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Great Families in CanLit

By kileyturner
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When The Saints

When The Saints

edition:Paperback
tagged :

Is it possible to redeem a family name that has been spoken as a curse word for generations?

A decade after being cast off to live with strangers, Tabby Saint returns to Solace River, Nova Scotia, to find her childhood home deserted. She quickly latches on to the lonely tavern-keeper, West, who informs her that her family was run out of town. Tabby heads out to nearby Jubilant to find the fragments of her family: her addict sister, Poppy, and her two young kids; her brothers, Bird and Jackie, one …

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Sitting Practice

Sitting Practice

A Novel
edition:Hardcover
also available: eBook

Longlisted for CBC Radio's Canada Reads 2016, 

Three and a half weeks after his wedding, Ross Alexander is driving home from a tennis game with his new bride when a wayward tennis ball rolls under his feet. As his wife Iliana removes her seatbelt to retrieve the ball, a truck slams into the car, and she ends up paralyzed and in a coma.

So begins this extraordinary portrait of a fated marriage. Ross struggles with the guilt over the consequences of his wife’s paralysis and for the imagined life t …

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No Great Mischief

No Great Mischief

edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback
tagged : literary

Alistair MacLeod musters all of the skill and grace that have won him an international following to give us No Great Mischief, the story of a fiercely loyal family and the tradition that drives it.

Generations after their forebears went into exile, the MacDonalds still face seemingly unmitigated hardships and cruelties of life. Alexander, orphaned as a child by a horrific tragedy, has nevertheless gained some success in the world. Even his older brother, Calum, a nearly destitute alcoholic living …

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House of Hate

House of Hate

edition:Paperback
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The destructive family can tu upon itself is the theme of this powerful work, which has in the words of Margaret Laurence, become a classic of its kind. Set in the stark, confining atmosphere of a Newfoundland milltown, this semi-autobiographical novel tells the story of the Stone family-caught in relentless poverty and tyranized by Saul Stone, an illiterate man whose primitive fury warps and twists his wife and children. A brilliant portrayal of existence bereft of tende ess, House of Hate is a …

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All Families are Psychotic

All Families are Psychotic

edition:Paperback
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Psychosis: any form of severe mental disorder in which the individual’s contact with reality becomes highly distorted.

Douglas Coupland, the author whom Tom Wolfe calls “one of the freshest, most exciting voices of the novel today,” delivers his tenth book in ten years of writing, with All Families Are Psychotic. Coupland recently has been compared to Jack Kerouac and F. Scott Fitzgerald, yet he is a man firmly grounded in the current era. The novel is a sizzling and sharp-witted entertainm …

