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Guess It's Spring!

By wetherstone
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Books I'm planning on reading in the spring of 2013
Lucky Strike

Lucky Strike

edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
tagged : humorous

Lucky Strike is a light-hearted laugh-out-loud mystery with a cast of characters who epitomize life Down East. Eric Spratt, a conservative accountant from Toronto, is forced to flee to the remote Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia and there, become Charles Trenchant, reclusive writer. He knows that anonymity and discretion are the only weapons he has to protect himself from the retribution of the Mafia dons whom he helped to send to jail. Surely, fifty years of a quiet, unassuming existence would prep …

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Daughters Who Walk This Path

Daughters Who Walk This Path

A Novel
edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback
tagged : literary

Spirited and intelligent, Morayo grows up surrounded by school friends and family in busy, modern-day Ibadan, Nigeria. An adoring little sister, their traditional parents, and a host of aunties and cousins make Morayo's home their own. So there's nothing unusual about her charming but troubled cousin Bros T moving in with the family. At first Morayo and her sister are delighted, but in her innocence, nothing prepares Morayo for the shameful secret Bros T forces upon her.

Thrust into a web of opp …

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The Wild Ways

The Wild Ways

edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover

"The Gales are an amazing family, the aunts will strike fear into your heart, and the characters Allie meets are both charming and terrifying." -#1 New York Times bestselling author Charlaine Harris

Alysha Gale's cousin Charlotte is a Wild Power, who allies herself with a family of Selkies in a fight against offshore oil drilling. The oil company has hired another of the Gale family's Wild Powers, the fearsome Auntie Catherine, to steal the Selkies' sealskins. To defeat her, Charlotte will have …

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Cloud of Bone

Cloud of Bone

edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback
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From the bestselling author of Random Passage and Waiting for Time comes this masterful, engrossing story of the last surviving Beothuk, a World War II deserter and a recently widowed English woman at the end of the twentieth century.

During World War II, well into the Battle of the North Atlantic, Newfoundlander Kyle Holloway deserts from the Royal Navy. Now, hidden in a cave below St. Mary’s Church, the war-haunted young man remembers years of carefree friendship and petty crime in the narrow …

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Excerpt

I

They have been climbing forever–sea, sky, earth–even time itself has dissolved in fog. The road, little more than a ledge hacked into rock, is now so narrow that they are forced to walk single file, keeping to the left, reaching out to touch the wet cliff, reassuring themselves it is there, praying they will not step into air, plummet downward into the ocean they cannot see but can hear–a dull, repetitive heave of wave on rock, cut now and then by the razor wail of a foghorn far out beyond Fort Amherst.

They are sailors, a volunteer honour guard, though no one volunteers. “You and you,” some officer yelled, culling two ordinary seamen from each Royal Navy ship in port, marching them off to a memorial service for shipmates lost at sea. Sometimes there are bodies; thank Christ there are none tonight–there seldom are nowadays.

There are forty-six men in tonight’s guard–forty-eight if you count the English officer up front and the man lagging behind. The officer is a shag-bag, nervous away from his own kind. He’s only spoken once since the climb began, barking, “Dout it, Sailor!” at some poor sap stunned enough to light a smoke.

Only one man knows precisely where they are, the man at the rear, the one not conscripted, the one not reaching out to touch rock–the murderer. His name is Kyle Holloway. He has come this way a thousand times. Winter and summer, rain and shine, he and his friends roamed these hills, took shelter in the church they are climbing towards. Weak with fatigue, eyes shut, almost sleepwalking, his body still knows when to lean into the grade, turning as the path turns. In order to keep behind he must stop every few minutes, must stand still until he can no longer hear the laboured breathing of the man just ahead.

They come upon the church suddenly. The officer bangs into its stone wall, swears, then shuffles sideways, fumbling for the latch. One of the men snorts some vulgarity about officers never being able to find the hole, and nervous laughter trickles down the line, dying as one by one the sailors reach the church, sense it looming above them like the entrance to some dismal cave.

The officer pushes against the double doors. They give and the men crowd in. The vestibule, cold and dark as night, smells of dust, of wax and linseed oil–and now of tobacco and sweat and the woolly damp of melton coats. They stand quietly while the outside doors are closed and noisily bolted. Only then does the Englishman open the second set of doors, revealing the silent sanctuary, dark wood, a high shadowy ceiling, an uncarpeted aisle that leads to the pulpit over which someone has draped the Royal Navy ensign. On the altar below the flag, three tall candles burn, make a shimmering halo of the white silk.

The sailors walk towards the pale light, file into the front pews but remain standing. The murderer comes in last. He steps into the back pew, stays next to the aisle, shoving his duffle bag out of sight below the seat.

The very air is familiar, that chill mustiness of a place that is never properly heated, the faint acid smell he knows is a combination of coal smoke and bird shit. There have always been birds in St. Mary’s: seagulls, turrs, sparrows, ice partridges and pigeons; sometimes even Mother Carey’s chickens, strange half-birds that blow in on storms, cannot take off from land and have to be flung into the air to fly. Bad design on God’s part, Mr. Norman used to say.

Thirty years as a church verger has drawn Art Norman into the twin, and sometimes overlapping, studies of God and birds. Year after year he devises ever more bizarre ways to rid his church of the pests: shouting, pounding the organ, switching the newly installed electric lights on and off.

