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Books that made me want to write (Carrie Snyder)
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Books that made me want to write (Carrie Snyder)

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Carrie Snyder's latest book is The Juliet Stories, and she is also author of Hair Hat. She was born in Hamilton and grew up in Ohio, Nicaragua, and Ayr, Ontario. She lives now in Waterloo, Ontario.
Booky: A Trilogy
Why it's on the list ...
My first purchase from the Scholastic book order when we moved to Canada. I was ten. Set in Toronto during the Depression, Booky is plucky and sunny despite the hardships of home life. Semi-autobiographical, the books also recount the development of a born writer, who would succeed despite limited educational opportunities.
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Emily of New Moon
Excerpt

Aunt Elizabeth had a more prosaic idea to account for Emily’s languor and lack of appetite. She had come to the conclusion that Emily’s heavy masses of hair “took from her strength” and that she would be much stronger and better if it were cut off. With Aunt Elizabeth to decide was to act. One morning she coolly informed Emily that her hair was to be “shingled.”

Emily could not believe her ears.

“You don’t mean that you are going to cut off my hair, Aunt Elizabeth,” she exclaimed.

“Yes, I mean exactly that,” said Aunt Elizabeth firmly. “You have entirely too much hair especially for hot weather. I feel sure that is why you have been so miserable lately. Now, I don’t want any crying.”

But Emily could not keep the tears back.

“Don’t cut it all off,” she pleaded. “Just cut a good big bang. Lots of the girls have their hair banged clean from the crown of their heads. That would take half my hair off and the rest won’t take too much strength.”

“There will be no bangs here,” said Aunt Elizabeth. “I’ve told you so often enough. I’m going to shingle your hair close all over your head for the hot weather. You’ll be thankful to me some day for it.”

Emily felt anything but thankful just then.

“It’s my one beauty,” she sobbed, “it and my lashes. I suppose you want to cut off my lashes too.”

Aunt Elizabeth did distrust those long, upcurled fringes of Emily’s, which were an inheritance from the girlish stepmother, and too un-Murray-like to be approved; but she had no designs against them. The hair must go, however, and she curtly bade Emily wait there, without any fuss, until she got the scissors.

Emily waited — quite hopelessly. She must lose her lovely hair — the hair her father had been so proud of. It might grow again in time — if Aunt Elizabeth let it — but that would take years, and meanwhile what a fright she would be! Aunt Laura and Cousin Jimmy were out; she had no one to back her up; this horrible thing must happen.

Aunt Elizabeth returned with the scissors; they clicked suggestively as she opened them; that click, as if by magic, seemed to loosen something — some strange formidable power in Emily’s soul. She turned deliberately around and faced her aunt. She felt her brows drawing together in an unaccustomed way — she felt an uprush as from unknown depths of some irresistible surge of energy.

“Aunt Elizabeth,” she said, looking straight at the lady with the scissors, “my hair is not going to be cut off. Let me hear no more of this.”

An amazing thing happened to Aunt Elizabeth. She turned pale — she laid the scissors down — she looked aghast for one moment at the transformed or possessed child before her — and then for the first time in her life Elizabeth Murray turned tail and fled — literally fled — to the kitchen.

“What is the matter, Elizabeth?” cried Laura, coming in from the cook-house.

“I saw — Father — looking from her face,” gasped Elizabeth, trembling. “And she said, ‘Let me hear no more of this,’ — just as he always said it — his very words.”

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Why it's on the list ...
(and also Emily Climbs, and Emily’s Quest) Quintessential reading for the aspiring Canadian writer. What could be better? An orphaned girl, a sensitive dreamer with psychic powers and purple poetry. Her struggles to become the writer she was born to be feel realistic. Best of all, Emily succeeds by staying true to herself.
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The Root Cellar
Excerpt

Rose

It was a cold wet afternoon in October when Rose Larkin came to live in the house at Hawthorn Bay. Rain dripped from the branches of the big horse-chestnut tree in the front yard and hung in large drops from the tangle of bushes around the house. Rose stood in the driveway, where Aunt Stella had left her, feeling that she had never been in a place more dismal in all her life. Its bleakness seemed to echo her own sense of being completely abandoned. In the weeks since the death of her grandmother she had been shipped from relative to relative and finally delivered -- like a package, she thought bitterly -- to an aunt and uncle she had never seen.

Rose was an orphan. Her mother and father had been killed in a car crash when she was three years old, and she had gone to live with her mother’s mother in New York City. Her grandmother was a business woman who traveled all over the world. An austere woman, more dutiful than loving, she took Rose with her everywhere she went, which meant that Rose spent as much time in hotels as she did in their apartment on upper Fifth Avenue in New York.