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Excerpt

Chapter One
Janet opened her eyes — Florida's prehistoric glare dazzled outside the motel window. A dog barked; a car honked; a man was singing a snatch of a Spanish song. She absentmindedly touched the scar from the bullet wound beneath her left rib cage, a scar that had healed over, bumpy and formless and hard, like a piece of gum stuck beneath a tabletop. She hadn't expected her flesh to have healed so blandly — What was I expecting, a scar shaped like an American flag?
Janet's forehead flushed: My children — where are they? She did a rapid-fire tally of the whereabouts of her three children, a ritual she'd enacted daily since the birth of Wade back in 1958. Once she'd mentally placed her offspring in their geographic slots, she remembered to breathe: They're all going to be here in Orlando today.
She looked at the motel's bedside clock: 7:03 A.M. Pill o'clock. She took two capsules from her prescription pill caddie and swallowed them with tap water gone flat overnight, which now tasted like nickels and pennies. It registered on her that motel rooms now came equipped with coffee makers. What a sensible idea, so bloody sensible — why didn't they do this years ago? Why is all the good stuff happening now?
A few days back, on the phone, her daughter, Sarah, had said, 'Mom, at least buy Evian, OK? The tap water in that heap is probably laced with crack. I can't believe you chose to stay there.'
'But dear, I don't mind it here.'
'Go stay at the Peabody with the rest of the family. I've told you a hundred times I'll pay.'
'That's not the point, dear. A hotel really ought not cost more than this.'
'Mom, NASA cuts deals with the hotels, and ...' Sarah made a puff of air, acknowledging defeat. 'Forget it. But I think you're too well off to be pulling your Third World routine.'
Sarah — so cavalier with money! — as were the two others. None had known poverty, and they'd never known war, but the advantage hadn't made them golden, and Janet had never gotten over this fact. A life of abundance had turned her two boys into an element other than gold — lead? — silicon? — bismuth? But then Sarah — Sarah was an element finer than gold — carbon crystallized as diamond — a bolt of lightning frozen in midflash, sliced into strips, and stored in a vault.
Janet's phone rang and she answered it: Wade, calling from an Orange County lock-up facility. Janet imagined Wade in a drab concrete hallway, unshaven and disheveled, yet still radiating 'the glint' — the spark in the eye he'd inherited from his father. Bryan didn't have it and Sarah didn't need it, but Wade had glinted his way through life, and maybe it hadn't been the best attribute to inherit after all.
Wade: Janet remembered being back home, and driving along Marine Drive in the morning, watching a certain type of man waiting for a bus to take him downtown. He'd be slightly seedy and one or two notches short of respectability; it was always patently clear he'd lost his driver's license after a DWI, but this only made him more interesting, and whenever Janet smiled at one of these men from her car, they fired a smile right back. And that was Wade and, in some unflossed cranny of her memory, her ex-husband, Ted.
'Dear, aren't you too old to be calling me from — jail? Even saying the word "jail" feels silly.'
'Mom, I don't do bad stuff any more. This was a fluke.'
'Okay then, what happened — did you accidentally drive a busload of Girl Guides into the Everglades?'
'It was a bar brawl, Mom.'
Janet repeated this: 'A bar brawl.'
'I know, I know — you think I don't know how idiotic that sounds? I'm phoning because I need a ride away from this dump. My rental car's back at the bar.'
'Where's Beth? Why doesn't she drive you?'
'She gets in early this afternoon.'
'OK. Well, let's go back a step, dear. How exactly does one get into a bar brawl?'
'You wouldn't believe me if I told you.'
'You'd be amazed what I'm believing these days. Try me.'
There was a pause on the other end. 'I got in a fight because this guy — this jerk — was making fun of God.'
'God.' He can't be serious.
'Yeah, well, he was.'
'In what way?'
'He was being so nasty about it, saying, "God's an asshole," and "God doesn't care about squat," and he kept on going on and on, and I had to put a stop to it. I think he got fired that day.'
'You were defending God's honor?'
'Yeah. I was.'
Tread carefully here, Janet. 'Wade, I know Beth is very religious. Are you becoming religious, too?'
'Me? Maybe. Nah. Yes. No. It depends on how you define religious. It keeps Beth calm, and maybe ...' Wade paused. 'Maybe it can calm me, too.'
'So you spent the night in jail, then?'
'Safely in the arms of a four-hundred-pound convenience store thief named Bubba.'
'Wade, I can't pick you up. I think it's going to be one of those no-energy days. And besides, the car I rented smells like a carpet in a frat house — and the roads down here, they're white, and the glare makes me sleepy.'
'Mom, come on ...'
'Don't be such a baby. You're forty-two. Act it. You couldn't even get to the hotel in time yesterday.'
