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Swim-Lit

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Canadian books that smell like chlorine.
The Change Room

The Change Room

edition:Paperback

Happily married, great career, mother of two. What more could a woman possibly want? Enter The Change Room, by award-winning writer Karen Connelly, and find out.

Eliza Keenan is the mother of two young sons, the owner of a flower studio that caters to the city's elite, and the loving wife of a deliciously rumpled math professor named Andrew. She's on the move from dawn until her boys are in bed, and after they're asleep she cleans her house. Her one complaint about her life is that the only time …

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Excerpt

Sometimes she felt desperate for it.

After she dropped the boys off, she hurried along the icy street, afraid of slipping. A few other parents, late getting their kids to school, waved in her direction. They were also in a rush, no one could stop and chat. Thank god. I have forty-five minutes, she thought, and picked up her pace.

The intensity of her own need was unfamiliar. Not need. She didn’t need anything. That was for children. And Andrew. She wanted. It’s desire, she thought. One foot skated forward unexpectedly on the ice; her arm shot out as she caught herself. Resettling her heavy bag on her shoulder, she felt a twinge there, the old ache. Torn ligaments, years ago in Greece. One serious surgery when she returned. The sidewalks were treacherous, the roads worse. Accidents were already happening today, across the city, on the highways. She’d asked Andrew to leave the car at home, but he said, Don’t worry, I’ll be fine.

She had not thought of that word for a thousand years. Desire. Who had the time for it? De sideris. She’d taken two years of Latin at university, four of ancient Greek, the brilliant, useless languages. Dead, like the stars. “Desire” came from the Latin root de sideris. Meaning of the stars.

She had started to swim a year ago, when the boys were five and six, and she was in the floral studio again every day, working long hours. Her work was complicated, busy, mostly satisfying. She would never tire of flowers, though the people who bought them sometimes drove her crazy. Clients came to the studio as though to a therapist’s office, upset about their daughter’s choice of husband, worried about aging, or anxious about money, and good style. Human weirdness was part of the boutique flower gig. Her business partner, Kiki, often said that because flowers came from the natural world, they brought out the animal in people. Eliza loved the flowers first and foremost, but she also loved the crazed tap-dance of running a business that sold something as ephemeral and as unnecessary as flowers. Beauty, that’s what she sold, beauty’s ancient promises, too—this is true, this will be good—especially from May to October, when she and various wedding planners worked together to create lovely, personal, idyllic, glorious, increasingly lavish weddings. Approaching the city’s three top wedding planners had been her idea, and an excellent one. The clients who came through them were the wealthiest people she had ever met in her life. They could afford truth and beauty.

Eliza worked hard to give it to them, every day. Though she relished hard work, the pace had grown relentless since she’d had kids. The list of things to do constantly replenished itself. One after the other, she shot down the tasks, yet still they rose up and came at her (like zombies, naturally; her boys loved zombies). If it wasn’t the main sink clogging at the studio, it was the flooding basement at home, or a sick child, or a bossy client. In the past couple of months, it had been Kiki, in a romantic funk, whining about her loneliness and threatening, vaguely, to return to Montreal to find a real man. Wanting to be one of the “good” mothers, Eliza had even volunteered for school council. Now some disorganized flake of a woman called her every week, begging her to do yet another school-related task. Andrew never seemed to work himself into the same frenzied pitch. Was it because he was attached to an institution? Was it because he was a man, and didn’t know how to wash the floor?

She felt alone in her exhaustion, but she knew that she was not alone. She was one of millions of women working their brains out and their asses off. She had no right to complain, sitting as she was at the top of the pyramid: white skin, warm house, healthy kids, a loving husband. Some days, usually on the weekends when she read the newspapers, she felt her luck swell and stick in her throat. She swallowed it down with clean water, queasy, stomach churning, her eyes open, eating up the articles, the reports, the photographs in the world section. People stood at the flooded, burning heart of the world, howling kids in their arms, or dead on the ground. Bombs fell, the plague spread, the refugees fled, and fled, and fled. And always, always, there were women trapped somewhere, in rape camps, raped lives.

