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Drowning: List by Annette Lapointe
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Drowning: List by Annette Lapointe

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Annette Lapointe holds a PhD in Contemporary Canadian Literature and teaches English at Grande Prairie Regional College. Her first novel, Stolen, was nominated for a Giller Prize and was the Winner of two Saskatchewan Book Awards (First Book Award and Saskatoon Book Award). A Finalist for the Books in Canada First Novel Award, as well as being cited as a Globe & Mail Top 5 First Fiction choice, Stolen also garnered Ms. Lapointe a Canadian Authors Association Emerging Writer award. Annette has lived in Saskatoon, Quebec City, St John’s, South Korea, Winnipeg, and currently resides in Grande Prairie, Alberta. Much of the first draft of Whitetail Shooting Gallery was written in a fried chicken joint in Jinju, South Korea.
Monkey Beach
Excerpt

Six crows sit in our greengage tree. Half-awake, I hear them speak to me in Haisla.
La'es, they say, La'es, la'es.
I push myself out of bed and go to the open window, but they launch themselves upward, cawing. Morning light slants over the mountains behind the reserve. A breeze coming down the channel makes my curtains flap limply. Ripples sparkle in the shallows as a seal bobs its dark head.
La'es — Go down to the bottom of the ocean. The word means something else, but I can't remember what. I had too much coffee last night after the Coast Guard called with the news about Jimmy. People pressed cups and cups of it into my hands. Must have fallen asleep fourish. On the nightstand, the clock-face has a badly painted Elvis caught in mid-gyrate. Jimmy found it at a garage sale and gave it to me last year for my birthday — that and a card that said, "Hap B-day, sis! How does it feel to be almost two decades old? Rock on, Grandma!" The Elvis clock says the time is seven-thirty, but it's always either an hour ahead or an hour behind. We always joke that it's on Indian time. I go to my dresser and pull out my first cigarette of the day, then return to the window and smoke. An orange cat pauses at the grassy shoreline, alert. It flicks its tail back and forth, then bounds up the beach and into a tangle of bushes near our neighbour's house. The crows are tiny black dots against a faded denim sky. In the distance, I hear a speedboat. For the last week, I have been dreaming about the ocean-lapping softly against the hull of a boat, hissing as it rolls gravel up a beach, ocean swells hammering the shore, lifting off the rocks in an ethereal spray before the waves make a grumbling retreat. Such a lovely day. Late summer. Warm. Look at the pretty, fluffy clouds. Weather reports are all favourable for the area where his seiner went missing. Jimmy's a good swimmer. Everyone says this like a mantra that will keep him safe. No one's as optimistic about his skipper, Josh, a hefty good-time guy who is very popular for his generosity at bars and parties. He is also heavily in debt and has had a bad fishing season. Earlier this summer two of his crew quit, bitterly complaining to their relatives that he didn't pay them all they were due. They came by last night to show their support. One of my cousins said they've been spreading rumours that Josh might have sunk his Queen of the North for the insurance and that Jimmy's inexperience on the water would make him a perfect scapegoat. They were whispering to other visitors last night, but Aunt Edith glared at them until they took the hint and left.

I stub out the cigarette and take the steps two at a time down to the kitchen. My father's at the table, smoking. His ashtray is overflowing. He glances at me, eyes bloodshot and red-rimmed.

Did you hear the crows earlier?" I say. When he doesn't answer, I find myself babbling. "They were talking to me. They said la'es. It's probably — "

"Clearly a sign, Lisa," my mother has come up behind me and grips my shoulders, "that you need Prozac." She steers me to a chair and pushes me down. Dad's old VHF is tuned to the emergency channel. Normally, we have the radio tuned to CFTK. He likes it loud, and the morning soft rock usually rackets through the house. As we sit in silence, I watch his cigarette burn down in the ashtray. Mom smoothes her hair. She keeps touching it. They both have that glazed, drawn look of people who haven't slept. I have this urge to turn on some music. If they had found the seiner, someone would phone us. "Pan, pan, pan," a woman's voice crackles over the VHF. "All stations, this is the Prince Rupert Coast Guard." She repeats everything three times, I don't know why. "We have an overdue vessel." She goes on to describe a gillnetter that should have been in Rupert four days ago. Mom and Dad tense expectantly even though this has nothing to do with Jimmy.

