it was nothing to worry about. It wasn’t a real problem of the kind suffered by the wheelchaired souls you wish away from your line of sight in restaurants, your appetite spoiled.
 
But then, a few months ago, the acceptable irregularities of the body inched into something less acceptable. Something wrong.
 
I went to the doctor. Who sent me to another doctor. Who confirmed her diagnosis after a conversation with a third doctor. And then, once the doctors had that straightened out, all of them said there was next to nothing they could do, wished me well and buggered off.
 
What I have, after all, is one of those inoperable, medically unsexy conditions. It has all the worst qualities of the non-fatal disease: chronic, progressive, cruelly erosive of one’s “quality of life.” It can go fast or slow. What’s certain is that it will get worse. I could name it now but I’m not in the mood. I hate its falsely personal surnamed quality, the possessive aspect of the capital P. And I hate the way it doesn’t kill you. Until it does.
 
 
I spoke to a therapist about it. Once.
 
She was nice—seemed nice, though this may have been only performance, an obligation included in her lawyer-like hourly fee—and was ready to see me “all the way through what’s coming.” But I couldn’t go back. I just sat in her pleasant, fern-filled room and caught a whiff of the coconut exfoliant she’d used that morning to scrub at the liver spots on her arms and knew I would never return. She was the sort of woman in the sort of office giving off the sort of scent designed to provoke confessions. I could have trusted her. And trusting a stranger is against the rules.
 
(There was something else I didn’t like. I didn’t like how, when she asked if I had entertained any suicidal thoughts since the diagnosis and I, after a blubbery moment, admitted that I had, she offered nothing more than a businesslike smile and a tidy check mark in her notepad.)
 
One useful suggestion came out of our meeting, nevertheless. For the purposes of recording my thoughts so that they might be figured out later, she recommended I keep a diary chronicling the progress of my disease. Not that she used that word. Instead, she referred to the unstoppable damage being done to me as an “experience,” as if it were a trip to Paraguay or sex with twins. And it wasn’t a journal of sickness I was to keep, but a “Life Diary,” her affirmative nods meant to show that I wasn’t dying. Yet. That was there too. Remember, Trevor: You’re not quite dead yet.
 
“Your Life Diary is more than a document of events,” she explained. “It can, for some of my clients, turn out to be your best friend.”
 
But I already have best friends. And they don’t live in my present life so much as in the past. So that’s what I’ve ended up writing down. A recollection of the winter everything changed for us. A pocket-sized journal containing horrors that surprised even me as I returned to them. And then, after the pen refused to stand still in my hand, it has become a story I tell into a Dictaphone. My voice. Sounding weaker than it does in my own ears, someone else’s voice altogether.
 
I call it my “Memory Diary.”
 
 
Randy offered to call Carl, but we both knew I would do it. Informing a friend that someone they’ve known all their life has died was more naturally a Trevor kind of task. Randy would be the one to score dope for a bachelor party, or scratch his key along the side of a Porsche because he took it personally, and hard, that his own odds of ever owning one were fading fast. But I was definitely better suited to be the bearer of bad tidings.
 
I try Carl at the last number I have for him, but the cracked voice that answers tells me he hasn’t lived there for a while. When I ask to have Carl call if he stops by, there is a pause of what might be silent acceptance before the line goes dead. Randy has a couple of earlier numbers, and I try those too, though Carl’s former roommates don’t seem to know where he is now either (and refuse to give me their own names when I ask).
 
“Not much more we can do,” Randy says when I call him back. “The guy is gone, Trev.”
 
There it is again: Trev. A name not addressed to me in over twenty years, and then I get it twice within the last half-hour.
 
I had an idea, as soon as Randy told me Ben had died, that the past was about to spend an unwelcome visit in my present. Going from Trevor to Trev is something I don’t like, but a nostalgic name change is going to be the least of it. Because if I’m getting on a train for Grimshaw in the morning, it’s all coming back.
 
Heather.
 
The coach.
 
The boy.
 
The house.
 
The last of these most of all because it alone is waiting for us. Ready to see us stand on the presumed safety of weed-cracked sidewalk as we had as schoolchildren, daring each other to see who could look longest through its windows without blinking or running away.
 
For twenty-four years this had been Ben’s job. Now it would be ours.

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Playing House

Playing House

edition:Paperback
tagged :

Somewhere between single girl Bridget Jones and working mother Kate Reddy is Frannie MacKenzie -- baffled, beleaguered and undeniably pregnant.

The one thought blazing through Frannie’s formerly trendy, savvy, sharp-tongued New York brain is that she wants to keep this baby -- despite her ultra-small apartment and not being completely sure how to spell the father’s name. Being pregnant is so out of character: how will she break it to her boss, her mother, let alone the father, Calvin Puddie ( …

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New life announces itself as a mystery that a mother cannot solve. Something happens, a certain gear-shifting in the body that she notes, but makes no sense of. Especially if she isn’t planning to be pregnant. I shall offer myself as an example. I did not have a basal thermometer handy on my bureau, or any recall as to when I last had my period. I was not expecting to read What to Expect When You’re Expecting. I was barely even in a relationship, with a man about whom I knew little. I was simply going about my business, enjoying early spring in New York City, when all of a sudden I woke up in the clean morning sunshine to find that my breasts had inflated like dinghies and were heavier than my head.

Late for work, I fiddled with my bra straps irritably, to no avail. They had all the supportive power of Scotch tape. I searched through the clothes on the floor of my one-room apartment and dragged on a shirt taut with Lycra, then I cupped my breasts in my hands as I stepped gingerly down the four flights of stairs of my walk-up, arranging my arms just so -- as I entered the brisk-stepping crowds on Sixth Avenue -- so that I could look like I was clutching myself in vexed contemplation over the Great Issues of the Day, as opposed to holding my tits up.