For the first time in days Kyle Holloway’s thoughts have veered from churning water, from loud noises and violent death. His body feels soft, rubbery, he longs to sit down but dare not; movement might attract the officer’s attention. So he stands and waits, reflecting on birds, almost smiling as he remembers Art Norman scurrying about the church waving a bamboo pole above his head, as if fishing in the vast dimness. Neither Kyle nor his friends had laughed back then–certainly not Cyril, although he must have been embarrassed by his father’s antics. Not even Gup laughed, not even when the birds, ignoring sunshine beyond the open door, simply flew out of the pole’s reach to roost on the high rafters.

So far as Kyle knows, Mr. Norman is still the verger here at St. Mary’s, but he’s gotten into the taxi business now, carting Yanks and their girlfriends around town. For the duration birds will have to escape on their own, starve, smash into windows or bash their brains out against the fluted glass of light fixtures. Birds have no experience of glass–another of God’s oversights, in Art Norman’s opinion.

Organ music drones suddenly upward, although no organist can be seen in the dark narthex. A man Kyle doesn’t recognize rises from behind the White Ensign. Some old bat brought out of retirement, so frail he has to use the pulpit to pull himself upright. His movement disturbs a pigeon; it flutters from behind the altar and glides up into the frost-glazed rafters. The church is bitterly cold; darkness presses against windows, which, in accordance with regulations, are draped in black cloth.

The dreary music ends. The man behind the pulpit murmurs a few words, a prayer perhaps. He stops speaking but remains standing–they all remain standing, uncertain of what to do. The old man gazes down on them as if he’s never seen their like before. His eyes move from face to face. Except for the officer they look identical; four rows of men, boys really, with short clipped hair, clean-shaven faces above navy blue jackets.

At last the minister nods and the sailors sit. The English officer holds his back stiffly away from the seat; the others slump down, sailorlike, making themselves as comfortable as possible on the uncushioned pews. Thankful for the security of walls they close their eyes, some even sleep.

The old man speaks. At first Kyle cannot make out his words, but gradually the quivery voice rises. He is telling them about land and inheritance, about all the continents, all the seas of the world, all the countries on earth–how England has dominion over them, dominion under God. He says this and much more. There is poetry, or what Kyle takes to be poetry, words following words, rolling down, making no sense.

Kyle feels light-headed, dizzy, then heavy-headed–one sensation following another before he can name it. He has not slept for three days–three days and two nights–not since that moment when the knife came down, moving as if it were something alive, something apart from his hand, his arm, himself. It is always there now. Like a coloured comic, Kyle thinks, each awful square caught inside his head, repeating over and over–the downward slice of the knife, its grey tip slipping into white flesh, a red line appearing just above the ink-blue collar of Gup’s guernsey. Gup’s eyes staring into his–the stunned incredulity, the closeness of that shared second, as if they were one person, him Gup and Gup him. Then Gup’s body crumpling, sliding under the rail and into the sea, Gup becoming what he will now always be.

Despite the cold Kyle is sweating, bent forward in the pew, head on knees, gulping air, panting like a dog. Stop! he tells himself. Stop or they’ll hear you, cart you away–hang you! He imagines being led to a high window, the thick rope around his neck, imagines dropping into that blackness beside the courthouse.

He clamps one hand over his mouth, grips the edge of the seat and forces his body upright until his shoulders again touch the back of the pew. He wills himself to be still, to breathe slowly. He has only to stay calm a little longer, to stay awake a little longer. He will listen, concentrate on the words, try to make sense out of what the old frigger is saying. But words are elusive, insubstantial things; they dissolve, blur, slide into silence. Kyle Holloway’s chin drops to his chest, his eyes close, he is asleep.

The organ wakes him in time to stand for the hymn:

Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
O hear us when we cry to Thee
For those in peril on the sea.

The singing ends, the minister bows his head: “Almighty Lord, in whom we live and breathe and have our being, who has recorded the names Marcus Dwyer, Edward Gill and Valentine Gullage . . .”

(“Gup! Gup! Gup! Me name’s Gup Gullage!” the child bellows. The teacher draws a line in the register, never again calls his name.)

“ . . . we commit these brave young men to Your keeping. Although their bodies have been lost to the sea, we rejoice in the knowledge that their souls rest in Your arms. We ask Lord, that You grant protection to their comrades gathered here. Place Your everlasting arms around them, keep them safe from terror by night, from the arrow that flyeth by day, the destruction that wasteth at noonday. May they go forth in the certainty . . .”

The old man falters, then stops. He opens his eyes and in a confusion of grief stares down at the young men–in the certainty of what? He can no longer remember. He is weeping, tears streaming down his face.

Even the likes of him knows we’re good as dead, Kyle thinks. Suddenly alert, he threads his fingers through the rope of his duffle bag and slides sideways towards the aisle. He stands and slowly, soundlessly, moves backward–fifteen steps to the inside door. He counted on the way in.

He does not hear the blessing, has already stepped into the dark vestibule, is feeling his way along the far wall, running his hand over a shelf of frayed hymn books, moving towards a dusty curtain behind which there is a trap door, steps and safety.

He wakes once during the night, heart pounding, thinking he is still at sea, thinking night on the North Atlantic, feeling the fear, the damp cold that seeps through cloth, through flesh and muscle into bone, so you can’t tell where cold ends and fear begins. He panics, thinking he is on watch, has stopped beside the ship’s warm funnel, to reassure himself that heat still exists–he must have fallen asleep, slid down against the funnel.