'I was making a quick detour to visit a friend in Tampa. I stopped for a drink. Hey — don't treat me like I'm Bryan. It wasn't like I started the fight or ...'
'Stop! Stop right there. Call a cab.'
'I'm short on cash.'
'Simple cab fare? Then how are you paying for the hotel?'
Wade was silent.
'Wade?'
'Sarah's covering it for us until we can pay it back.' An awkward silence followed.
'Mom, you could pick me up if you really wanted to. I know you could.'
'Yes, I suppose I could. But I think you should phone your father down in ... what's that place called?'
'Kissimmee — and I already did call him.'
'And?'
'He's gone marlin fishing with Nickie.'
'Marlin fishing? People still do that?'
'I don't know. I guess. I thought they were extinct. They probably have a guy in a wet suit who attaches a big plastic marlin onto their line.'
'Marlins are so ugly. They remind me of basement rec rooms that people built in 1958 and never used again.'
'I know. It's hard to imagine they ever existed in the first place.'
'So he's out marlin fishing with Nickie then?'
'Yeah. With Nickie.'
'That cheesy slut.'
'Mom?'
'Wade, I'm not a saint. I've been holding stuff inside me for decades — girls my age were trained to do that, and it's why we all have colitis. Besides, a dash of spicy language is refreshing every so often. Just yesterday I was hunting for information on vitamin D derivatives on the Internet, and suddenly, doink! I land in the Anal Love website. I'm looking at a cheerleader in a leather harness on the —'
'Mom, how can you visit sites like that?'
'Wade, may I remind you that you are standing in a human Dumpster somewhere in Orlando, yet hearing a sixty-five-year-old woman discuss the Internet over a pay phone shocks you? You wouldn't believe the sites I've visited. And the chat rooms, too. I'm not always Janet Drummond, you know.'
'Mom, why are you telling me this?'
'Oh, forget it. And your stepmother, Nickie, is still a cheesy slut. Phone Howie — maybe he can come fetch you.'
'Howie's so boring he makes me almost pass out. I can't believe Sarah married such a blank.'
'I'm the one who gave birth to her, and I'm the one who has to drive with him to Cape Canaveral today.'
'Ooh — bummer. Another NASA do?'
'Yes. And you're welcome to come along.'
'Wait a second, Mom — why aren't you at the Peabody with everybody else? What are you staying in a motel for? By the way, it took thirty rings for the clerk — who, I might add, sounded like a kidney thief — to answer the phone.'
'Wade, you're changing the subject. Phone Howie. Oh wait — I think I hear somebody at the door.' Janet held the phone at arm's length from her head, and said, 'Knock knock knock knock.'
'Very funny, Mom.'
'I have to answer the door, Wade.'
'That's really funny. I —'
Click
The motel room made her feel slightly too transient, but it was a bargain, and that turned the minuses into pluses. Nonetheless, Janet missed her morning waking-up rituals in her own bedroom. She touched her body gently and methodically, as though she were at the bank counting a stack of twenties. She gently rubbed a set of ulcers on her lips' insides, still there, same as the day before, not just a dream. Her hands probed further downward — no lumps in her breasts, not today — but then what had Sarah told her? We've all had cancer thousands of times, Mom, but in all those thousands of times your body removed it. It's lazy bookkeeping to only count the cancers that stick. You and I could have cancer right now, but tomorrow it might be gone.
The motel room smelled like a lifetime of cigarettes. She looked at Sarah's photo in the Miami Herald beside the phone, a standard NASA PR crew photo: an upper body shot against a navy ice-cream swirl background and complexion-flattering lighting that made one suspect a noble, scientific disdain for cosmetics. Sarah clutched a helmet underneath her right arm. Her left arm, handless, rested by her side: Space knows no limitations.
Janet sighed. She twiddled her toes. Ten minutes later her phone rang again: Sarah calling from the Cape.
'Hi, Mom. I just spoke to Howie. He'll go pick up Wade.'
'Good morning, Sarah. How's your day?'
'This morning we had a zero-G evacuation test, but what I really wanted to do was sit in a nice quiet bathroom and test out a new brand of pore-cleansing strips. The humidity in these suits is giving me killer blackheads. They never talked about that in those old Life magazine photo essays. Have you eaten yet?'
'No.'
'Come eat at the Cape with me. We can have dehydrated astronaut's ice cream out of a shiny Mylar bag.'
Janet sat up on her bed and pulled her legs over the side. She felt her skin — her meat — hanging from her bones as though it were so much water-logged clothing. She needed to pee. She began to meter her words as she eyed the bathroom door. 'I don't think so, dear. The only time they ever allow me to have with you are three seconds for a photo op.'
Sarah asked, 'Is Beth arriving today?'
Beth was Wade's wife. 'Later this afternoon. I think I'm going to dinner with the two of them.'
'How far along is she?'