Grandmother did not believe in schools. “They teach only what’s fashionable -- and that not very well,” she snorted. So every evening, from the day Rose was five, they did lessons together. Every morning Rose had to do homework. Every afternoon she was free to do as she pleased. Wet days she read or explored the hotel. Fine days she poked around shops or went to museums or movies in foreign languages. She often sat for hours in parks, watching people -- old people feeding the birds, shoppers, strollers, mothers or fathers with their children. Rose had never known other children and they fascinated her. She often longed to speak to them, sometimes even to become part of their games, but they frightened her. They were apt to be rough and make loud jokes, and she was afraid she wouldn’t know what to say to them. Her grandmother told her more than once that she was better off without them, that she would learn more about being an adult if she associated only with adults.

In consequence she didn’t know much about living with people. She and her grandmother were like two polite strangers together. Rose had learned early that when she was quiet and obedient her grandmother was pleasant -- and not so pleasant when she wasn’t. The death of her parents had left her with a nagging fear that her grandmother too might disappear if she misbehaved, so she became a stiff, self-possessed child about whom many said she was more like a china doll than a little girl. She didn’t look like a china doll. Her bright red hair was pulled tightly into two neat braids. She had a long nose and her face was pointed, which gave her a slightly elfish look and sometimes led strangers to expect mischief or humor until they looked more closely at her set chin, her mouth so firmly shut, and the guarded expression that was too often in her large gray eyes.

Without other children, an alien among adults, Rose came to the conclusion when she was about eight that she didn’t belong in the world. She believed she was a creature from somewhere else. She could no longer remember her mother or father, and she figured that the story about her having parents was made up to keep her from finding the truth. She hadn’t the least idea where she might have come from, but she had absolute faith that one day she would go back there. Meanwhile she did her best to mind her own business and keep out of everyone’s way. She was often lonely, but she had early accepted loneliness as a condition of her life.

The year Rose turned twelve, her grandmother decided she should go to boarding school in Paris. They went to Paris together, and the first night, in their hotel room, her grandmother had a heart attack. Rose was paralyzed with fear.

“Don’t stand there gaping, child,” her grandmother croaked between gasps of pain. “Call the desk. Get a doctor.” Feeling as though her feet were made of lead, like someone in a nightmare, Rose did as she was told, and she went along in the ambulance to the hospital and sat in the waiting room while her grandmother was wheeled off on a stretcher. She forced herself to think of nothing while doctors and nurses bustled around her. Half an hour later the doctor came to tell her that her grandmother had died.

Stunned, she managed a polite nod and said stiffly, “Merci, monsieur.” She took a taxi back to the hotel, phoned Great-Aunt Millicent in New York, and waited for Great-Uncle Arnold to come on the night plane. Her hands shook and she had no appetite, but otherwise she managed to remain calm and possessed all through the trip home and the funeral afterward.

She spent a week with each of her grandmother’s sisters, after which they had a meeting in Great-Aunt Millicent’s apartment. Rose sat rigidly on the edge of her chair. Uncle Arnold said he thought she ought to be sent to school, Aunt Millicent said she wasn’t sure what should be done, and Aunt Stella said, “Why not send her to Nan Henry’s?”

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Why it's on the list ...
A book that made me believe in the magic of writing; I read it over and over and over. Orphaned Rose is transported from the sadness of her uprooted life into the past, where in the midst of the American Civil War she discovers that she is capable of heroism and friendship. I wanted to write stories that crossed boundaries, stories of transformation too.
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Modern Classics Something I've Been Meaning To Tell You
Why it's on the list ...
This slim volume, printed on cheap paper with tiny type, and representative of the way literary fiction used to be marketed and sold and read, was a gift from my dad for my twelfth birthday. He might not have known what it was about. I didn’t understand everything in the stories, but they blew me away. Romance, deceit, sibling rivalry, deep mysteries. A book I read again and again. I wanted to write stories like Alice Munro.
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The Diviners

The Diviners

edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback
tagged : classics, literary
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Excerpt

The river flowed both ways. The current moved from north to south, but the wind usually came from the south, rippling the bronze-green water in the opposite direction. This apparently impossible contradiction, made apparent and possible, still fascinated Morag, even after the years of river-watching.

The dawn mist had lifted, and the morning air was filled with swallows, darting so low over the river that their wings sometimes brushed the water, then spiralling and pirouetting upward again. Morag watched, trying to avoid thought, but this ploy was not successful.