Minutes pass before Kyle realizes that the iron he lies against is cold. He feels no movement, no sting of sea spray and ice, cannot hear waves slamming the hull or smell the stink of bilge water and diesel–he hears only silence, smells only coal dust.

He has no memory of lifting the hatch or coming down the narrow steps. Yet here he is, in the furnace room below the Church of St. Mary the Virgin–the patron saint of sailors, according to Mr. Norman. All around are rock walls, solid granite quarried from the hill, rock rooted to rock–walls that will last a thousand years. Kyle Holloway has lived in fear for so long that safety leaves a gaping emptiness inside him.

He lies awake for some time, savouring the quiet, the emptiness of the church, thinking back on the service, the three candles, Gup’s long-forgotten name being spoken, the old minister crying, going on about death and terror. But that must have been hours ago. The sailors are long gone, all back aboard ship by now. Some may already be at sea, some may already be dead.

And he is not out there–not standing on an icy deck watching dawn gulch in over the North Atlantic, not searching the grey ocean for the black snout of a submarine, that frill of white when its periscope is raised.

I’m not out there, he thinks, and that is enough. Enough to make him forget for a time that Gup is dead, forget that he too will soon be dead. In the safe darkness he slumps back against the furnace and is instantly asleep.

When he wakes again the windowless cellar has brightened. Pale light coming from somewhere. It softens everything, causes coal dust to sparkle from the gritty floor, to glimmer gauzelike in the air. Even the giant coal-pounds looming in two corners of the room glow like polished marble, even tools lodged neatly against the blackened wall, the chisel and pick Mr. Norman uses for breaking up the coal, the long-handled scrapers and shovels, the worn broom–all are beautiful beyond anything Kyle has ever seen.

The furnace room is large and almost empty. Except for the tools along the wall, everything is arranged within reach of a three-legged stool that stands squarely in front of the furnace door. Beside the stool is a full coal scuttle, a shovel and two iron pokers. On the other side are two cardboard boxes, one containing splits, the other newspapers. An old-fashioned toasting fork lies atop the newspapers.

This is Art Norman’s work station, exactly as Kyle remembers it. He studies the familiar objects as an archaeologist might study the household goods of some lost civilization. The permanence of these everyday things comforts the young man, for whom the last eighteen months has seemed a lifetime.

Slowly, because he is stiff, he pushes himself to his feet and begins to pace the room–a sailor’s habit, to keep the blood from freezing, or so his grandfather maintained. Kyle remembers watching his grandfather pace, his father too, back and forth, back and forth, a path worn in the cream and green canvas.

Pace and mutter, pace and tally, licking a pencil stub, marking their lives down on the back of a calendar; how much wood hauled, cut and stacked, how many barrels of vegetables in the root cellar, how much fish landed, how many quintals dried, how much credit left at the store? Enough to cover this year’s flour? Next season’s gear? On and on. This lifelong litany of anxiety is what Kyle remembers from childhood, from the bleak place he lived in until he was ten, the place his mother has gone back to, the place she wanted him to go back to.

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Galore

Galore

edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback Paperback

Sprawling and intimate, stark and fantastical, Galore is a novel about the power of stories to shape and sustain us. This is Michael Crummey’s most ambitious and accomplished work to date.

An intricate family saga and love story spanning two centuries, Galore is a portrait of the improbable medieval world that was rural Newfoundland, a place almost too harrowing and extravagant to be real. Remote and isolated, exposed to savage extremes of climate and fate, the people of Paradise Deep persist …

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Excerpt

{ 1 }

He ended his time on the shore in a makeshift asylum cell, shut away with the profligate stink of fish that clung to him all his days. The Great White. St. Jude of the Lost Cause. Sea Orphan. He seemed more or less content there, gnawing at the walls with a nail. Mary Tryphena Devine brought him bread and dried capelin that he left to gather bluebottles and mould on the floor.

—If you aren’t going to eat, she said, at least have the decency to die.

Mary Tryphena was a child when she first laid eyes on the man, a lifetime past. End of April and the ice just gone from the bay. Most of the shore’s meagre population — the Irish and West Country English and the bushborns of uncertain provenance — were camped on the grey sand, waiting to butcher a whale that had beached itself in the shallows on the feast day of St. Mark. This during a time of scarcity when the ocean was barren and gardens went to rot in the relentless rain and each winter threatened to bury them all. They weren’t whalers and no one knew how to go about killing the Leviathan, but there was something in the humpback’s unexpected offering that prevented the starving men from hacking away while the fish still breathed. As if that would be a desecration of the gift.

They’d scaled the whale’s back to drive a stake with a maul, hoping to strike some vital organ, and managed to set it bleeding steadily. They saw nothing for it then but to wait for God to do His work and they sat with their splitting knives and fish prongs, with their dip nets and axes and saws and barrels. The wind was razor sharp and Mary Tryphena lost all feeling in her hands and feet and her little arse went dunch on the sand while the whale expired in imperceptible increments. Jabez Trim waded out at intervals to prod at the fat saucer of an eye and report back on God’s progress.

Halfway along the beach King-me Sellers was carrying on a tournament of draughts with his grandson. He’d hobbled down from his store to make a claim to the animal as it had gone aground below Spurriers’ premises. The fishermen argued that the beach in question wasn’t built over and according to tradition was public property, which meant the whale was salvage, the same as if a wreck had washed ashore. King-me swore he’d have the whale’s liver and eight puncheons of oil or the lot of them would stand before the court he ruled as magistrate.