At any given moment, there are two thousand storms at sea.

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Why it's on the list ...
Everything Eden Robinson writes makes my hair stand up. Her first novel is about all kinds of drowning: in sorrow, in alcohol, in the Pacific Ocean. Robinson’s Haisla Protagonist, Lisamarie Hill, tells a complicated ghost story about her grandmother, her brother, Vancouver’s downtown east side, and b’gwus, the sasquatch of the northern BC coast.
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Green Grass, Running Water
Why it's on the list ...
“So.
“In the beginning, there was nothing. Just the water.”
The title refers to the U.S. Government’s promise that aboriginal people would have rights to their land for “as long as the grass is green and the water runs.” This novel is actually set in Canada, in an Albertan Blackfoot community, but the question still stands: what happens if the water stops running? The water’s stopped by dam construction, and it draws the attention of Coyote, who commences rearranging the world—right down to what’s on TV—to keep the water running.
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Salt Fish Girl
Why it's on the list ...
Lai’s speculative novel crosses the border from corporate-controlled Washington state into a post-apocalyptic, half-drowned Vancouver. Miranda’s middle-class life keeps bleeding into the life of an ancient Chinese shape-shifter, and she keeps finding fish scales in her bathtub. Lai links water, salt, and fish both with Pacific cultures and lesbian sexuality, and lays out a haunting, half-virtual story.
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In the Skin of a Lion
Excerpt

An April night in 1917. Harris and Pomphrey were on the bridge, in the dark wind. Pomphrey had turned west and was suddenly stilled. His hand reached out to touch Harris on the shoulder, a gesture he had never made before.

-- Look!

Walking on the bridge were five nuns.

Past the Dominion Steel castings wind attacked the body directly. The nuns were walking past the first group of workers at the fire. The bus, Harris thought, must have dropped them off near Castle Frank and the nuns had, with some confusion at that hour, walked the wrong way in the darkness.

They had passed the black car under the trees and talking cheerfully stepped past the barrier into a landscape they did not know existed -- onto a tentative carpet over the piers, among the night labourers. They saw the fire and the men. A few tried to wave them back. There was a mule attached to a wagon. The hiss and jump of machines made the ground under them lurch. A smell of creosote. One man was washing his face in a barrel of water.

The nuns were moving towards a thirty-yard point on the bridge when the wind began to scatter them. They were thrown against the cement mixers and steam shovels, careering from side to side, in danger of going over the edge.

Some of the men grabbed and enclosed them, pulling leather straps over their shoulders, but two were still loose. Harris and Pomphrey at the far end looked on helplessly as one nun was lifted up and flung against the compressors. She stood up shakily and then the wind jerked her sideways, scraping her along the concrete and right off the edge of the bridge. She disappeared into the night by the third abutment, into the long depth of air which held nothing, only sometimes a rivet or a dropped hammer during the day.

Then there was no longer any fear on the bridge. The worst, the incredible had happened. A nun had fallen off the Prince Edward Viaduct before it was even finished. The men covered in wood shavings or granite dust held the women against them. And Commissioner Harris at the far end stared along the mad pathway. This was his first child and it had already become a murderer.

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Why it's on the list ...
This novel shares characters with Ondaatje’s more famous The English Patient, but In the Skin of a Lion traces workers’ lives and labour struggles in the first three decades of the 20th century. A nun falls from a bridge, a hotel baron vanishes, and the city of Toronto sets out to build a water works as elaborate as a mythological palace in the midst of the Great Depression. Patrick, who sees his father die while log-driving, and pursues his lover across a frozen lake, first digs the tunnels for the water-works, then dives into Lake Ontario to get back in, coming the other way.
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The Flying Troutmans
Excerpt

one

yeah, so things have fallen apart. A few weeks ago I got a collect call from my niece, Thebes, in the middle of the night, asking me to please come back to help with Min. She told me she’d been trying to take care of things but it wasn’t working any more. Min was stranded in her bed, hooked on blue torpedoes and convinced that a million silver cars were closing in on her (I didn’t know what Thebes meant either), Logan was in trouble at school, something about the disturbing stories he was writing, Thebes was pretending to be Min on the phone with his principal, the house was crumbling around them, the back screen door had blown off in the wind, a family of aggressive mice was living behind the piano, the neighbours were pissed off because of hatchets being thrown into their yard at all hours (again, confusing, something to do with Logan) . . . basically, things were out of control. And Thebes is only ­eleven.