Pique had gone away. She must have left during the night. She had left a note on the kitchen table, which also served as Morag’s desk, and had stuck the sheet of paper into the typewriter, where Morag would be certain to find it.

Now please do not get all uptight, Ma. I can look after myself. Am going west. Alone, at least for now. If Gord phones, tell him I’ve drowned and gone floating down the river, crowned with algae and dead minnows, like Ophelia.

Well, you had to give the girl some marks for style of writing. Slightly derivative, perhaps, but let it pass. Oh jesus, it was not funny. Pique was eighteen. Only. Not dry behind the ears. Yes, she was, though. If only there hadn’t been that other time when Pique took off, that really bad time. That wouldn’t happen again, not like before. Morag was pretty sure it wouldn’t. Not sure enough, probably.

I’ve got too damn much work in hand to fret over Pique. Lucky me. I’ve got my work to take my mind off my life. At forty-seven that’s not such a terrible state of affairs. If I hadn’t been a writer, I might’ve been a first-rate mess at this point. Don’t knock the trade.

Morag read Pique’s letter again, made coffee and sat looking out at the river, which was moving quietly, its surface wrinkled by the breeze, each crease of water outlined by the sun. Naturally, the river wasn’t wrinkled or creased at all — wrong words, implying something unfluid like skin, something unenduring, prey to age. Left to itself, the river would probably go on like this, flowing deep, for another million or so years. That would not be allowed to happen. In bygone days, Morag had once believed that nothing could be worse than killing a person. Now she perceived river-slaying as something worse. No wonder the kids felt themselves to be children of the apocalypse.

No boats today. Yes, one. Royland was out, fishing for muskie. Seventy-four years old this year, Royland. Eyesight terrible, but he was too stubborn to wear glasses. A marvel that he could go on working. Of course, his work did not depend upon eyesight. Some other kind of sight. A water diviner. Morag always felt she was about to learn something of great significance from him, something which would explain everything. But things remained mysterious, his work, her own, the generations, the river.

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Why it's on the list ...
Like Emily, Morag is an orphaned girl growing into her writer self. I was thirteen when I read The Diviners for the first time; it was packaged as a cheap mass market paperback with a cheesy cover. (Why don’t we package literary fiction like this anymore? We should!) At thirteen, I was drawn more to the early years of Morag’s life and her creative development than to her later being-a-writer years, with their drudgery of single motherhood and artistic experimentation amid misogynist male artists.
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Emily Climbs

Emily Climbs

edition:Paperback
tagged : classics

Emily Starr was born with the desire to write. As an orphan living on New Moon Farm, writing helped her face the difficult, lonely times. But now all her friends are going away to high school in nearby Shrewsbury, and her old-fashioned, tyrannical aunt Elizabeth will only let her go if she promises to stop writing! All the same, this is the first step in Emily's climb to success. Once in town, Emily's activities set the Shrewsbury gossips buzzing. When Emily has her poems published and writes fo …

