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Reading Newfoundland & Labrador: Fiction & Poetry
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Reading Newfoundland & Labrador: Fiction & Poetry

By kileyturner
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Some of the most haunting, emotional, funny, iconoclastic, and brilliant literature in this country comes from Newfoundland/Labrador. Here are a good few fiction and poetry works that shed light onto the region.
Hard Light

Hard Light

edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
tagged : canadian

In Hard Light Michael Crummey retells and reinvents his father’s stories of outport Newfoundland and the Labrador fishery of a half century ago. Speaking through generations of storytellers, he conjures a world of hard toil and heavy weather, shot through with stoicism, grim humour, endurance, and love. This is writing that is supple and charged with intensity, language that vivifies — electrifies — whoever and whatever it describes.

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Barnacle Love

Barnacle Love

edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback Paperback

Shortlisted for the 2008 Scotiabank Giller Prize

Like Wayson Choy and David Bezmozgis before him, Anthony De Sa captures, in stories brimming with life, the innocent dreams and bitter disappointments of the immigrant experience.

At the heart of this collection of intimately linked stories is the relationship between a father and his son. A young fisherman washes up nearly dead on the shores of Newfoundland. It is Manuel Rebelo who has tried to escape the suffocating smallness of his Portuguese vil …

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Excerpt

TERRA NOVA
For nothing is fixed, forever and forever and forever, it is not fixed; the earth is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down rock. Generations do not cease to be born, and we are responsible to them because we are the only witnesses they have. The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us. The moment we cease to hold each other, the sea engulfs us and the light goes ­out.

James Baldwin

~ OF GOD AND COD ~

there is nothing he can do. He is lifted high into the air by the swells that roll, break, and crash upon themselves. His dory is smashed, the flotsam scattered: pieces of white jagged wood afloat, tangled in knotted rope, nothing much to grab hold of before the ocean lifts him higher, only to drop him into its turbulent waters, catching him in the current. Again, he pierces the surface, the biting cold filling his lungs as he coughs and sputters. It is the moment he needs. He reaches into his sweater and draws out the crucifix, which glistens in the moon’s light. He twirls it between puckered fingers, places it in his ­mouth–­between his clicking teeth. He feels its weight and shape cushioned on his tongue, closes his blue lips and allows himself to let go, to sink beneath the foaming surface into the dark molasses ­sea.

Big Lips. Are you ­here?
~

The Portuguese call it saudade: a longing for something so indefinite as to be indefinable. Love affairs, miseries of life, the way things were, people already dead, those who left and the ocean that tossed them on the shores of a different ­land–­all things born of the soul that can only be ­felt.

Manuel Antonio Rebelo was a product of this passion. He grew up with the tales of his father, a man who held two things most sacred, God and ­cod–­bacalhau–­and not always in that order. His father’s words formed vivid pictures of grizzled brave fishermen and whale hunters who left their families for months to fish the great waters off Terra Nova, the new land. Visions of mothers shrouded in black, of confused ­wives–­the pregnant ones feeling alone, the others glad for the respite from ­pregnancy–­spun in his mind. And then there were the scoured children, waving in their Sunday finery. The small boys bound in worn but neatly pressed blazers and creased shorts. The little girls scattered like popcorn in their outgrown Communion dresses as they watched their fathers’ ascents onto magnificent ships. In his dreams Manuel saw the men with their torn and calloused hands, faces worn, dark and toughened by the salted mist. As a child he would sit by the cliffs for hours, dangling his bare feet over the side of the ­hundred-­foot drop to the shore, kicking the rock with his pink heels, placing his hands over his eyes to shield the sunlight, already yearning for the fading figures of the White ­Fleet.

“One day I’ll disappear,” he’d say ­aloud.

He could make out the faint shadow of a large fish that circled just under the skinned surface of the ­water.

“Did you hear that, Big Lips?” he ­shouted.