Once terms were agreed upon Sellers had his grandson bring down his scarred wooden checkerboard and they set out flat stones for the pieces gone missing through the years. His grandson was the only person willing to sit through a game with Sellers who was known to change the rules to suit himself and was not above cheating outright to win. He owned the board, he told the complainers, and in his mind that meant he owned the rules that governed it as well. His periodic cries of King me! were the only human sound on the landwash as they waited.

Mary Tryphena was asleep when the men finally rushed the shallows, her father shouting for her to fetch Devine’s Widow. She left the beach as she was told, walking the waterside pathway through Paradise Deep and up the incline of the Tolt Road. She crossed the headland that rose between the two coves and carried on into the Gut where her grandmother had delivered Mary Tryphena’s brother that morning. The landwash was red with blood by the time she and the old woman made their way back, a scum of grease on the harbour’s surface. The heart and liver already carted up to King-me’s Rooms on fish barrows, two men harvesting chunks of baleen from the creature ’s jaw with axes, the mouth so massive they could almost stand upright inside it. Women and children floated barrels in the shallows to catch the ragged squares of blubber thrown down to them. Mary Tryphena’s grandmother knotted her skirts above the knee before wading grimly into the water.

The ugly work went on through the day. Black fires were burning on the beach to render the blubber to oil, and the stench stoppered the harbour, as if they were labouring in a low-ceilinged warehouse. The white underbelly was exposed where the carcass keeled to one side, the stomach’s membrane floating free in the shallows. The Toucher triplets were poking idly at the massive gut with splitting knives and prongs, dirty seawater pouring from the gash they opened, a crest of blood, a school of undigested capelin and herring, and then the head appeared, the boys screaming and falling away at the sight. It was a human head, the hair bleached white. One pale arm flopped through the ragged incision and dangled into the water.

For a time no one moved or spoke, watching as if they expected the man to stand and walk ashore of his own accord. Devine’s Widow waded over finally to finish the job, the body slipping into the water as she cut it free. The Catholics crossed themselves in concert and Jabez Trim said, Naked came I from my mother’s womb.

The body was dragged out of the water by Devine’s Widow and Mary Tryphena’s father. No one else would touch it though every soul on the beach crowded around to look. A young man’s face but the strangeness of the details made it impossible to guess his age. White eyebrows and lashes, a patch of salt-white hair at the crotch. Even the lips were colourless, nipples so pale they were nearly invisible on the chest. Mary Tryphena hugged her father’s thigh and stared, Callum holding her shoulder to stop her moving any closer.

King-me Sellers prodded at the corpse with the tip of his walking stick. He looked at Devine’s Widow and then turned to take in each person standing about him. —This is her doing, he said. —She got the very devil in her, called this creature into our harbour for God knows what end.

—Conjured it you mean? James Woundy said.

It was so long since King-me accused Devine’s Widow of such things that some in the crowd were inclined to take him seriously. He might have convinced others if he’d managed to leave off mentioning his livestock. —You know what she done to my cow, he said, and to every cow birthed of her since.

It was an old joke on the shore and there was already a dismissive tremor in the gathering when Devine's Widow leaned over the body, flicking at the shrunken penis with the tip of her knife. —If this was my doing, she said, I’d have given the poor soul more to work with than that.

King-me pushed his way past the laughter of the bystanders, saying he’d have nothing more to do with the devilment. But no one followed after him. They stood awhile discussing the strange event, a fisherman washed overboard in a storm or a suicide made strange by too many months at sea, idle speculation that didn’t begin to address the man’s appearance or his grave in the whale’s belly. They came finally to the consensus that life was a mystery and a wonder beyond human understanding, a conclusion they were comfortable with though there was little comfort in the thought. The unfortunate soul was owed a Christian burial and there was the rest of the day’s work to get on with.

There was no church on the shore. An itinerant Dominican friar named Phelan said Mass when he passed through on his endless ecclesiastical rounds. And Jabez Trim held a weekly Protestant service at one of Sellers’ stores that was attended by both sides of the house when Father Phelan was away on his wanders. Trim had no credentials other than the ability to read and an incomplete copy of the Bible but every soul on the shore crowded the storeroom to soak awhile in the scripture’s balm. An hour’s reprieve from the salt and drudge of their lives for myrhh and aloe and hyssop, for pomegranates and green figs and grapes, cassia and cedar beams and swords forged in silver. Jabez married Protestant couples, he baptized their children and buried their dead, and he agreed to say a few words over the body before it was set in the ground.

Mary Tryphena’s father lifted the corpse by the armpits while James Woundy took the legs and the sorry little funeral train began its slow march up off the landwash. There were three stone steps at the head of the beach, the dead man’s torso folding awkwardly on itself as they negotiated the rise and a foul rainbow sprayed from the bowels. James Woundy jumped away from the mess, dropping the body against the rocks. —Jesus, jesus, jesus, he said, his face gone nearly as white as the corpse. Callum tried to talk him into grabbing hold again but he refused. —If he ’s alive enough to shit, James Woundy said, he ’s alive enough to walk.

Mary Tryphena stood watching the pale, pale figure as the argument went on. A man delivered from the whale’s belly and lying dead in his own filth on the stones. Entrance and exit. Which should have been the end of the story but somehow was not. Froth bubbled from the mouth and when the corpse began coughing all but the widow and Mary Tryphena scattered up off the beach, running for their homes like the hounds of hell were at their heels.