'I think this is her fourth month. It may even be a Christmas baby.'
'Huh. I see.'
'Something wrong, Sarah?'
'It's just that —'
'What?'
'Mom, how could Wade marry ... her. She's so priggish and born-again. I always thought Wade would marry Miss Roller Derby. Beth is so frigging sanctimonious.'
'She keeps him alive.'
'I guess she does. When does Bryan arrive?'
'He and his girlfriend are already here. He called from the Peabody.'
'Girlfriend? Bryan? What's her name?'
'If I tell you, you won't believe me.'
'It can't be that bad. Is it one of those made-up names like DawnElle or Kerrissa or CindaJo?'
'Worse.'
'What could be worse?'
'Shw.'
'I beg your pardon?'
'Shw. That's her name: Shw.'
'Spell that for me.'
'S. H. W.'
'And?'
'There's no vowel, if that's what you're waiting for.'
'What — her name is Shw? Am I pronouncing that properly?'
'I'm afraid so.'
'That is the most ... impractical name I've ever heard. Is she from Sri Lanka or Finland or something?'
Janet's eye lingered on the bathroom door and the toilet beyond. 'As far as I know she's from Alberta. Bryan worships her, and she's also knocked up like a prom queen.'
'Bryan's pregnant? How come I don't know any of this?'
'I just met her last week myself, dear. She seems to rather like me, though she treats everybody else like dirt. So I don't mind her at all, really.'
'Bryan is such a freak. I'm not going to be able to keep a straight face, you know — when she tells me her name, that is.'
Janet said, 'Shw!'
Sarah giggled.
'Shw! Shw! Shw!'
Sarah laughed. 'Is she pretty?'
'Sort of. She's also about eighteen and an angry little hornet. In the fifties we would have called her a pixie. Nowadays we'd call her hyperthyroid. She's bug-eyed.'
'Where'd they meet?'
'Seattle. She helped Bryan set fire — I believe — to a stack of pastel-colored waffle-knit T-shirts in a Gap — back during the World Trade Organization riots. They were separated, then a few months ago they met again destroying a test facility growing genetically modified runner beans.'
Janet could sense Sarah changing gears; she was finished discussing the family. Next would come business-like matters: 'Well, good for Bryan. You're OK for today's NASA gig?'
'Still.'
'Howie will pick you up at 9:30, after he picks up my darling brother. By the way, Dad's broke.'
'That doesn't surprise me. I'd heard he'd lost his job.'
'I tried to loan him some money, but he, of course, said no. Not that there's much to loan. Howie lost the bulk of our savings in some website that sells products for pets. I could strangle him.'
'Oh dear.' It's so easy to fall into the mother mode.
'Tell me about it. Hey, when was the last time you even saw Dad?'
'Half a year ago. By accident at Super-Valu.'
'Tense?'
'I can handle him.'
'Good. See you there.'
'Yes, dear.'
Click
On the walkway outside her room, Janet heard children mewling as they set off to Walt Disney World with their families. She walked to the bathroom across a floor made lunar from eons of cigarette burns and various stains better left uninvestigated. She thought of serial murderers using acids to dissolve the teeth and jawbones of their victims.
She unsuspectingly caught sight of herself in a floor-length mirror by the sink and the sight stopped her cold. Yes, Janet, that's correct: you are shrinking — sinew by sinew, protein molecule by protein molecule you are turning into an ... an elf, yes, you, Janet Drummond, once voted 'Girl We'd Rob a Bank For.'
She was transfixed by the view of herself in a blue nightie, as if she were once again young and this image had been delivered to her from the future as a warning — If I squint I can still see the cool immaculate housewife I once dreamed of becoming. I'm Elizabeth Montgomery starring in Bewitched. I'm Dina Merrill lunching at the Museum of Modern Art with Christina Ford.
Oh forget it. She peed, showered, dried and then modified those traces of time's passage on her face that she could.
There. I'm not so bad after all. A man might still rob a bank for me, and men still do flirt — not too frequently — and older men perhaps — but the look in the eyes never changes.
She dressed, and five minutes later she was a block away sitting in a Denny's reading a paper. The North American weather map on the rear page was a rich, unhealthy crimson, with only a small strip of cool green running up the coast from Seattle to Alaska. Outside the restaurant window the sun on the parking lot made the area seem like a science experiment. She realized she no longer cared about the weather. Next.
Back in her motel room, she lay down on the bed haunted by a thousand sex acts. OK — this place is creepy but at least I'm not throwing away money. Her lips were sore to the point that speech was painful, and it hurt to exhale. Her pill buzzer buzzed; she sat up. She reached into her purse and removed a prescription bottle. She turned on the TV, and there was Sarah being interviewed on CNN. As always, her daughter looked glowingly pretty on TV, like a nun who'd never touched makeup.
— Do you think you and children like you, born with damage caused by thalidomide, have other messages to tell the world?