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Writing Herself Out  Emily Byrd Starr was alone in her room, in the old new Moon farmhouse at Blair Water, one stormy night in a February of the olden years before the world turned upside down. She was at that moment as perfectly happy as any human being is ever permitted to be. Aunt Elizabeth, in consideration of the coldness of the night, had allowed her to have a fire in her little fireplace – a rare favour. It was burning brightly and showering a red-golden light over the small, immaculate room, with its old-time furniture and deep-set, wide-silled windows, to whose frosted, blue-white panes the snowflakes clung in little wreaths. It lent depth and mystery and allure to the mirror on the wall which reflected Emily as she sat coiled on the ottoman before the fire, writing, by the light of two tall, white candles – which were the only approved means of illumination at New Moon – in a brand-new, glossy, black "Jimmy-book" which Cousin Jimmy had given her that day. Emily had been very glad to get it, for she had filled the one he had given her the preceding autumn, and for over a week she had suffered acute pangs of suppression because she could not write in a non-existent "diary." Her diary had become a dominant factor in her young, vivid life. It had taken the place of certain "letters" she had written in her childhood to her dead father, in which she had been wont to "write out" her problems and worries – for even in the magic years when one is almost fourteen one has problems and worries, especially when one is under the strict and well-meant but not over-tender governance of an Aunt Elizabeth Murray. Sometimes Emily felt that if it were not for her diary she would have flown into little bits by reason of consuming her own smoke. The fat, black "Jimmy-book" seemed to her like a personal friend and a safe confidant for certain matters which burned for expression and yet were too combustible to be trusted to the ears of any living being. Now blank books of any sort were not easy to come by at New Moon, and if it had not been for Cousin Jimmy, Emily might never have had one. Certainly Aunt Elizabeth would not give her one – Aunt Elizabeth thought Emily wasted far too much time "over her scribbling nonsense" as it was – and Aunt Laura did not dare to go contrary to Aunt Elizabeth in this – more by token that Laura herself really thought Emily might be better employed. Aunt Laura was a jewel of a woman, but certain things were holden from her eyes. Now Cousin Jimmy was never in the least frightened of Aunt Elizabeth, and when the notion occurred to him that Emily probably wanted another "blank book," that blank book materialised straightway, in defiance of Aunt Elizabeth's scornful glances. He had gone to Shrewsbury that very day, in the teeth of the rising storm, for no other reason than to get it. So Emily was happy, in her subtle and friendly firelight, while the wind howled and shrieked through the great old trees to the north of New Moon, sent huge, spectral wreaths of snow whirling across Cousin Jimmy's famous garden, drifted the sundial completely over, and whistled eerily through the Three Princesses – as Emily always called the three tall Lombardies in the corner of the garden. "I love a storm like this at night when I don't have to go out in it," wrote Emily. "Cousin Jimmy and I had a splendid evening planning out our garden and choosing our seeds and plants in the catalogue. Just where the biggest drift is making, behind the summer-house, we are going to have a bed of pink asters, and we are going to give the Golden Ones – who are dreaming under four feet of snow – a background of flowering almond. I love to plan out summer days like this, in the midst of a storm. It makes me feel as if I were winning a victory over something ever so much bigger than myself, just because I have a brain and the storm is nothing but blind, white force – terrible, but blind. I have the same feeling when I sit here cosily by my own dear fire, and hear it raging all around me, and laugh at it. And that is just because over a hundred years ago great-great-grandfather Murray built this house and built it well. I wonder if, a hundred years from now, anybody will win a victory over anything because of something I left or did. It is an inspiring thought. "I drew that line of italics before I thought. Mr. Carpenter says I use far too many italics. He says it is an Early Victorian obsession, and I must strive to cast it off. I concluded I would when I looked in the dictionary, for it is evidently not a nice thing to be obsessed, though it doesn't seem quite so bad as to be possessed. There I go again: but I think the italics are all right this time. "I read the dictionary for a whole hour – till Aunt Elizabeth got suspicious and suggested that it would be much better for me to be knitting my ribbed stockings. She couldn't see exactly why it was wrong for me to be poring over the dictionary but she felt sure it must be because she never wants to do it. I love reading the dictionary. (Yes, those italics are necessary, Mr. Carpenter. An ordinary 'love' wouldn't express my feeling at all!) Words are such fascinating things. (I caught myself at the first syllable that time!) The very sound of some of them – 'haunted' – 'mystic' – for example, gives me the flash. (Oh, dear! But I have to italicize the flash. It isn't ordinary – it's the most extraordinary and wonderful thing in my whole life. When it comes I feel as if a door had swung open in a wall before me and given me a glimpse of – yes, of heaven. More italics! Oh, I see why Mr. Carpenter scolds! I must break myself of the habit.) "Big words are never beautiful – 'incriminating' – 'obstreperous' – 'international' – 'unconstitutional.' They make me think of those horrible big dahlias and chrysanthemums Cousin Jimmy took me to see at the exhibition in Charlottetown last fall. We couldn't see anything lovely in them, though some people thought them wonderful. Cousin Jimmy's little yellow 'mums, like pale, fairy-like stars shining against the fir copse in the north-west corner of the garden, were ten times more beautiful. But I am wandering from my subject – also a bad habit of mine, according to Mr. Carpenter. He says I must (the italics are his this time!) learn to concentrate – another big word and a very ugly one. "But I had a good time over that dictionary – much better than I had over the ribbed stockings. I wish I could have a pair – just one pair – of silk stockings. Ilse has three. Her father gives her everything she wants, now that he has learned to love her. But Aunt Elizabeth says silk stockings are immoral. I wonder why – any more than silk dresses. "Speaking of silk dresses, Aunt Janey Milburn, at Derry Pond – she isn't any relation really, but everybody calls her that – has made a vow that she will never wear a silk dress until the whole heathen world is converted to Christianity. That is very fine. I wish I could be as good as that, but I couldn't – I love silk too much. It is so rich and sheeny. I would like to dress in it all the time, and if I could afford to I would – though I suppose every time I thought of dear old Aunt Janey and the unconverted heathen I would feel conscience-stricken. However, it will be years, if ever, before I can afford to buy even one silk dress, and meanwhile I give some of my egg money every month to missions. (I have five hens of my own now, all descended from the grey pullet Perry gave me on my twelfth birthday.) If ever I can buy that one silk dress I know what it is going to be like. Not black or brown or navy blue – sensible, serviceable colors, such as New Moon Murrays always wear – oh, dear, no! It is to be of shot silk, blue in one light, silver in others, like a twilight sky, glimpsed through a frosted window pane – with a bit of lace-foam here and there, like those little feathers of snow clinging to my window-pane. Teddy says he will paint me in it and call it 'The Ice Maiden,' and Aunt Laura smiles and says, sweetly and condescendingly, in a way I hate, even in dear Aunt Laura, "'What use would such a dress be to you, Emily?' "It mightn't be of any use, but I would feel in it as if it were a part of me – that it grew on me and wasn't just bought and put on. I want one dress like that in my lifetime. And a silk petticoat underneath it – and silk stockings!