I told her I’d be there as soon as I could. I had no choice. There was no question. Our parents are dead. Min didn’t have anybody else. And in just about every meaningful way, neither did I. Admittedly, I would have preferred to keep roaming around Paris pretending to be an artist with my moody, ­adjective-­hating boyfriend, Marc, but he was heading off to an ashram in India anyway and said we could communicate telepathically. I tried it a couple of days before he left. I love you, don’t go, I said silently, without moving my lips. He was standing next to me, trying to photograph a gargoyle. You’re a little in my way, he said. Can you move? No amount of telepathy worked with him, but maybe you have to be thousands of miles away from someone in order for your thoughts to work up the speed and velocity required to hit their ­target.

At the airport, Thebes came running over to me dressed entirely in royal blue terry cloth, short shorts and cropped top, and covered in some kind of candy necklace powder. The empty elastic was still around her throat. Or maybe she wore that thing all the time. She had fake tattoos all over her arms and her hair was intense purple, matted and wild, and she melted into me when I put my arms around her and tried to lift her off the ­ground.

Hey, you crazy kid, I said. How are you? She couldn’t talk because she was crying too hard. How are you, Thebie? I asked again. How are things? I didn’t have to ask her. I had a pretty good idea. I let her wrap herself around me and then I carried her over to a plastic airport chair, sat down with her sprawled in my lap, all arms and legs, like a baby giraffe, and let her cry.

How’s the songwriting going? I finally whispered in her ear. I really liked that line . . . take a verse, Mojo . . . you know? I said. She was always ­e-­mailing me her lyrics and cc’ing David Geffen on ­them.

She frowned. She wiped the snot off her face with the back of her hand, then onto her shorts. I’m more into martial arts now, and ­yo-­yoing, she said. I need to get out of my ­head.

Yeah, I said. Using your kung fu powers for ­good?

Well, she said, I feel good when I flip ­people.

Hey, I said, where’s your ­brother?

She told me he was outside waiting in the van because he didn’t know how to work the parking and also he didn’t actually have his driver’s licence, only his learner’s, he’s fifteen, he’s all jacked up on rebellion and whatever, he just wanted to wait in the van and listen to his ­music.

We headed for the exit and kind of stumbled around, falling over each other. Thebes kept her arm wrapped around my waist and tried to help me with my bag. All I had was one large backpack. I didn’t know how long I’d be staying but it didn’t really matter anyway. I’d lost my boyfriend and didn’t care about my job and there was no reason to go back to Paris. I didn’t own anything besides books, and Marc could keep those if he wanted ­to.

It was sunny and warm and the sky was a sharp, cartoony blue compared to the wet clay skies of Paris, and there was Logan sitting in their ­beat-­up van staring straight ahead at something, not us, music blasting from inside, like the van was a giant Marshall amp. Thebes ran up to the van and threw herself against the windshield. Logan snapped out of his rock ’n’ roll reverie for a second and smiled. Then he got out of the van and walked, glided, over to me and gave me a big hug with one arm and asked me how it was ­going.

All right, I said, how about ­you?

Mmmm, he said. He ­shrugged.

Hey, what’s this? I asked him. I grabbed his arm and squeezed his ­bicep.

Yeah, right, said ­Thebes.

And, dude, your pants! I said. Did you steal them from Andre the Giant? I snapped the elastic band on his boxers. Logan opened the door to the van and threw my stuff ­in.

How was Paris? he ­asked.

What? I ­said. Oh, Paris?

Yeah, he said. How was ­it?

Thebes turned down the volume on the music. Then she told me I should drive instead of Logan. She said she’d been planning her funeral on the way ­there.

I got dumped, I ­said.

No way! said ­Logan.

Well, yeah, I ­said.

You can’t get dumped in Paris, said Logan. Isn’t it supposed to be all–
By a guy or a girl? asked ­Thebes.

A guy, I ­said.