Devine’s Widow turned the stranger by the shoulder, thumping his back to bring up seawater and blood and seven tiny fish, one after the last, fry the size of spanny-tickles Mary Tryphena caught in the shallows at Nigger Ralph’s Pond. Selina Sellers came down to the landwash while they stood over him there, her grandson dragging a handbar in her wake. Selina was a tiny slip of a woman and could have passed for the boy’s sister in stature, but there was nothing childlike in her bearing. —You can’t have that one in your house, Selina told them. —Not with a newborn baby still drawing his first breaths in the world.

Devine’s Widow nodded. —We’ll set him out in the Rooms, is what we’ll do.

—The cold will kill him for certain, Selina said.

They all stared at the stranger as they spoke, not willing to look at one another. His body racked up with tremors and convulsions.

—There’s only the one place for him, Selina said.

—I don’t think Master Sellers would be so keen.

—You let me worry about Master Sellers.

They hauled the stranger onto the fish barrow and started up the path toward Selina’s House on the Gaze. By the time they angled the barrow through the front door everyone in the harbour was watching from a safe distance. Someone sent word to King-me at the store and he was running after them, shouting to keep the foul creature out of his house. He’d sworn that Devine’s Widow would never set foot in the building and no one knew if he was referring to the old woman or to the stark white figure she was carting inside. Selina reached back to bolt the door behind them and they continued on into the house.

Mary Tryphena and King-me’s grandson stood back against the wall, lost in the flurry of activity as water was set to boil and blankets were gathered. King-me was pounding at the door with the head of his cane, shouting threats, and faces crowded at the windows outside. Mary Tryphena had never been inside Selina’s House but the grandness of it was lost on her. She had the queerest sensation of falling as she stared at the naked stranger. A wash of dizziness came over her and she took off her bonnet against the sick heat of nausea as it sidled closer. King-me’s grandson stood beside her and she clutched at the hem of his coat. —You’ll remember this day a long while, I imagine, he said. The boy had a fierce stutter — d- d- d- day, he said — and Mary Tryphena was embarrassed to find herself so close to him. She shifted away, though not far enough to be out of reach.

The man she would marry opened his eyes for the first time then, turning his face toward her across the room. Those milky blue eyes settling on Mary Tryphena. Taking her in.

––

There was nothing the like of Selina’s House anywhere on the shore. It was a Wexford-style farmhouse with a fieldstone chimney at its centre, polished wooden floors upstairs and down. Mullioned windows imported from the West Country of England, iron-latched doors. Selina was the daughter of a merchantman in Poole and the house was a wedding gift, a promise the girl’s father extracted before consenting to the match. She was newly married to King-me and only weeks arrived on the shore when the first signs of the big house appeared, the foundation laid when the frost lifted in June. But King-me lost interest in the domestic project once the fishing season began in earnest. The stones lay naked in the ground for years then, the lumber he’d imported on a Spurriers vessel going grey under layers of spruce boughs while stores and fishing rooms were built and expanded, while boats were scarfed out and floated in the bay.

Selina lived seven years in a plain stud tilt, the rough logs chinked with moss and clapboarded with bark. It had a dirt floor and a wooden roof sheeted with sod and was distinguished from the surrounding buildings only by a surfeit of windows, the one touch of grandeur King-me had managed. She birthed three children in the shelter while King-me promised to build next year, when the fish were yaffled and loaded aboard Spurriers’ vessels, when they came on a stretch of fine weather, next year.

On the morning of their seventh anniversary, Selina refused to get out of bed. —I’ll lie here, she told her husband, until there’s a door on that house to close behind me.

Sellers let her lie a week before the depth of her desperation came clear to him. She wouldn’t even allow him to sleep beside her, in his own bed. It seemed a lunatic strategy, the logic of someone unhinged. And in a desperate act of his own he sent a servant to the widow woman, asking her to do something to set Selina straight.

Devine’s Widow was all they had on the shore for doctoring. Her Christian name passed out of use in the decades after her husband was buried and only a handful could even remember what it was. She’d seen every malady the fallen world could inflict on a body and seemed to know a remedy or a charm against the pain of them all. King-me waited down at the store to leave the two women alone at the stud tilt where Selina was staging her moronic protest. When he saw Devine’s Widow walking home along the Tolt Road he caught her up and demanded to know what was wrong with his wife.

—Nothing a proper house wouldn’t fix, she said.

—You were asked to put her to rights.

—If I was you, Master Sellers, she said, I’d set to work with a hammer and saw.

The frame of the building with roof and windows was assembled in the space of a month. The morning Jabez Trim hung the front door, Selina got out of bed and dressed, packed her clothes into a trunk and walked the fifty yards to her new home. Selina’s House is how it was known and how people referred to it a hundred years after Sellers’ wife was buried and gone to dust in the French Cemetery.

The stranger stayed only one night in those extravagant lodgings. An astonishing stink of dead fish rose from the man’s skin like smoke off a green fire, insinuating itself into every nook. Even with the windows left open to the freezing cold the smell kept the household awake. The following morning King-me ordered him out and Selina no longer had the stomach to argue. Two of Sellers’ servants carried him on a fish barrow past the houses of Paradise Deep and over the Tolt Road to the Gut, a train of onlookers following behind. The man too weak to do more than watch the sky as he was jolted along.

—He come right out of the whale’s belly, James Woundy announced, as if he had been the only one present to see it. —As God is my witness so he did. Just like that one Judas in the Bible.