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Edible Woman

Edible Woman

edition:Paperback
tagged :

Ever since her engagement, the strangest thing has been happening to Marian McAlpin: she can't eat. First meat. Then eggs, vegetables, cake, pumpkin seeds—everything! Worse yet, she has the crazy feeling that she's being eaten. Marian ought to feel consumed with passion. But really she just feels...consumed. A brilliant and powerful work rich in irony and metaphor, The Edible Woman is an unforgettable materpiece by a true master of contemporary literary fiction.

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1
 
 
I know I was all right on Friday when I got up; if anything I was feeling more stolid than usual. When I went out to the kitchen to get breakfast Ainsley was there, moping: she said she had been to a bad party the night before. She swore there had been nothing but dentistry students, which depressed her so much she had consoled herself by getting drunk.
 
“You have no idea how soggy it is,” she said, “having to go through twenty conversations about the insides of peoples’ mouths. The most reaction I got out of them was when I described an abscess I once had. They positively drooled. And most men look at something besides your teeth, for god’s sake.”
 
She had a hangover, which put me in a cheerful mood – it made me feel so healthy – and I poured her a glass of tomato juice and briskly fixed her an Alka- Seltzer, listening and making sympathetic noises while she complained.
 
“As if I didn’t get enough of that at work,” she said. Ainsley has a job as a tester of defective electric toothbrushes for an electric toothbrush company: a temporary job. What she is waiting for is an opening in one of those little art galleries, even though they don’t pay well: she wants to meet the artists. Last year, she told me, it was actors, but then she actually met some. “It’s an absolute fixation. I expect they all carry those bent mirrors around in their coat pockets and peer into their own mouths every time they go to the john to make sure they’re still cavity- free.” She ran one hand reflectively through her hair, which is long and red, or rather auburn. “Could you imagine kissing one? He’d say ‘Open wide’ beforehand. They’re so bloody one- track.”
 
“It must have been awful,” I said, refilling her glass. “Couldn’t you have changed the topic?”
 
Ainsley raised her almost non- existent eyebrows, which hadn’t been coloured in yet that morning. “Of course not,” she said. “I pretended to be terribly interested. And naturally I didn’t let on what my job was: those professional men get so huffy if you know anything about their subject. You know, like Peter.”
 
Ainsley tends to make jabs at Peter, especially when she isn’t feeling well. I was magnanimous and didn’t respond. “You’d better eat something before you go to work,” I said, “it’s better when you’ve got something on your stomach.”
 
“Oh god,” said Ainsley, “I can’t face it. Another day of machines and mouths. I haven’t had an interesting one since last month, when that lady sent back her toothbrush because the bristles were falling off. We found out she’d been using Ajax.”
 
I got so caught up in being efficient for Ainsley’s benefit while complimenting myself on my moral superiority to her that I didn’t realize how late it was until she reminded me. At the electric toothbrush company they don’t care what time you breeze in, but my company thinks of itself as punctual. I had to skip the egg and wash down a glass of milk and a bowl of cold cereal which I knew would leave me hungry long before lunchtime. I chewed through a piece of bread while Ainsley watched me in nauseated silence and grabbed up my purse, leaving Ainsley to close the apartment door behind me.
 