— Of course. We were the canaries in the coal mine. We were the first children born in which it was proved that chemicals from the outside world — in our case thalidomide — could severely damage the human embryo. These days, most mothers don't smoke or drink during pregnancy. They know that the outer world can enter their babies and cause damage. But in my mother's generation, they didn't know this. They smoked and drank and took any number of medications without thinking twice. Now we know better, and as a species we're smarter as a result — we're aware of teratogens.
— Teratogens?
— Yes. It means 'monster forming'. A horrible word, but then the world can be a horrible place. They're the chemicals that cross the placenta and affect a child's growth in utero.
The host turned to the camera: 'Time for a quick break. I've been speaking with Sarah Drummond-Fournier, a one-handed woman, and one heck of a fighter, who'll be on Friday's shuttle flight. We'll be right back.'
How on earth did I give birth to such a child? I understand nothing about her life. Nothing. And yet she's the spitting image of me, and she's gallivanting up into space. Janet remembered how much she'd wanted to help the young Sarah with her homework, and Sarah's polite-but-resigned invitations to come do so when Janet popped her head into Sarah's doorway. Invariably Janet would look down at the papers that might as well have been in Chinese. Janet would ask a few concerned questions about Sarah's teachers, and then plead kitchen duty, beating a hasty retreat.
She turned off the TV.
She once cared about everything, and if she couldn't muster genuine concern, she could easily fake it: too much rain stunting the petunias; her children's scrapes; stick figure Africans; the plight of marine mammals. She considered herself one of the surviving members of a lost generation, the last generation raised to care about appearances or doing the right thing — to care about caring. She had been born in 1934 in Toronto, a city then much like Chicago or Rochester or Detroit — bland, methodical, thrifty and rules-playing. Her father, William Truro, managed the furniture and household appliance department of the downtown Eaton's department store. William's wife, Kaye, was, well ... William's wife.
The two raised Janet and her older brother, Gerald, on $29.50 a week until 1938, when a salary decrease lowered William's pay to $27 a week, and jam vanished from the Truro breakfast table, the absence of which became Janet's first memory. After the jam, the rest of Janet's life seemed to have been an ongoing reduction — things that had once been essential vanishing without discussion, or even worse, with too much discussion.
Seasons changed. Sweaters became ragged, were patched up and became ragged again, and were grudgingly thrown out. A few flowers were grown in the thin band of dirt in front of the brick row house, species scavenged by Kaye for their value as dried flowers, which scrimped an extra few months' worth of utility from them. Life seemed to be entirely about scrimping. In fall of 1938, Gerald died of polio. In 1939 the war began and Canada was in it from the start, and scrimping kicked into overdrive: bacon fat, tin cans, rubber — all material objects — were scrimp-worthy. Janet's most enjoyable childhood memories were of sorting neighborhood trash in the alleys, in search of crown jewels, metal fragments and love notes from dying princes. During the war, houses in her neighborhood grew dingy — paint became a luxury. When she was six, Janet walked into the kitchen and found her father kissing her mother passionately. They saw Janet standing there, a small, chubby, fuddled Campbell's Soup kid, and they broke apart, blushed, and the incident was never spoken of again. The glimpse was her only evidence of passion until womanhood.
An hour passed and Janet looked at the bedside clock: almost 9:30, and Howie would have already picked up Wade by now. Janet walked down to the hotel's covered breezeway to wait for her son-in-law. A day of boredom loomed.
Then, pow! she was angry all of a sudden. She was angry because she was unable to remember and reexperience her life as a continuous movie-like event. There were only bits of punctuation here and there — the kiss, the jam, the dried flowers — which, when assembled, made Janet who she was — yet there seemed to be no divine logic behind the assemblage. Or any flow. All those bits were merely ... bits. But there had to be logic. How could the small, chubby child of 1940 imagine that one day she'd be in Florida seeing her own daughter launched into outer space? Tiny little Sarah, who was set to circle the Earth hundreds of times. We didn't even think about outer space in 1939. Space didn't exist yet.
She removed a black felt Sharpie pen from her purse, and wrote the word 'laryngitis' on a folded piece of paper. For the remainder of the day she wouldn't have to speak to anybody she didn't want to.
I wonder if Howie is going to be late? No — Howie's not the late type.