As if in response, the large grouper seemed to stop. Manuel could see the fish’s fins fanning against the mottled blue and green of the ocean’s rocky shallows. He had once befriended one of these gentle giants. The villagers believed that these fish could live for up to one hundred years. This was in part due to the story of Eduarda Ramos, one of the village midwives, who insisted she had reclaimed her wedding band from the belly of a large grouper her son had caught–­fifty-­three years after she had lost the ring while cleaning some fish by the ­shore.

As the large fish swam away and disappeared into the ocean’s darker depths, Manuel couldn’t help but wonder if the fish he had named was still alive. If the fish he had just seen was Big ­Lips.

Manuel’s yearning became a palpable ache. The Azores held nothing for him. The tiny island of São Miguel was suffocating, lost as it was in the middle of the Atlantic. Early in life he knew the world his mother had formed for him was too small, too predictable. He was the oldest boy. But it wasn’t for this reason alone that Manuel carried the burden of his mother’s dreams. He bore a close resemblance to his father: the liquid steel colour of his eyes, his thick stubborn mound of blond hair, and the round angelic features of his face. The blunt noses, darker skin, and almost black, ­shrimp-­like eyes that adorned his siblings had been borrowed from his mother’s side. Manuel thought they were all pretty and he loved them, but he also knew that in his mother’s mind they held no ­promise.

“You are your father’s son. He lives in you,” she’d sigh. “You possess his greatness.” Manuel felt her breasts pressed flat against his back, her sharp chin digging into his head. “I can smell it in your breath’s sweetness.”

Maria had plucked Manuel out of her brood and he became the chosen one. Her ambitions for her son were firm rather than clear: Manuel would become a man of importance, learned and respected in the village and beyond. He would have the advantage of private tutors, which meant his siblings would need to keep the bottoms of their shoes stuffed with corn husks to clog the holes and keep their feet dry. Manuel was often ashamed of himself as he walked up Rua Nova with his brothers and sisters, his polished shoes shining like the ­blue-­black of a mussel. He would be taught a rigorous catechism by the village priest, Padre Carlos. The teachings of God would make him fair and ­virtuous.

“It’s all for you, filho,” she’d say, often in front of her other children as they went about, cowering, in their daily chores. It was only because they loved Manuel and never once blamed him for anything they were denied that he began to resent his mother’s ­cruelty.

His ­ten-­year-­old brother Jose came home one day with a sick calf that he walked through the front door and into their narrow dark hallway. Everyone smiled and watched as the brother who loved animals above anything else tugged at the sickly calf, urged it out the back door toward a patch of tall grass. But the pastoral calm was interrupted by the sharp crack of dry wood. Manuel saw his young brother fall to the ­packed-­earth floor like a ball of dough. His cheek lay pressed against the floor, he was afraid to lift his head. He licked the blood that trickled from the corner of his mouth. Manuel looked to his mother, who held the splintered end of the broom over her shoulder. She picked the boy up by the scruff of his collar and he dangled from her clenched ­fist.

“You get this filthy beast out of here. This is our home, not a barn,” her voice ­shook.

Jose turned the nervous animal around and, still in a daze, directed the reluctant calf back out the front door. Albina and the others continued their work. Maria Theresa da Conceição Rebelo sat back down on the chair and poured the beans into the sagging lap of her apron. Manuel picked up the broom. Looking straight at his mother, he flung the broken handle across the kitchen. The stoneware bowls that had been carefully set on the barnboard table smashed. He heard the drawn breaths of his sisters. His mother stood and the beans sprung from her apron across the floor. She cocked her hand over her shoulder. He stood still for what seemed like an eternity, challenging her with his glare. She lowered her arm as he stormed after his ­brother.

He was twelve then. Manuel vowed that somehow he would make it all better. Freedom would provide opportunities for his siblings. But first, he would have to save ­himself.