We live on the top floor of a large house in one of the older and more genteel districts, in what I suppose used to be the servants’ quarters. This means there are two flights of stairs between us and the front door, the higher flight narrow and slippery, the lower one wide and carpeted but with stair rods that come loose. In the high heels expected by the office I have to go down sideways, clutching the bannister. That morning I made it safely past the line of pioneer brass warming- pans strung on the wall of our stairway, avoided catching myself on the many- pronged spinning wheel on the second-floor landing, and sidestepped quickly down past the ragged regimental flag behind glass and the row of oval- framed ancestors that guard the first stairway. I was relieved to see there was no one in the downstairs hall. On level ground I strode towards the door, swerving to avoid the rubber plant on one side and the hall table with the écru doily and the round brass tray on the other. Behind the velvet curtain to the right I could hear the child performing her morning penance at the piano. I thought I was safe.
 
But before I reached the door it swung silently inward upon its hinges, and I knew I was trapped. It was the lady down below. She was wearing a pair of spotless gardening gloves and carrying a trowel. I wondered who she’d been burying in the garden.
 
“Good morning, Miss MacAlpin,” she said.
 
“Good morning.” I nodded and smiled. I can never remember her name, and neither can Ainsley; I suppose we have what they call a mental block about it. I looked past her towards the street, but she didn’t move out of the doorway.
 
“I was out last night,” she said. “At a meeting.” She has an indirect way of going about things. I shifted from one foot to the other and smiled again, hoping she would realize I was in a hurry. “The child tells me there was another fire.”
 
“Well, it wasn’t exactly a fire,” I said. The child had taken this mention of her name as an excuse to stop practising, and was standing now in the velvet doorway of the parlour, staring at me. She is a hulking creature of fifteen or so who is being sent to an exclusive private girls’ school, and she has to wear a green tunic with knee-socks to match. I’m sure she’s really quite normal, but there’s something cretinous about the hair- ribbon perched up on top of her gigantic body.
 
The lady down below took off one of her gloves and patted her chignon. “Ah,” she said sweetly. “The child says there was a lot of smoke.”
 
“Everything was under control,” I said, not smiling this time. “It was just the pork chops.”
 
“Oh, I see,” she said. “Well, I do wish you would tell Miss Tewce to try not to make quite so much smoke in future. I’m afraid it upsets the child.” She holds Ainsley alone responsible for the smoke, and seems to think she sends it out of her nostrils like a dragon. But she never stops Ainsley in the hall to talk about it: only me. I suspect she’s decided Ainsley isn’t respectable, whereas I am. It’s probably the way we dress: Ainsley says I choose clothes as though they’re a camouflage or a protective colouration, though I can’t see anything wrong with that. She herself goes in for neon pink.
 
Of course I missed the bus: as I crossed the lawn I could see it disappearing across the bridge in a cloud of air pollution. While I was standing under the tree – our street has many trees, all of them enormous – waiting for the next bus, Ainsley came out of the house and joined me. She’s a quick- change artist; I could never put myself together in such a short time. She was looking a lot healthier – possibly the effects of makeup, though you can never tell with Ainsley – and she had her red hair piled up on top of her head, as she always does when she goes to work. The rest of the time she wears it down in straggles. She had on her orange and pink sleeveless dress, which I judged was too tight across the hips. The day was going to be hot and humid; already I could feel a private atmosphere condensing around me like a plastic bag. Maybe I should have worn a sleeveless dress too.
 
“She got me in the hall,” I said. “About the smoke.”
 
“The old bitch,” said Ainsley. “Why can’t she mind her own business?” Ainsley doesn’t come from a small town as I do, so she’s not as used to people being snoopy; on the other hand she’s not as afraid of it either. She has no idea about the consequences.
 
“She’s not that old,” I said, glancing over at the curtained windows of the house; though I knew she couldn’t hear us. “Besides, it wasn’t her who noticed the smoke, it was the child. She was at a meeting.”
 
“Probably the W.C.T.U.,” Ainsley said. “Or the I.O.D.E. I’ll bet she wasn’t at a meeting at all; she was hiding behind that damn velvet curtain, wanting us to think she was at a meeting so we’d really do something. What she wants is an orgy.”
 
“Now Ainsley,” I said, “you’re being paranoid.” Ainsley is convinced that the lady down below comes upstairs when we aren’t there and looks round our apartment and is silently horrified, and even suspects her of ruminating over our mail, though not of going so far as to open it. It’s a fact that she sometimes answers the front door for our visitors before they ring the bell. She must think she’s within her rights to take precautions: when we first considered renting the apartment she made it clear to us, by discreet allusions to previous tenants, that whatever happened the child’s innocence must not be corrupted, and that two young ladies were surely more to be depended upon than two young men.
 