Excerpted from All Families are Psychotic by Douglas Coupland. Copyright © 2001 by Douglas Coupland. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Chapter One
Janet opened her eyes — Florida's prehistoric glare dazzled outside the motel window. A dog barked; a car honked; a man was singing a snatch of a Spanish song. She absentmindedly touched the scar from the bullet wound beneath her left rib cage, a scar that had healed over, bumpy and formless and hard, like a piece of gum stuck beneath a tabletop. She hadn't expected her flesh to have healed so blandly — What was I expecting, a scar shaped like an American flag?
Janet's forehead flushed: My children — where are they? She did a rapid-fire tally of the whereabouts of her three children, a ritual she'd enacted daily since the birth of Wade back in 1958. Once she'd mentally placed her offspring in their geographic slots, she remembered to breathe: They're all going to be here in Orlando today.
She looked at the motel's bedside clock: 7:03 A.M. Pill o'clock. She took two capsules from her prescription pill caddie and swallowed them with tap water gone flat overnight, which now tasted like nickels and pennies. It registered on her that motel rooms now came equipped with coffee makers. What a sensible idea, so bloody sensible — why didn't they do this years ago? Why is all the good stuff happening now?
A few days back, on the phone, her daughter, Sarah, had said, 'Mom, at least buy Evian, OK? The tap water in that heap is probably laced with crack. I can't believe you chose to stay there.'
'But dear, I don't mind it here.'
'Go stay at the Peabody with the rest of the family. I've told you a hundred times I'll pay.'
'That's not the point, dear. A hotel really ought not cost more than this.'
'Mom, NASA cuts deals with the hotels, and ...' Sarah made a puff of air, acknowledging defeat. 'Forget it. But I think you're too well off to be pulling your Third World routine.'
Sarah — so cavalier with money! — as were the two others. None had known poverty, and they'd never known war, but the advantage hadn't made them golden, and Janet had never gotten over this fact. A life of abundance had turned her two boys into an element other than gold — lead? — silicon? — bismuth? But then Sarah — Sarah was an element finer than gold — carbon crystallized as diamond — a bolt of lightning frozen in midflash, sliced into strips, and stored in a vault.
Janet's phone rang and she answered it: Wade, calling from an Orange County lock-up facility. Janet imagined Wade in a drab concrete hallway, unshaven and disheveled, yet still radiating 'the glint' — the spark in the eye he'd inherited from his father. Bryan didn't have it and Sarah didn't need it, but Wade had glinted his way through life, and maybe it hadn't been the best attribute to inherit after all.
Wade: Janet remembered being back home, and driving along Marine Drive in the morning, watching a certain type of man waiting for a bus to take him downtown. He'd be slightly seedy and one or two notches short of respectability; it was always patently clear he'd lost his driver's license after a DWI, but this only made him more interesting, and whenever Janet smiled at one of these men from her car, they fired a smile right back. And that was Wade and, in some unflossed cranny of her memory, her ex-husband, Ted.
'Dear, aren't you too old to be calling me from — jail? Even saying the word "jail" feels silly.'
'Mom, I don't do bad stuff any more. This was a fluke.'
'Okay then, what happened — did you accidentally drive a busload of Girl Guides into the Everglades?'
'It was a bar brawl, Mom.'
Janet repeated this: 'A bar brawl.'
'I know, I know — you think I don't know how idiotic that sounds? I'm phoning because I need a ride away from this dump. My rental car's back at the bar.'
'Where's Beth? Why doesn't she drive you?'
'She gets in early this afternoon.'
'OK. Well, let's go back a step, dear. How exactly does one get into a bar brawl?'