Logan stared hard at Thebes for a few seconds. He said you were gay, she ­said.

No I didn’t, said ­Logan.

You totally did! said ­Thebes.

Okay, Thebes, listen, said Logan. I didn’t–

Hey, I said. It’s okay. It really doesn’t matter. Really. But it was a ­guy.

But you’re not that old, said Thebes, right? You can still find someone if you look hard. How old are ­you?
Twenty-­eight, I ­said.

Okay, ­twenty-­eight, she said. She thought for a second. You have like two years, she said. Maybe you should dress up more, ­though.

Logan ended up driving back to their house because I didn’t know how to tell him not to and because he hadn’t seemed interested in relinquishing control of the wheel anyway. Logan and Thebes yelled at each other all the way back, the music cranked the whole ­time.

Thebes: Stay in your lane, moron!

Logan: Don’t lose your fucking shit, man!

Thebes: I don’t want to die, loser! Use two hands!

Logan: Do NOT grab the steering wheel!

Then Thebes went into this strange kind of commentary thing she does, quoting the imaginary people in her head. This time it was a funeral director, I think. She said: With an impact this severe there is not a hope of reconstructing this kid’s face. She banged the back window with her ­fist.

What was that? I asked ­her.

The lid of my coffin slamming down, she said. Closed casket. I’ll be unrecognizable ­anyway.
It was great to see the kids again. They’d changed a bit, especially Logan. He was a young man now, not a child. More on his mind, maybe, but with less compulsion to share it. Thebes was more manic than the last time I’d seen her. I knew what that was about. It’s hard not to get a little hysterical when you’re trying desperately to keep somebody you love alive, especially when the person you’re trying to save is ambivalent about being saved. Thebes reminded me of myself when I was her age, rushing home from school ahead of Min so I could create the right vibe, a mood of happiness and fun that would sustain her for another day, or so I thought. I’d mentally rehearse what I thought were amusing anecdotes to entertain her, make her laugh. I didn’t know then that all my ridiculous efforts only brought her further down. Sometimes she would laugh or applaud ­half-­heartedly, but it was always with an expression that said, yeah, whatever, Hattie, nice try, but everything is ­bullshit.

––

My birth triggered a seismic shift in my sister’s life. The day I was born she put her dress on backwards and ran away towards a brighter future, or possibly towards a brighter past. Our parents found her in a tree next door. Had she been planning to jump? She’s been doing that ever since, travelling in two opposite directions at once, towards infancy and death. I don’t know exactly what it was about me. By all accounts before I existed Min was a normal little girl, normal enough. She could pick a direction and stick with it. Our family photo albums are filled, halfway, with shots of Min laughing and smiling and enjoying life. And then, suddenly, I’m in the picture and Min’s joy evaporates. I’ve spent hours staring at those photos trying to understand my sister. Even in the ones in which I don’t appear it’s easy to see by Min’s expression that I am just beyond the lens, somewhere nearby.

Min’s had good days, some inexplicable breaks from the madness, periods of time where she functions beautifully and life is as smooth as glass, almost. The thing I remember most clearly about Cherkis, Thebes’s and Logan’s dad, is how nuts he was about Min and how excited he’d get when Min was on the ­up-­and-­up, taking care of business and acting normal. I liked that about him, but it also broke my heart because he had no idea of the amount of shit that was about to fly. Eventually, though, he did come to understand, and he did what I did, and what so many others in her life have ­done.

He ­left.

Min had a vague notion of where he’d gone. At first it was Tokyo, about as far away as you can get from here without being on your way back. He moved around the Pacific Rim, and then Europe for a while, South America, and then South Dakota. He’d call sometimes to see how the kids were doing, how Min was doing, if she wanted him to come back. No, she didn’t, she said, every time. And if he tried to take the kids she’d kill herself for real. We didn’t know whether this was a bluff or not, but nobody wanted to challenge it. They were all she had, she told him. Cherkis wasn’t the type of guy to hire a lawyer and fight for custody. He told Min he’d wait until the kids were old enough to decide for themselves and take things from there. He didn’t want to rock Min’s boat. He didn’t want anybody getting ­hurt.