“I’m doing my best,” she had said, sighing and shaking her head. She had intimated that her husband, whose portrait in oils hung above the piano, had not left as much money as he should have. “Of course you realize your apartment has no private entrance?” She had been stressing the drawbacks rather than the advantages, almost as though she didn’t want us to rent. I said we did realize it; Ainsley said nothing. We had agreed I would do the talking and Ainsley would sit and look innocent, something she can do very well when she wants to – she has a pink- and- white blunt baby’s face, a bump for a nose, and large blue eyes she can make as round as ping- pong balls. On this occasion I had even got her to wear gloves.
 
The lady down below shook her head again. “If it weren’t for the child,” she said, “I would sell the house. But I want the child to grow up in a good district.”
 
I said I understood, and she said that of course the district wasn’t as good as it used to be: some of the larger houses were too expensive to keep up and the owners had been forced to sell them to immigrants (the corners of her mouth turned gently down) who had divided them up into rooming houses. “But that hasn’t reached our street yet,” she said. “And I tell the child exactly which streets she can walk on and which she can’t.” I said I thought that was wise. She had seemed much easier to deal with before we had signed the lease. And the rent was so low, and the house was so close to the bus stop. For this city it was a real find.
 
“Besides,” I added to Ainsley, “they have a right to be worried about the smoke. What if the house was on fire? And she’s never mentioned the other things.”
 
“What other things? We’ve never done any other things.”
 
“Well . . .” I said. I suspected the lady down below had taken note of all the bottle- shaped objects we had carried upstairs, though I tried my best to disguise them as groceries. It was true she had never specifically forbidden us to do anything – that would be too crude a violation of her law of nuance – but this only makes me feel I am actually forbidden to do everything.
 
“On still nights,” said Ainsley as the bus drew up, “I can hear her burrowing through the woodwork.”
 
We didn’t talk on the bus; I don’t like talking on buses, I would rather look at the advertisements. Besides, Ainsley and I don’t have much in common except the lady down below. I’ve only known her since just before we moved in: she was a friend of a friend, looking for a room mate at the same time I was, which is the way these things are usually done. Maybe I should have tried a computer; though on the whole it’s worked out fairly well. We get along by a symbiotic adjustment of habits and with a minimum of that pale- mauve hostility you often find among women. Our apartment is never exactly clean, but we keep it from gathering more than a fine plum- bloom of dust by an unspoken agreement: if I do the breakfast dishes, Ainsley does the supper ones; if I sweep the living- room floor, Ainsley wipes the kitchen table. It’s a see- saw arrangement and we both know that if one beat is missed the whole thing will collapse. Of course we each have our own bedroom and what goes on in there is strictly the owner’s concern. For instance Ainsley’s floor is covered by a treacherous muskeg of used clothes with ashtrays scattered here and there on it like stepping- stones, but though I consider it a fire hazard I never speak to her about it. By such mutual refrainings – I assume they are mutual since there must be things I do that she doesn’t like – we manage to preserve a reasonably frictionless equilibrium.
 
We reached the subway station, where I bought a package of peanuts. I was beginning to feel hungry already. I offered some to Ainsley, but she refused, so I ate them all on the way downtown.
 
We got off at the second- last stop south and walked a block together; our office buildings are in the same district.
 
“By the way,” said Ainsley as I was turning off at my street, “have you got three dollars? We’re out of scotch.” I rummaged in my purse and handed over, not without a sense of injustice: we split the cost but rarely the contents. At the age of ten I wrote a temperance essay for a United Church Sunday- school competition, illustrating it with pictures of car crashes, diagrams of diseased livers, and charts showing the effects of alcohol upon the circulatory system; I expect that’s why I can never take a second drink without a mental image of a warning sign printed in coloured crayons and connected with the taste of tepid communion grape juice. This puts me at a disadvantage with Peter; he likes me to try and keep up with him.
 
As I hurried towards my office building, I found myself envying Ainsley her job. Though mine was better- paying and more interesting, hers was more temporary: she had an idea of what she wanted to do next. She could work in a shiny new air- conditioned office building, whereas mine was dingy brick with small windows. Also, her job was unusual. When she meets people at parties they are always surprised when she tells them she’s a tester of defective electric toothbrushes, and she always says, “What else do you do with a B.A. these days?” Whereas my kind of job is only to be expected. I was thinking too that really I was better equipped to handle her job than she is. From what I see around the apartment, I’m sure I have much more mechanical ability than Ainsley.
 
By the time I finally reached the office I was three- quarters of an hour late. None commented but all took note.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Emily's Quest

Emily's Quest

edition:Paperback
tagged : classics

The third and final volume of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s celebrated Emily trilogy, Emily’s Quest is a vigorously drawn study of a woman coming to terms with love and her own ambition. In no other novel did Montgomery explore more fully the beauty, complexity, and wonder of love. In every detail, this mature novel, by one of the world’s best-loved authors, captures the drama and confusion of a young life on the brink.