'You wouldn't believe me if I told you.'
'You'd be amazed what I'm believing these days. Try me.'
There was a pause on the other end. 'I got in a fight because this guy — this jerk — was making fun of God.'
'God.' He can't be serious.
'Yeah, well, he was.'
'In what way?'
'He was being so nasty about it, saying, "God's an asshole," and "God doesn't care about squat," and he kept on going on and on, and I had to put a stop to it. I think he got fired that day.'
'You were defending God's honor?'
'Yeah. I was.'
Tread carefully here, Janet. 'Wade, I know Beth is very religious. Are you becoming religious, too?'
'Me? Maybe. Nah. Yes. No. It depends on how you define religious. It keeps Beth calm, and maybe ...' Wade paused. 'Maybe it can calm me, too.'
'So you spent the night in jail, then?'
'Safely in the arms of a four-hundred-pound convenience store thief named Bubba.'
'Wade, I can't pick you up. I think it's going to be one of those no-energy days. And besides, the car I rented smells like a carpet in a frat house — and the roads down here, they're white, and the glare makes me sleepy.'
'Mom, come on ...'
'Don't be such a baby. You're forty-two. Act it. You couldn't even get to the hotel in time yesterday.'
'I was making a quick detour to visit a friend in Tampa. I stopped for a drink. Hey — don't treat me like I'm Bryan. It wasn't like I started the fight or ...'
'Stop! Stop right there. Call a cab.'
'I'm short on cash.'
'Simple cab fare? Then how are you paying for the hotel?'
Wade was silent.
'Wade?'
'Sarah's covering it for us until we can pay it back.' An awkward silence followed.
'Mom, you could pick me up if you really wanted to. I know you could.'
'Yes, I suppose I could. But I think you should phone your father down in ... what's that place called?'
'Kissimmee — and I already did call him.'
'And?'
'He's gone marlin fishing with Nickie.'
'Marlin fishing? People still do that?'
'I don't know. I guess. I thought they were extinct. They probably have a guy in a wet suit who attaches a big plastic marlin onto their line.'
'Marlins are so ugly. They remind me of basement rec rooms that people built in 1958 and never used again.'
'I know. It's hard to imagine they ever existed in the first place.'
'So he's out marlin fishing with Nickie then?'
'Yeah. With Nickie.'
'That cheesy slut.'
'Mom?'
'Wade, I'm not a saint. I've been holding stuff inside me for decades — girls my age were trained to do that, and it's why we all have colitis. Besides, a dash of spicy language is refreshing every so often. Just yesterday I was hunting for information on vitamin D derivatives on the Internet, and suddenly, doink! I land in the Anal Love website. I'm looking at a cheerleader in a leather harness on the —'
'Mom, how can you visit sites like that?'
'Wade, may I remind you that you are standing in a human Dumpster somewhere in Orlando, yet hearing a sixty-five-year-old woman discuss the Internet over a pay phone shocks you? You wouldn't believe the sites I've visited. And the chat rooms, too. I'm not always Janet Drummond, you know.'
'Mom, why are you telling me this?'
'Oh, forget it. And your stepmother, Nickie, is still a cheesy slut. Phone Howie — maybe he can come fetch you.'
'Howie's so boring he makes me almost pass out. I can't believe Sarah married such a blank.'
'I'm the one who gave birth to her, and I'm the one who has to drive with him to Cape Canaveral today.'
'Ooh — bummer. Another NASA do?'
'Yes. And you're welcome to come along.'
'Wait a second, Mom — why aren't you at the Peabody with everybody else? What are you staying in a motel for? By the way, it took thirty rings for the clerk — who, I might add, sounded like a kidney thief — to answer the phone.'
'Wade, you're changing the subject. Phone Howie. Oh wait — I think I hear somebody at the door.' Janet held the phone at arm's length from her head, and said, 'Knock knock knock knock.'
'Very funny, Mom.'
'I have to answer the door, Wade.'
'That's really funny. I —'
Click