Now, at the age of twenty, Manuel maintained an indifference to Maria’s ambitions. Every spring he would venture to the same spot and perch himself on the overhang. He would look out to the sea, feel the warming winds against his pale smooth skin. His ­still-­boyish cowlick pressed against his forehead. He’d carefully roll each of his socks into a ball, stuff them into his new leather shoes, to kick his now yellowed heels against the cliff wall with a vigour that had only intensified during the months he had spent in the mildewed Banco Micaelense, counting out escudos with a vacant smile, throwing open all windows to breathe in the sea, hearing Amalia’s despair on the radio, her riveting outbursts of emotion. He knew it was time to tell his ­mother.

Mãe, I’m going away for a while,” he ­said.

She continued to hang the laundry on the line, the stubborn stains facing the house, the cleaner sides billowing toward the neighbours. She held wooden clothespins in her ­mouth–­sometimes three at a ­time–­securely between her crowded ­teeth.

Mãe, look at me,” he urged. “I need to go. I need to be part of a bigger world. I need to know if there’s room out there for me.”

Her job was only interrupted for a fraction of a second. Manuel realized she had been waiting for this. Only yesterday she had walked into the bank, and he had noticed a disguised sadness in her step as she approached him in his white shirt and tie; she had pressed the shirt that morning and was pleased that the crease in his cuff had held. She continued hanging the clothes as if she hadn’t heard. But Manuel could sense her anger, the disappointment in allowing herself to believe it was possible for her children to want for themselves the same things she did. Maria Theresa da Conceição Rebelo stopped. Manuel looked away for a moment to catch the silhouettes of his brothers and sisters behind the muslin curtains of the house. Albina was ­twenty-­two and the oldest child. Her hands rested on their young brothers, Mariano and Jose. They were eighteen, only ten months apart. Candida was fifteen and sat on the sill with her back leaning against the drapes. He had expected them to be there, listening from inside their shared bedrooms. He chose to move his blurred vision back toward his mother. His eyes travelled up to her hair, to the wisps that looped up, barely held by her hair comb. When did her hair turn grey? he ­thought.

Mãe–”

“You look like your father.”

She walked toward the house wiping her hands on a torn apron, kicking with her bare feet the feeding hens that got in her way. As she reached the door, she bent down and scooped one of the hens up and under her freckled arm. Turning to face her son, she stroked the chicken’s head with her free hand before her swollen, red fingers closed around its thin neck and tugged; just one quick yank before the bird’s head fell, still ­jerking.

“Your supper will be ready soon,” and she slammed the ­door.

They had not spoken. The night before he left, his mother had locked herself in her room. He found a package, brown folded paper tied neatly with trussing string, outside her bedroom door. He knew she wouldn’t come out. It had been too painful the first time, fifteen years back, when she had wrapped some cheese, bread, chouriço, and a few loose sheets of paper and bundled them all together with an embroidered dishtowel before she embraced her husband Antonio for the last ­time.

Manuel untied the knots, their whorls flicking against the parcel. He stood in front of her door, hoping she’d hear the rustling of paper. He was mindful of refolding the paper and rolling the string into a ­ball–­his mother could use it again. In the parcel, Manuel found a yellowed fisherman’s sweater smelling of ocean, and in a tiny envelope made of tin wrap, his father’s gold crucifix and chain. They were the only things that she had left of her husband; his body had been buried at sea. There were no words written on the paper or in the folds. He checked. He tried knocking, then stopped after three soft raps and put his lips to the door, touching the ­grain.

Adeus, Mãe,” he ­whispered.

He couldn’t recall exactly what his father looked like, only his ­blue-­grey eyes and warm smile. But he did remember sitting on his father’s knee and looking for the gleaming crucifix buried in his father’s chest hair. This was the same chain that he now placed around his neck. He swung the sweater under his arm and tossed his duffle bag over his shoulder, his fingers whitened by the strain. Later, tucked in his socks or wrapped in his underwear, Manuel would discover the gifts secretly offered, for fear of their mother’s disapproval, by his siblings: Albina’s embroidered M handkerchief, the copper whistle Jose used to herd cattle, and Mariano’s pocket knife. Also in his bag, pressed between his cotton undershirts, was a ­black-­and-­white photograph of Candida, lips pursed like a Hollywood actress caught in a hazy cloud of smoke. Manuel walked down the silent corridor and out the front ­door.