—Not Judas, you arse.

James turned to look at Jabez Trim. —Well who was it then, Mr. Trim?

—Jonah, it was. Jonah was swallowed by the whale.

—You sure it weren’t Judas, Mr. Trim?

—Judas was the disciple who betrayed Our Lord for thirty pieces of silver.

—And he was thrown overboard, James said. —That’s how I minds it. Thrown into the ocean for betraying the Lord. With a millstone about his neck. And God had him eat up by a whale. To teach him a hard lesson.

—Jonah was fleeing the Lord God Almighty, Jabez insisted. —God chose him to be a prophet and Jonah had rather be a sailor and he ran from God aboard of a ship. And he was thrown into the sea by his mates to save themselves from a savage storm the Lord set upon them. And God sent a whale to swallow Jonah.

—That’s a fine story, Mr. Trim, James said. —But it don’t sound quite right to my memory.

—Goddamn it, James Woundy. Do I have to bring out the Book and show you?

—Now, sir, as I cannot read, I don’t see how that would go far to clearing the matter up.

—Well you’ll just have to take my word for it then, Jabez said.

There was no fuss made at the widow’s house. The old woman came out to receive the delivery as if she had ordered it herself, directing the servants through the door. She kept the man on the barrow near the fireplace and washed him down with lye soap and carbolic acid and a concoction made of spruce gum and ash, but the foul smell didn’t diminish. He hadn’t eaten a morsel since he first appeared and couldn’t keep down goat’s milk or the tea Devine’s Widow made for him. And Mary Tryphena’s infant brother, born healthy and famished, became colicky and inconsolable and refused to latch on to his mother’s nipple after the stranger was taken in. Everyone drew the obvious connection between one event and the other though no one dared mention it, as if speaking of such things increased their reach in the world.

Even Mary Tryphena fell into an uncharacteristic silence in those first days, spending as much time out of the house as she could. She walked up to the Tolt where she’d first spotted the stranger’s whale, trying to puzzle the bizarre events into sense. All her young life she had been ridiculed for asking questions about the simplest things, as if the questions put her childish greed on display. Don’t be such a nosy-arse, people said. Shut up and watch.

Mary Tryphena was four years old when her sister was born. She’d been told so little about life at the time, she didn’t even know her mother was pregnant. Her father walking her into the backcountry as far as Nigger Ralph’s Pond one morning, showing her how to catch spanny-tickles in the shallows with the dip net of her palms. The infant girl asleep in her mother’s arms when her grandmother came to fetch them back to the house that evening. —Who is that? Mary Tryphena asked.

—This is your sister Eathna, her mother said. —Found her in the turnip patch, naked as a fish.

It seemed too fanciful a notion to credit but she had to admit there was something vaguely turnip-like about the bruised and nearly bald head of the child, the vulgar purple and pale white of the skin.

Mary Tryphena understood the difference soon enough and felt she’d been made to look a fool. Watch and learn she was told a hundred times and she began following Devine’s Widow to the homes of the sick where the old woman treated fevers, impetigo, coughs, rickets, festering sores. Her grandmother said nothing to discourage the girl’s interest but she made a point of going out alone when a birth or death was imminent and the reality of those most elemental passages eluded Mary Tryphena. Entrance and exit. Eathna leaving them the way she arrived: suddenly and not a hint of warning.

There was no hiding Lizzie’s third pregnancy from Mary Tryphena and she was obsessed with the full bowl of her mother’s belly. She considered the entries and exits of her own body and there seemed no reasonable resolution to her mother’s predicament though she felt ready to stand witness, at nine years of age, to what promised to be an ugly, brutish struggle. But Devine’s Widow insisted she stay out of the birthing room when her mother went into labour and Mary Tryphena left the house altogether, wandering up onto the Tolt to sulk.

She felt she’d been delivered into a universe where everyone’s knowledge but hers was complete and there was no acceptable way to acquire information other than waiting for its uncertain arrival. She stared out at the water, the endless grey expanse of ocean below reflecting the endless grey nothing of her life. The nothing stretched for miles in all directions, nothing, nothing, nothing, she was on the verge of bawling at the thought when the humpback breached the surface, the staggering bulk rising nose first and almost clear of the sea before falling back in a spray. Mary Tryphena’s skin stippled with goosebumps, her scalp pulling taut.

The whale breached a second time and a third, as if calling her attention, before it steamed through the harbour mouth of Paradise Deep and drove headlong onto the shallows like a nail hammered into a beam of wood. Her throat was raw with shouting and running in the cold when she came through the door.

—You’ve a new brother, Callum said, trying to lead her to the bedroom where the infant was squalling through his first moments of life. But Mary Tryphena shook her head, dragging her father outside.

It was a childish conceit to think she was to blame that things stood as they did now, that her greed to know the world had brought the stranger among them and caused her brother’s illness. She felt her nose was about to be rubbed in something she’d have better ignored altogether.

The condition of both the stranger and the infant grew worse every hour, and the baby’s mother finally begged Callum to make away with the creature she considered responsible for the child’s turn, to take him out to open ocean and send him back where he came from. It was only Devine’s Widow that kept Callum from doing just that.

No one understood the old woman’s concern for the stranger except to say it was her way. In her first years on the shore, a chick with four legs was born to one of King-me’s hens. The grotesque little creature was unable to walk or stand and was thought to be a black sign by the other servants, who wanted it drowned. But Devine’s Widow removed two of the legs and cauterized the wounds with a toasting fork before daubing them with candle wax. She kept the chick near the stove in a box lined with straw while it recovered. Raised it to be a fine laying hen.