I moved to Paris, fled Min’s dark planet for the City of Lights. I didn’t want to leave her and the kids but the truth is she scared me and I thought she might be better off without me, too. Especially if I was the embodiment of her particular anguish. It had been hard to know whether to stay or go.

It’s impossible to move through the stages of grief when a person is both dead and alive, the way Min is. It’s like she’s living permanently in an airport terminal, moving from one departure lounge to another but never getting on a plane. Sometimes I tell myself that I’d do anything for Min. That I’d do whatever was necessary for her to be happy. Except that I’m not entirely sure what that would ­be.

So the next best thing to being dead was being far away, at least as far as Paris. I had a boyfriend, Marc, and a job in a bookstore, and occasionally I’d go home, back to Manitoba, to Min and Thebes and Logan, for Christmas or the odd birthday, or to help with Min if she was in a really bad patch, but of course that was complicated because I never knew whether I should be there or ­not.

I wanted to be an artist, in Paris, or a psychiatrist. Sometimes I’d haul a giant pad of sketch paper and some charcoal pencils to the square in front of the Louvre or wherever the tourists were and I’d offer to sketch them for free. I didn’t feel right about charging anybody, because I wasn’t really doing a good job. In every sketch, it didn’t matter if I was drawing the face of a man or a woman or a kid, I’d include a detail from Min’s face, from what I could remember at that precise moment. Sometimes it was the shape of her eyebrows, or her wide lips, or a constellation of tiny freckles, or even just a shadow beneath the cheekbone. The people I sketched were always slightly confused and disappointed when I showed them my work, I could tell, but most of them were kind, especially because I didn’t expect any ­payment.

Our father died in a drowning accident in Acapulco when Min and I were kids. He drowned trying to save us. We’d been racing and had swum out farther than we should have and Min had started panicking, screaming for help. The current was strong and we couldn’t get back to the shore no matter how hard we pushed against the water. I remember yelling at Min to move sideways and to let go of me. After that, my memory of events is blurry. I have a feeling that Min was pushing me down, under water. I think that I remember her hand on my head, or on my shoulder, but maybe I’m wrong. Our mother told us that Dad had heard our screams and had swum out to get us, but that he too had got caught in the undertow and disappeared. They said it was a riptide. Other people on the beach eventually grabbed a boat from somewhere and rescued us, but by then Dad was gone. Min was fifteen and I was nine. They left us lying in the sun on the beach, crying and vomiting up salt water, while they searched for ­him.

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Why it's on the list ...
I love everything Toews writes. Her ability to capture the frustrating ordinariness of the Winnipeg poverty line makes what could be drab stories funny, and funny stories dark. The Flying Troutmans asks what happens when one person drowns in the place of another, and whether the family can survive it. Two sisters, a car full of kids, and a low-budget road trip keep returning to the moment when their father drowned, and why it happened.
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Modern Classics Not Wanted On the Voyage
Why it's on the list ...
Findley’s re-telling of Noah’s ark takes all the kid-friendly versions of the story and shakes them until they curl up and cry. It’s funny, it’s dark, it’s told partially from the point of view of Mrs Noah’s cat. What kind of God, Findley asks, would kill everyone? What does it mean, really, to put all of the animals into an ark? How long can you live like that? And what if it never stops raining?
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The Robber Bride
Why it's on the list ...
This isn’t the obvious choice for an Atwood novel about drowning, but it’s decidedly the one I prefer. (You can go read Surfacing if you want. I won’t stop you.) The Robber Bride tells three interwoven stories of middle-aged women who lost their lovers to an almost mythological femme-fatale, Zenia. Major Canadian rivers become shades of lipstick. Boats carry people into and out of lives. The water is always there, just below the surface of the story, and occasionally a character vanishes into it, temporarily or forever.
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Burning Water

Burning Water

edition:Paperback
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Why it's on the list ...
Canadian exploration histories are usually treated as epic adventures, but they rarely include Captain George Vancouver. Bowering takes up Vancouver’s exploration of Nootka Sound, the waterways of the B.C. lower mainland, and the Gulf Islands, mixing mythology, humour, and metafiction to make a magical, sometimes romantic story of colonial expansion in the Pacific northwest. (Someone does drown. In the sea. That’s all the advance detail you get.)
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