He arrived in the cobbled square of Ponte Delgada before daybreak. The rigged ships waited, tethered to the docks; their white sails reflected the morning moon but barely rippled in the early breeze behind the makeshift altar. The altar had been constructed on the docks and bore the symbol of an intertwined cross and anchor. The sails would form the backdrop for the traditional farewell mass. Soon the square would be filled with crowds pushing their way up to the front, wanting to be touched by the priest, blessed by his ­hand.

Manuel once understood that desire and need. He had reached out as a young boy when faced with the loss of his father. But his trust had been betrayed and his want silenced. He hadn’t thought of Padre Carlos for a while. Some things were best pushed far back into the dark places of the mind. But the impending voyage, his mother’s inability to understand his decision, had awakened the loneliness he had felt as a ­boy.

“Those who serve me, serve God,” Padre Carlos had ­whispered.

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Sylvanus Now

Sylvanus Now

edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback Paperback
tagged :

The time is the 1950s, and the place is Canada’s Atlantic coast at the edge of the great Newfoundland fishing banks. Sylvanus Now is a young fisherman of great charm and strength. His youthful desires are simple: he wants a suit to lure a girl—the fine-boned beauty Adelaide—and he knows exactly how much fish he has to catch to pay for it. Adelaide, however, has other dreams. She longs to escape the sea, the fish, and the stultifying community, but her need of refuge from her own troubled f …

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CHAPTER ONE
A Man's Worth

Sylvanus now had just turned fourteen that morning when he burst through the school doors for summer, shoved his dory off from the calm shores of Cooney Arm, paddled through the narrow channel protecting the cove, and headed for the choppy waters of the open Atlantic. Tucked inside his pants pocket was a credit note for his confirmation suit, priced at thirty-two quintals of dried salt fish (on hold at the merchant's), and tucked around his feet were two coils of fishing twine, the end of each tightly knotted to a cod jigger.

Rowing half a mile along the rugged coastline, he anchored two stone's throws from where Pollock's Brook rushed out of a small estuary into the sea. Wrapping his fishing twine around each hand, he tossed the ends holding the jiggers overboard, their hooks more silvery than the underbelly of a herring as they sank into the sea. Rising, he planted both feet firmly on either side of his boat and began jigging: left forearm up, right forearm down; right forearm up, left forearm down. Thirty-two quintals of fish. A hundred and twelve pounds a quintal. He figured he could do it.

After scarcely five minutes of jigging, his left jigger hooked.

'Ah,' he grunted with satisfaction and, sitting back down, pulled in the fish. Ten pounds it felt. Fair size for drying and marketing. He grunted again. It was this, the immediacy of it, that fulfilled him. That even as he was twisting the jigger out of the cod's mouth, he was already tallying his own worth—unlike the hours spent over school books, studying letters and figures that made no sense.

Pulling a skinning knife out of his rubber boot, he cut the cod's throat to bleed it, cursing the gulls swooping and screaming overhead, one flapping so close he swung his knife at the yellowed eyes menacing him. Laying the fish aside, he tossed his jigger back into the sea and rose—left forearm up, right forearm down; right forearm up, left forearm down; up, down; up down—a sturdy figure in his father's black rubber pants and coat, unyielding to the rocking of his dory, his sou'wester pulled low, darkening his eyes as he faced into the sun and the gannets swooping black before its blaze as they dove into the sea a dozen feet below his boat, beaking back the caplin that were luring the cod to his jiggers.