That story was offered up in the wake of every strangeness that followed in the widow’s life, as if it somehow explained the woman. And she was happy to let it stand in this particular case, telling no one about the dreams that troubled her before Lizzie went into labour, of delivering infants joined at the hip or the shoulder. She used a gutting knife to sever the children, slicing at the flesh in a panic and holding the two aloft by the heels, blood running into her sleeves. Both infants perished in her hands and she woke each time to the conviction that it was the separation that killed them.

The widow refused to let Mary Tryphena watch the delivery when Lizzie’s time came, expecting the worst. But the baby was born healthy and showed no obvious mark of her dream. And that absence disconcerted her. As if something more oblique and subterranean was at work in the child, something she was helpless to identify or treat. She couldn’t escape the sense now that the twinned arrival of her grandson and the salt-haired stranger was what she ’d foreseen, the fate of one resting with the other. And she was relieved to have the foul-smelling thing under her own roof.

It was the widow woman’s property and there was no arguing with her. But when Lizzie threatened to take herself and the children back to Selina’s House in Paradise Deep, Callum sacrificed an outbuilding that was used for hay rakes and scythes and fish prongs to make a bunkroom for the stranger. The change didn’t improve the condition of either the child or the sick man, and for a time Devine’s Widow doubted herself, seeing they might both starve to death.

Jabez Trim walked out from Paradise Deep and stood in the widow’s doorway to speak with Callum. The child was still unbaptized and there was no expectation of Father Phelan returning before the capelin rolled. There was little chance of saving the infant’s life, Jabez said, but they had still to consider the soul. He was a tree stump of a man, limited in his outlook but rooted and unshakeable in his certainties. A decent sort and no sober person had ever disputed it. —I’d offer what we have on our side of the house if you have a need of me, Callum.

—What about the other one? Devine’s Widow asked.

—He’d as like be baptized already I imagine, if his kind were so inclined.

—He don’t deserve to die out in that shed like an animal, Jabez.

Jabez Trim didn’t understand what was being asked of him, though he could see the widow was at a loss and grasping. —There’s not much else I can think to give him that you haven’t tried already, Missus.

—We could bring him to Kerrivan’s Tree with the little one, she said.

Jabez glanced up at Callum to see what he thought of the bizarre suggestion but the younger man only shrugged. —If you think it might be some help, Jabez said.

The dead on the shore were wrapped in canvas or old blankets for burial, but Callum couldn’t bear the thought of settling the child so nakedly in the ground, so unsheltered. He built a tiny coffin of new spruce before the baptism, tarring the seams with oakum, and the box hung from a peg in the children’s room to await its permanent occupant. Jabez Trim performed the sacrament in the house and they walked with their neighbours to the far side of the Gut where Kerrivan’s Tree stood. Lizzie carried the child while James Woundy and Callum carted the stranger on the fish barrow, James insisting on taking the head. —I’ll not stand below that asshole again, he said.

The apple tree was marked with a rock fence, the bare branches hanging low and reaching nearly to the circumference of stones. Sarah Kerrivan brought the sapling from Ireland a hundred years before but it had never produced more than crabapples too sour to eat. Last year’s frostbitten fruit still lay on the ground where it had fallen months before. The tree would long ago have been cut down but for the fact that Sarah Kerrivan and her husband William were never sick a day in their lives, sailing unafflicted through the outbreaks of cholera and measles and diphtheria that burned through the shore. Their transcendental health conferred an aura of blessedness on everything in their possession, including the tree Sarah had carted across the ocean. Every infant born in the Gut and many born in Paradise Deep during the last half century had been passed through its branches to ward off the worst of what the world could do to a child — typhoid and beriberi, fevers, convulsions, ruptures, chincoughs, rickets. No one considered youngsters properly christened until they had travelled that circle.

It was a ritual usually carried out with laughter and shouted blessings, but there was only a melancholy silence among the gathering as the sick infant made his way over their heads. Mary Tryphena stood outside the low stone fence with Devine’s Widow, watching Callum and Lizzie weep as if the child were passing from their hands directly into the hands of the dead. And then the awkward negotiation of the white-haired stranger among the branches, the man so much like an infant in his mute helplessness. Skin the white of sea ice. The fish barrow caught up on an angle that threatened to topple the stranger onto the ground and he had to be held by the shoulders while they disentangled his sickbed, the men shouting at one another and swearing. It seemed a travesty of something sacred and Lizzie walked away with the baby newly christened Michael in her arms. When the barrow was extricated from the maze of branches, the nameless man was carried back to his shed and set down on his bunk, Devine’s Widow sitting silent in the doorway to keep him company. To watch him die, is how she spoke of it afterwards, a note of satisfied wonder in her voice, to say how impossible it is to predict the direction events will run.

The summer that followed was uncharacteristically warm and dry and Kerrivan’s Tree produced apples sweet enough to eat for the first time in its purgatorial century on the shore.

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The Poisoned Pawn

The Poisoned Pawn

edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback Paperback
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When Cuban Inspector Ricardo Ramirez is dispatched to Canada   and told to bring home a priest found in possession of child pornography depicting Cuban children, he knows his job will be hard enough. But it gets worse once he’s in Ottawa, and women in Havana start dropping dead from a mysterious toxin. Worried about his family, powerless to help pathologist Hector Apiro, and faced with the threat of a Canadian travel advisory that could shut down Cuban tourism, Ramirez tries focus on his missi …

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Asylum

Asylum

edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback
tagged : literary

Alexis’s long-awaited second novel follows his award-winning Childhood.