My first assumption was that I had a bad bout of PMS, so I dosed myself with evening primrose oil. We were wrapping up our April issue at The Pithy Review, heading into the inevitable panic of magazine production. There were last-minute changes, troubles with ad placement, authors to placate after pompous sentences were slashed from their essays, an editor-in-chief who rendered himself inaccessible behind closed doors in a pointed sulk. It happened every month, as if none of us possessed a short-term memory.

I had, myself, a rant to scribble for the back page, which I’d put off until the last minute, and a half-finished play to complete by the first of April. There was a letter to be sent to the editor of The New York Times about the treatment of carriage horses in Central Park, and postcards home to be mailed, lists of ideas, Post-it notes about people to meet, cocktails and beet chips to consume at the Temple Bar.

Life in a city as opportunistic and exuberant as New York always felt busy, even if nothing got done. It was the whirl of the place, the sense of movement that mattered to me, and I grounded myself with small certitudes: I am here. I pay my rent. I like my friends. I have a membership to MOMA. God, when I think about it now, what a slender ledge of a life I was comfortably sitting on then.

On Good Friday, I was in Rizzoli’s bookstore contemplating the new Sylvia Plath biography, when I realized that my nipples were so sensitive that I couldn’t turn around quickly without crying out. For a few days, I donned the softest fabrics I could find in my closet -- an old cashmere sweater my mother had given me to coddle myself through a documentary on Kurds, a silk blouse, and double-wired bra to ineffectually brace me for dance lessons -- and still I walked around going, “Ow, ow, ow,” as if I’d fallen into a patch of nettles.

Perplexed, I peered at myself in my small bathroom mirror, which entailed leaning over sideways while standing on the worn enamel sides of my tub, effectively looming into the circular looking-glass from stage left. My breasts looked more or less the same as always. My nipples seemed darker, and even bigger, somehow, but I hardly ever looked at my breasts. I liked my waist and my rear end, but in truth my breasts grew in a bit droopy from the outset, with the nipples too low on the orbs, as if Mother Nature stuck them on during a game of pin the tail on the donkey. I had a tendency to fling my arms above my head like the Venus de Milo whenever lovers were afoot, in order to lift the nipples to a more acceptable position. It took a bit of work, this maneuver, especially when I had to walk across the room to answer the phone. But worth it, you know, for not revealing everything your nakedness actually offers to say.

I’d been arm lifting quite a bit of late, because of a fellow named Calvin Puddie. No. Pudhee. Or no, that doesn’t look right -- I think it could be Puhdey. In any event, it’s some sort of French-Canadian name, or more specifically Acadian, as in the French who emigrated to eastern Canada, and otherwise to Louisiana.

“That strikes me as a rather stark pair of choices,” I told Calvin on our second date. “Either they opted for the frozen, craggy coast of Cape Breton and slogged away in coal mines, or they got to do Mardi Gras? A or B?”

“Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that,” he said lightly. But being a rather laconic man, he chose not to elaborate.

I knew that Calvin’s father was a coal miner, and that he himself had been aiming no higher than a job as a janitor at the local veterans’ hall when someone pointed out that he was musically gifted and ought to pursue it. This inspired him to head to Halifax to study music, after which he moved to Toronto, and from there, at some point, to New York. He worked as a jazz musician, living off the avails of his art, which was the annual salary equivalent of two Smarties and a piece of string.

We met at a bar called the Knitting Factory, where a band was playing Indonesian gamelan music. It was something a friend had dragged me to, and that friend bumped into Calvin, whom he knew through a mutual friend, who was a friend of other friends. So various friends gathered, and obediently listened to the occasional ping followed by half an hour of murderous silence, as is the tradition in gamelan music, and my friend from work said, “Frannie, that guy over there is also Canadian.”

Therefore you must meet him, because you are of the same nationality.

So, after several vodka tonics, I did, and he was funny, if quiet. Very, very quiet, really, bordering on mute. He sat there in an old fedora with his hands placidly in his lap, gazing around inscrutably, tapping his brogues on the floor as if absently filling in rhythmic gaps for the musicians on stage.

He reminded me of Canada in small, distinct ways. His self-effacement was familiar, and he understood certain expatriate secrets, such as where Alberta was and how it felt to be treated like a doofus in Manhattan for being Canadian, as if we were a nation of cheerful, unimportant people with Down’s syndrome.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Town House

edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback eBook Paperback
tagged : literary

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“Its official title is Town House, but in Hollywood they’re already calling Tish Cohen’s novel About a Girl.” —The Globe and Mail.
Jack Madigan should be leading an enviable life. He’s the sole heir of a ’70s rock icon. He lives with his retro-obsessed teenage son, Harlan, in a once-magnificent Boston town house. But now 36, Jack’s painting career is buckling under a raging case of agoraphobia. And when the foreclosure notice arrives, Jack must face losing the only home …

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The Sink House

The Sink House

edition:Paperback
tagged : canadian

Home is where the heart is, or, in the case of The Sink House, home is what the heart is. Sequestered on a sleepy street in a dry Calgary suburb, our heroine, the House, finds herself embroiled in a stalled love affair with an elusive and alluring Oxfordshire riverbank. In a series of self-contained poems both prosy and lyrical, we follow this curious and engaging affair, which mysteriously coincides with a slow and gradual flood.

Everything succumbs to the persistent rise of water: the street be …

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