Eliza was free. She said it out loud sometimes, in the midst of whining about all she had to do. This is freedom! Two times a year, she got melodramatically sick; her body knew that only illness would bring real rest. Last year, sitting on the examining table, she’d said to the doctor, “It’s just my cold, finally breaking up.” The doctor had lifted her eyes from her cool stethoscope on Eliza’s hot chest, and responded, “Actually, it’s just your pneumonia, settling in.” Even while the kids were babies and toddlers, she had worked; maternity leave did not exist for the self-employed. Years passed, as they do, with at least one breast and half her mind attached to her babies. Now Marcus and Jake were big boys going to school. She still felt the elastic delight of being out of the house full-time.Thumping their hips, her friends would say, The baby weight is disappearing. My body’s coming back. A lie. It never came back, the body before children, the old life. She knew the truth: love cleaves you right through the middle. She would never be closed again. Never again, singular. She was divided in three by husband and sons. No, she was divided in four, because of the house, an old Victorian four-storey, always clamouring for attention. They had renovated it slowly, room by money-sucking room. The house belonged to both of them, but she was the one who took care of it like the housekeeper out of an old English novel, right down to the keys, the platters, the good cutlery, the power tools, pliers and paint cans. To say nothing about keeping the place clean.

Which reminded her of that shelf in the fridge, covered in some sticky, gelatinous substance. She shook her head and stepped over a gleaming artery of ice. This was it, this gift of an hour on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, she must not think about the fridge. The water whispered: you are not as divided as you feel. Her skin was still complete, despite the cuts, broken glassware at work, a slip of a new pruning knife, her heel punctured by that nail during the flood cleanup in the basement last spring, even the way she tore—twice—with the births. The wounds closed. She floated.Someone was out on the sidewalk breaking up the terrible ice in front of St. Anne’s Community Centre, referred to by those in the know as Annie’s. She liked the name; St. Anne was the patron saint of families. It was a solid place, built in the sixties, nothing fancy, no big glass window or state-of-the-art equipment, just a squat two-storey building at the edge of the park, operated by well-organized people who took good care of children. When the boys had been little, the daycare had saved her life.

She pushed through the first door, then the next. Tina at the front desk stamped her pass with a wink—she was busy on the phone. Eliza hardly slackened her pace down the hallway as she detoured around the mother who was down on her knees in front of her crying two-year-old. The change room door was yellow; she went through it into the warm, chlorinated air, and immediately felt better. Echoing voices drifted in from the pool, the lifeguards talking loudly across the water. And water falling: someone was taking a shower. Maybe it was Sheila, her neighbour. Just as she looked toward the shower area, her good friend Janet came out from behind the tiled wall, and said, “Hi there! I was wondering if you were going to make it today.” Janet had a towel around her voluptuous body—she claimed that her breasts simply never stopped growing—and another wrapping up her curly dark-brown hair.

Eliza hung her coat and bag on a hook. “It’s always a panic in the morning, but I will not give up my swimming! How are you?”

“Sophie is driving me bonkers, otherwise I’m fine.”

Eliza made sympathetic noises as she pulled her sweater over her head. Sophie was Janet’s increasingly argumentative teenage daughter. Another regular swimmer came from the showers into the change room, smiling nearsightedly. Annoying woman, with a perpetually sore neck. She always talked about her son in Vancouver, how much money he was making, tearing down old houses, ripping around the city in his fancy car. Who cares, Janet would say after the woman had left. Who cares about a damn Porsche?

Eliza was in her bathing suit already, keen to get in the water; it was only a half an hour before the toddler swim classes would arrive from the daycare. Sheila was in the shower room, a petite woman with what Eliza’s mother would call “a lovely figure”—and the only mother who swam in her bikini, which added to the impression that she was about twenty-five. But she was older than Eliza. The women greeted each other; Eliza glanced surreptitiously at the hourglass curve of Sheila’s waist. The deep brown skin was almost unlined. Sheila said, “Watch out, the showers are cold again today.”

Eliza stepped into the cool spray. “Brr!” She showered quickly and called out her goodbyes, then slipped through the last door.

Beyond the pool, the long eastern wall was painted in cartoon style with bright tropical fish, a diver, a red-haired mermaid peeking through seaweed. Above the mural, graffiti letters bulged: St. Anne’s Is a Good Place to Be. Only one other swimmer was in the water, finishing a length at a fast clip. Eliza was pleased that she wouldn’t have to vie for a clear lane.

She sat down and licked the insides of her goggles, embarrassed by her tongue sliding over the plastic lenses; saliva kept them from fogging up. The bored young lifeguards seemed always to catch her doing this; today was no exception. She waved at the one sitting across the pool in his raised chair and fit the goggles over her eyes. Blue lenses made the water bluer. She lifted her whole weight up with her arms and dropped herself straight off the edge of the pool.

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Just Jen

Just Jen

Thriving Through Multiple Sclerosis
edition:Paperback
also available: Audiobook eBook

 

Jen Powley was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at fifteen. By thirty-five, she had lost the use of her arms and legs.