Set in Ottawa during the Mulroney years, Asylum is André Alexis’s sweeping, edged-in-satire, yet deeply serious tale of intertwined lives and fortunes, of politics and vain ambition, of the building of a magnificent prison, of human fallibility, of the search for refuge, of the impossibility of love, and of finding home. Whether he is taking us into the machinations of a government office or into the mysterious workings …

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Excerpt

Little had changed and yet everything had changed. On this, the anniversary of his attempted suicide, WalterBarnes sat in one of the two chairs he nowowned, readingone of his two books. Of the two, a Bible and the Arden King Lear, he had chosen the Bible, not for any consciously spiritual reasonbut rather because he found it beautiful and amusing, in particular the Pentateuch, of which he was reading Leviticus.He was not aware that a year had passed since he’d first triedto kill himself. If he had been, he would not have known whether to rejoice or mourn; though, in any case, he might well have chosen to mark the event in this way: reading, at home.

The year had been dull, unworthy of commemoration. He had, for the most part, kept to himself and shunned contact with anyone outside the university. Much of his life had been conducted within the, what was it, three square miles that had for boundaries: the university, the canal, Catherine Street, and the river. And time passed without him being aware of it.

Yes, but this home of his was a residue of the year that had quietly passed. Time had passed, but it had taken with it so much that had seemed important: telephone, television, cable, credit cards, magazines, newspapers, glasses, goblets, snifters, shoes, clothes, books, books, books . . .

He had not chosen the life of an ascetic. It had not been in him to choose one style of life over another. Rather, he had decided not to have his house full of things that would eventually have to be dispersed. He expected to succeed at suicide, sooner or later, and he wished to be ready for his death at a moment’s notice.
The two books he’d kept hadn’t been kept so much as found. They had fallen between the headboard of his bed and the wall. He’d found them in May, after months of living in anticipatory austerity; anticipation of death, yes, but also, after his third failed suicide, of life. He read them for distraction, and for amusement, and as a way to pass the time without company.

So, little had changed?

He had changed, it’s true, but in the scheme of things that was nothing at all. And he had not changed all that much. He still taught at Carleton, the books he needed kept on the shelves in his office. He still lived in his house on 3rd, however denuded it now was. He still regretted, though less poignantly, his failings, his childhood, his previous life.

So, what had changed?

For one thing, he now realized that death didn’t want him any more than life did. Who knew that his first attempt at suicide would be his most resolute? The second attempt was a sad debacle. It was mid-March, but he had convinced himself the river would not be cold enough to do what he wanted of it, so he bought rat poison, enough to kill a townful of rats. He made his own bread, sifting a quarter cup of strychnine into the flour and kneading it into something that could, if one were kind, be called a loaf. He then made himself spaghetti bolognese, boiling the pasta in water, to which he’d added a spoonful of strychnine. He fried the tomatoes, bacon, and rosemary in a cup of olive oil, to which he’d added two tablespoons of strychnine.

He would have eaten this final meal, but two things happened. First, after setting the table and putting the sticky pasta and thick sauce onto a plate, he went to the door to his backyard. He went to take a final, sentimental look at the night sky, but he was suddenly overcome by the most violent stomach pain. It was all he could do to crawl to the living roomwhere he lay, in agony, for hours, thinking death was upon him.

As he was in the living room, Walter did not hear the neighbour’s dachshund, Otto, come into the house. And so it was Otto, climbing up onWalter’s chair,who ate most of the spaghetti. This was particularly sad, because Walter liked his neighbours, Mr.and Mrs.Molnar, and had been friendly enough with Otto to gain the dog’s trust. (While he himself groaned in agony, Walter heard Otto’s final, faint bark, and he’d thought it appropriate that this should be the last sound he heard on Earth, though, as it turned out, his were the last sounds Otto heard.) So when, at four in the morning, he discovered the poor dachshund’s corpse on his dining-room floor, Walter was devastated. He was devastated, and he had no idea what to do. He could not bring himself to tell the Molnars that their beloved dachshund had died in his stead.

Couldn’t you have been more careful?
Couldn’t you have eaten the rat poison before you went out?
Why do you want to die,Wally?
had died in his house, in fact

Otto always loved your kitchen,Wally.
And, yet, it seemed wrong to lie about Otto’s end.

He decided not to speak of it. He wrapped Otto in newspaper, put him in a white plastic bag, and left him out with the refuse. He threw out his pots and pans (along with the dishes and silverware he’d used for his final meal), and he was as kind to his neighbours as he could be, commiserating with Mrs. Molnar in particular, genuinely sorry for her distress during the weeks when they searched for their dog. He would, he resolved, be kind to them to his dying day.

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Above All Things

Above All Things

edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback Hardcover

The Paris Wife meets Into Thin Air in this breathtaking novel of love and obsession, which tells the story of George Mallory’s legendary attempt to be the first man to conquer Mount Everest – and of the remarkable woman he left behind to await news of his fate.
 
A captivating blend of historical fact and imaginative fiction, Above All Things moves seamlessly between the epic story of Mallory’s final expedition and a moving account of a day in the life of his wife, Ruth. Through George’ …

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