Fourteen pounds. A day's jigging ought to land him half a quintal or more. With splitting, salting, and drying the fish on shore, it would take all three of the summer months, he figured, before he was able to dodge up to the merchant's and barter the price of the suit—for thirty-two quintal was the price he was figuring on paying, not the forty-two the merchant was asking. Perhaps he was poor at book learning, writing his numbers and letters backwards and trying the patience of his teachers and elders alike as they tried breaking him from the foolishness of his habit; but he could figure, sometimes for hours on end, about such things as how many cords of split wood to fill a twelve-by-twelve crawl space, or how long to leave a fish curing in brine, or, no doubt, how many hours it took to cut and sew a size-forty suit and how many quintals of fish to make a fair trade.

Another hook—a hard one. Real hard. Excitedly, he leaned over the side of his boat, pulled in his fishing twine, hand over hand, seeing a fathom down into the sea and the glazed eyes of a cod whose tail flicked confusedly as it was hauled from its brackish bed, up, up, up, breaking into the startling light of the sun.

'Whoa, now, who do we have here?' he asked in astonishment as he pulled the forty pounder half out of the water, the brown of its back glistening wet, its belly creamy as milk and swollen with roe. A mother-fish. Rarely would she feed off a jigger, busy as she was, bottom feeding and readying herself for spawning. Reverently, he unhooked the jigger from the mouth of the quietly struggling fish and watched the sun catch the last glimmer of her gills as she dove back into the deep, the sack of roe in her belly unscathed. He felt proud. The ocean's bounty, she was, and woe to he who desecrated the mother's womb. The gods smiled, and within the minute he was pulling another fish up from the deep, a twenty pounder, twice the normal size for a hand-jigged cod, and his heart pounded as he flipped it into his boat.

Two hours later, the twine was chafing his hands and his shoulders had begun to weaken. His father, before the sea took him (along with his eldest brother, Elikum), would've held out jigging till the tide ebbed. Come evening, he would've returned again, filling his boat for the second time that day, getting home late, late evening, working long into the night, gutting and splitting and salting his catch. And perhaps I might, too, row back out for the second tide, he thought. If I gets the morning's catch gutted and split and sitting in brine, and a good scoff of Mother's cooking filling me gut, I just might. And perhaps, by summer's end, I, too, might spend the whole day standing and jigging with nary an ache nor wish, like Father done.

Perhaps so. For now 'twas the most he could do to bleed the last fish, pull his anchor, and will his leaden arms to lift his paddles out of the water. Shoulders groaning, he rowed against a growing squall, plying harder on his paddles as he swerved back through the choppy waters that always choked the channel's narrow neck. One last long haul on his oars and he hoisted them inside, gliding toward the shoreline of Cooney Arm. Then, as he'd seen his elders do after making it through the neck in worsening weather, he rose, raising his eyes as if in salute to the wood-coated hills that cuddled the scant few houses of the arm from the wind and sea.

But Sylvanus's wasn't the salute of his elders. This morning's lop was a duck pond alongside the squalls they had survived. His was the salute of pride, for despite his having drawn ashore dozens of times before, sometimes with fifteen, maybe twenty pounds of cod for his mother's pot, today he was straddling a hundred and twenty pounds or more—a few pounds more than a quintal—from just four hours' fishing. A fisherman's catch, for sure, and to be bartered at the merchant's. And this thought cast his eyes anew upon the hills. Yet, unlike his elders', his sought more the rock gorge to his right and the thousands of fathoms of white foaming water crashing down its cut and spewing across the meadow into the embodying arms of the mother sea as she buoyed him and his bounty to shore. Water. God's blood, the elders used to say. And in his moment of pride, Sylvanus Now would've traded his last drop of red in gratitude.

Three months later, the thirty-two quintals of fish bartered and stored in the merchant's shed, he dodged home, a deep satisfaction filling his chest and the suit, carefully wrapped in brown paper, tucked under his arm. His mother, Eva, her aging hair bundled at her nape and her fading grey eyes bolstered by the black lustrous brows that she'd bequeathed to all of her boys, met him in the doorway. Proudly, he pulled the suit from its wrappings and held it before her—three sizes too big so's to allow for his last few years' growth—and announced he was quitting school and going fishing for good.