Just Jen is a powerful memoir that tells the story of Powley’s life at the time of her diagnosis, and the infinite, irrevocable ways it has changed since. Powley’s writing pulls no punches. She is lively, bold and unapologetic, answering questions people are often afraid to ask about living with a progressive disease. And yet, these snapshots from Powley’s life are not t …

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The Last Wave

The Last Wave

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook

A beautifully rendered family drama set in Dover, England, between the 1940s and the present day, The Last Wave follows the life of Martha, a woman who has swum the English Channel ten times, and the complex relationships she has with her husband, her children, and her close friends. The one constant in Martha’s life is the sea, from her first accidental baptism to her final crossing of the channel. The sea is an escape from her responsibilities as a wife and a mother; it consoles her when she …

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Excerpt

“Martha!” I heard my father call from the foot of the stairs. “Put your shoes on and grab a jumper, love.”

I looked out my bedroom window across the rooftops that stretched out towards the flash of the sea on the horizon. The sky was clear and though it wasn’t the bright blue of picture postcards, it seemed like the day was warm enough to go without a jumper which stood every chance of being lost or forgotten, but I did as I was told, taking my least favourite cardigan — mint green with a Peter Pan collar that I despised because it looked like a lime sherbet sweet — and hoping that the outing might provide a believable excuse for me to be rid of it. Though, if having to carry around a cardigan were the price of the excursion, I would happily pay it. Invitations like this did not come around often and if I behaved myself the chance of a second invitation seemed good. Fishing held no interest to me, but the prospect of leaving the confines of our house, garden and road was thrilling. Such escapes were few and far between, even now, a year after the war had ended.

My father stood by the door with his fishing line and a metal lunchbox that I knew contained the hooks and worms he would need my help with. I presented myself to him: feet together, back straight, saluting. It was a habit I had developed when he had come back from the fighting and I had hoped it would convince him that I was respectful and knowledgeable enough to hear about his adventures in France, especially the story that would explain how he had lost his right arm. It didn’t work, but it was one of the few things that could make his face soften.

“You carry the tackle,” he said, as he stepped out of the way so I could open the door for him.

I turned the handle and stepped aside. He walked past me, not stopping to make sure I had closed the door properly which made it perfectly clear to me that he and I were not going fishing together, but rather that I was an interloper and would have to pull my own weight and do my best to keep up.

“There is to be no talking,” my father said, when I had caught up to him.

I nodded in agreement. This was serious business.

“You’re to put one worm on each hook. No more, no less.”

I nodded.

“Take care not to drop the worm. I don’t want to be surrounded by dead worm bodies the rest of the afternoon.”

I kept nodding my head.

“And you’re not to jump and dance around. Not like last time.”

Last time I had not been at my best. I had been listening to the radio quite intensely the week before and worked out an elaborate dance I had insisted on demonstrating for my father and his friends. My father was not impressed, but it hadn’t mattered. I was captivated by the sound of my feet on the wooden slats of the pier, mixed with the echo from the waves washing up on shore and that had been more than enough excitement to fill my mind to near bursting, leaving little room for his lecture on proper behaviour.

“Keep out of the way,” he said. “And be quiet.”

This last instruction was the most important.

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Catch My Drift

Catch My Drift

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

Lorna always wanted to stand out, but her career as a competitive swimmer was cut short by a knee injury. Cara, her daughter, tries hard to blend in, but when she has to fill in for her brother at a school pageant, she is overwhelmed by terror. Lorna is vain about her ability to shut out distractions. Cara can’t control her scary thoughts. And while Lorna tries her best to move past life’s early disappointments, Cara picks at the cracks in her family’s story. Spanning two decades, Catch My …

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Bone Cage, The

Bone Cage, The

edition:Paperback
tagged : sports, literary

Digger, an 85 kilo wrestler, and Sadie, a 26-year-old speed swimmer, stand on the verge of realizing every athlete's dream--winning a gold medal at the Olympics. Both athletes are nearing the end of their athletic careers, and are forced to confront the question: what happens to athletes when their bodies are too old and injured to compete? The blossoming relationship between Digger and Sadie is tested in the all-important months leading up to the Olympics, as intense training schedules, divided …

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Quickening

Quickening

edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback

Shortlisted for the Governor General's Award, these first short stories from Terry Griggs herald one of the most original voices to appear out of Canada in the last several decades. The stories in Quickening are eccentric, wildly inventive, whimsical and fantastic. Her narrative energy sweeps us along, though the real delight of these stories is the gorgeousness of the writing.

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