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A few favourites

By Patti Grayson
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4 x 4

4 x 4

edition:Paperback
tagged : literary

The Dokic family, like any other, has its problems. Brothers Clint and Darryl are constantly at odds and just similar enough not to cut each other any slack or let past feuds slide. Darryl sees real-estate salesman Clint as a slick boor, overly fond of himself and his achievements. Clint sees Darryl as an over-educated under-achiever, who flaunts his smarts to belittle others. Their mother, Meg, referees their sniping with more knowledge than either of them imagines.

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Malarky

Malarky

edition:Paperback
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SHORTLISTED FOR THE AMAZON.CA FIRST NOVEL AWARD A NEW STATESMAN READ-ALL-ABOUT-IT SELECTION FOR 2012 A BARNES & NOBLE DISCOVER GREAT NEW WRITERS PICK, 2012 A SALON.COM WHAT-TO-READ AWARD-WINNER, 2012 A TOP FIVE BOOK PICK, CHATELAINE AN ITUNES CANADA BEST OF 2012 FICTION PICK AN AMAZON.CA BEST BOOK OF 2012 EDITOR'S PICK A LARGEHEARTED BOY FAVORITE NOVEL OF 2012 A NEXT BEST BOOK BLOG TOP 3, 2012

When Our Woman catches her son in the hay with another man and is soon after accosted by Red-the-Twit ab …

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Galore

Galore

A novel
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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.

From the Hardcover edition.

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