Along with Emily of New Moon and Emily Climbs, Emily’s Quest is an honest an …

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Excerpt

One  I "No more cambric tea" had Emily Byrd Starr written in her diary when she came home to New Moon from Shrewsbury, with high school days behind her and immortality before her. Which was a symbol. When Aunt Elizabeth Murray permitted Emily to drink real tea – as a matter of course and not as an occasional concession – she thereby tacitly consented to let Emily grow up. Emily had been considered grown-up by other people for sometime, especially by Cousin Andrew Murray and Friend Perry Miller, each of whom had asked her to marry him and been disdainfully refused for his pains. When Aunt Elizabeth found this out she knew it was no use to go on making Emily drink cambric tea. Though, even then, Emily had no real hope that she would ever be permitted to wear silk stockings. A silk petticoat might be tolerated, being a hidden thing, in spite of its seductive rustle, but silk stockings were immoral. So Emily, of whom it was whispered somewhat mysteriously by people who knew her to people who didn't know her,  "she writes," was accepted as one of the ladies of New Moon, where nothing had ever changed since her coming there seven years before and where the carved ornament on the sideboard still cast the same queer shadow of an Ethiopian silhouette on exactly the same place on the wall where she had noticed it delightedly on her first evening there. An old house that had lived its life long ago and so was very quiet and wise and a little mysterious. Also a little austere, but very kind. Some of the Blair Water and Shrewsbury people thought it was a dull place and outlook for a young girl and said she had been very foolish to refuse Miss Royal's offer of a "position on a magazine" in New York. Throwing away such a good chance to make something of herself! But Emily, who had very clear-cut ideas of what she was going to make of herself, did not think life would be dull at New Moon or that she had lost her chance of Alpine climbing because she had elected to stay there. She belonged by right divine to the Ancient and Noble Order of Story-tellers. Born thousands of years earlier she would have sat in the circle around the fires of the tribe and enchanted her listeners. Born in the foremost files of time she must reach her audience through many artificial mediums. But the materials of story weaving are the same in all ages and all places. Births, deaths, marriages, scandals – these are the only really interesting things in the world. So she settled down very determinedly and happily to her pursuit of fame and fortune – and of something that was neither. For writing, to Emily Byrd Starr, was not primarily a matter of worldly lucre or laurel crown. It was something she had to do. A thing – an idea – whether of beauty or ugliness, tortured her until it was "written out." Humorous and dramatic by instinct, the comedy and tragedy of life enthralled her and demanded expression through her pen. A world of lost but immortal dreams, lying just beyond the drop-curtain of the real, called to her for embodiment and interpretation – called with a voice she could not – dared not – disobey. She was filled with youth's joy in mere existence. Life was forever luring and beckoning her onward. She knew that a hard struggle was before her; she knew that she must constantly offend Blair Water neighbours who would want her to write obituaries for them and who, if she used an unfamiliar word, would say contemptuously that she was "talking big"; she knew there would be rejection slips galore; she knew there would be days when she would feel despairingly that she could not write and that it was of no use to try; days when the editorial phrase, "not necessarily a reflection on its merits," would get on her nerves to such an extent that she would feel like imitating Marie Bashkirtseff and hurling the taunting, ticking, remorseless sitting-room clock out of the window; days when everything she had done or tried to do would slump – become mediocre and despicable; days when she would be tempted to bitter disbelief in her fundamental conviction that there was as much truth in the poetry of life as in the prose; days when the echo of that "random word" of the gods, for which she so avidly listened, would only seem to taunt her with its suggestions of unattainable perfection and loveliness beyond the reach of mortal ear or pen. She knew that Aunt Elizabeth tolerated but never approved her mania for scribbling. In her last two years in Shrewsbury High School Emily, to Aunt Elizabeth's almost incredulous amazement, had actually earned some money by her verses and stories. Hence the toleration. But no Murray had ever done such a thing before. And there was always that sense, which Dame Elizabeth Murray did not like, of being shut out of something. Aunt Elizabeth really resented the fact that Emily had another world, apart from the world of New Moon and Blair Water, a kingdom starry and illimitable, into which she could enter at will and into which not even the most determined and suspicious of aunts could follow her. I really think that if Emily's eyes had not so often seemed to be looking at something dreamy and lovely and secretive Aunt Elizabeth might have had more sympathy with her ambitions. None of us, not even self-sufficing Murrays of New Moon, like to be barred out.

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