Eva sighed. His was the unsanctioned egg, the one who shuddered from her old woman's body long after the others had been born and grown, and a month after her husband and eldest had been lost to the sea. Too wearied was she to give chase when, the moment he found his legs, he was rattling doorknobs and gateposts and trotting along the beach, bawling to go out in the boat with her third eldest, Manny. And in vain were her protests when Manny, his own chin still soft with baby-down, yet his heart broader than his burly frame and sorrowing for this fatherless youngster, buttoned him inside an oilskin coat that fell below his knees, and hove him aboard his punt. Tying a length of twine with a jigger around Sylvanus's pudgy hands, he shoved off from shore, heading for the fishing grounds. Now, as Sylvanus filled her doorway, grinning foolishly over the suit he held before her, his glut of coarse, dark hair and brows exaggerating a stubbornness fossilized since birth, she merely ambled past him, pulling on her gardening gloves.

Hooking his suit to a notch below the mantel, Sylvanus left the house and sauntered down to his father's stage, untouched since the day of his drowning, and wriggled open the door. It was darkish inside and murky, the air sharp with brine. Filling his lungs, he stood, waiting, watching, as his eyes adjusted, giving shape to the bulks and bundles strewn around him.

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Caught

Caught

edition:eBook
also available: Paperback Hardcover Paperback

Now a major CBC original television series starring Allan Hawco (Republic of Doyle), Paul Gross (Alias Grace, Hyena Road, Passchendaele), Tori Anderson (Open Heart, No Tomorrow), Eric Johnson (Fifty Shades Darker, The Knick, Smallville), Charlotte Sullivan (Chicago Fire, Disappearance), Greg Bryk (Bitten, Frontier) and Enuka Okuma (Rookie Blue, Battle of Sexes). Produced by Take The Shot Productions. Executive producers include Allan Hawco, Perry Chafe, John Vatcher, Alex Patrick, Peter Blackie, …

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The Glass Harmonica

The Glass Harmonica

A Novel
edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback eBook
tagged : suspense, crime

2010 BMO Winterset Award — Winner

 

When retiree Keith O’Reilly witnesses the murder of his neighbour by a pizza delivery man one night during a snowstorm, a unique series of stories begins to unfold.

As the narrative seamlessly moves from neighbour to neighbour, house to house, the reader begins to understand, not only the circumstances that led to the murder, but the private secrets and personal struggles of many of the McKay Street residents.

Travelling through the changing viewpoints of a m …

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Away from Everywhere

Away from Everywhere

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged : literary

Brothers Owen and Alex Collins are brought together when mental illness claims their father and sets off a chain reaction of unrelated, heart-breaking events. Both tender and bold in its delivery, Away from Everywhere cuts no corners in telling the story of their crushing childhood, the reasons the brothers become different men, and the unthinkable act of love that tears them apart. Part warped love story, part family tragedy, Away from Everywhere is a heart-stomping pageturner.

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Annabel

Annabel

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

A finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Governor General's Literary Award, the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize, and a #1 national bestseller, Kathleen Winter's spectacular debut novel is now available in a new edition.

In 1968, into the beautiful, spare environment of remote coastal Labrador, a mysterious child is born: a baby who appears to be neither fully boy nor girl, but both at once. Only three people are privy to the secret — the baby's parents, Jacinta and Treadway, and a tr …

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This All Happened

This All Happened

edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback eBook

The commodity a fiction writer sells is his own life, his spirit. This is especially true in fiction that draws from autobiography.

In Michael Winter's journal-a-clef, This All Happened, we are exposed to the kernel of truth that exists in each day. Told from the viewpoint of Gabriel English, This All Happened opens windows onto a richly textured, fast-pacedly filmic compilation of daily vignettes over one calendar year (if Fellini were a Newfoundlander...). Gabriel's promises and actions early i …

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