The motel room made her feel slightly too transient, but it was a bargain, and that turned the minuses into pluses. Nonetheless, Janet missed her morning waking-up rituals in her own bedroom. She touched her body gently and methodically, as though she were at the bank counting a stack of twenties. She gently rubbed a set of ulcers on her lips' insides, still there, same as the day before, not just a dream. Her hands probed further downward — no lumps in her breasts, not today — but then what had Sarah told her? We've all had cancer thousands of times, Mom, but in all those thousands of times your body removed it. It's lazy bookkeeping to only count the cancers that stick. You and I could have cancer right now, but tomorrow it might be gone.
The motel room smelled like a lifetime of cigarettes. She looked at Sarah's photo in the Miami Herald beside the phone, a standard NASA PR crew photo: an upper body shot against a navy ice-cream swirl background and complexion-flattering lighting that made one suspect a noble, scientific disdain for cosmetics. Sarah clutched a helmet underneath her right arm. Her left arm, handless, rested by her side: Space knows no limitations.
Janet sighed. She twiddled her toes. Ten minutes later her phone rang again: Sarah calling from the Cape.
'Hi, Mom. I just spoke to Howie. He'll go pick up Wade.'
'Good morning, Sarah. How's your day?'
'This morning we had a zero-G evacuation test, but what I really wanted to do was sit in a nice quiet bathroom and test out a new brand of pore-cleansing strips. The humidity in these suits is giving me killer blackheads. They never talked about that in those old Life magazine photo essays. Have you eaten yet?'
'No.'
'Come eat at the Cape with me. We can have dehydrated astronaut's ice cream out of a shiny Mylar bag.'
Janet sat up on her bed and pulled her legs over the side. She felt her skin — her meat — hanging from her bones as though it were so much water-logged clothing. She needed to pee. She began to meter her words as she eyed the bathroom door. 'I don't think so, dear. The only time they ever allow me to have with you are three seconds for a photo op.'
Sarah asked, 'Is Beth arriving today?'
Beth was Wade's wife. 'Later this afternoon. I think I'm going to dinner with the two of them.'
'How far along is she?'
'I think this is her fourth month. It may even be a Christmas baby.'
'Huh. I see.'
'Something wrong, Sarah?'
'It's just that —'
'What?'
'Mom, how could Wade marry ... her. She's so priggish and born-again. I always thought Wade would marry Miss Roller Derby. Beth is so frigging sanctimonious.'
'She keeps him alive.'
'I guess she does. When does Bryan arrive?'
'He and his girlfriend are already here. He called from the Peabody.'
'Girlfriend? Bryan? What's her name?'
'If I tell you, you won't believe me.'
'It can't be that bad. Is it one of those made-up names like DawnElle or Kerrissa or CindaJo?'
'Worse.'
'What could be worse?'
'Shw.'
'I beg your pardon?'
'Shw. That's her name: Shw.'
'Spell that for me.'
'S. H. W.'
'And?'
'There's no vowel, if that's what you're waiting for.'
'What — her name is Shw? Am I pronouncing that properly?'
'I'm afraid so.'
'That is the most ... impractical name I've ever heard. Is she from Sri Lanka or Finland or something?'
Janet's eye lingered on the bathroom door and the toilet beyond. 'As far as I know she's from Alberta. Bryan worships her, and she's also knocked up like a prom queen.'
'Bryan's pregnant? How come I don't know any of this?'
'I just met her last week myself, dear. She seems to rather like me, though she treats everybody else like dirt. So I don't mind her at all, really.'
'Bryan is such a freak. I'm not going to be able to keep a straight face, you know — when she tells me her name, that is.'
Janet said, 'Shw!'
Sarah giggled.
'Shw! Shw! Shw!'
Sarah laughed. 'Is she pretty?'
'Sort of. She's also about eighteen and an angry little hornet. In the fifties we would have called her a pixie. Nowadays we'd call her hyperthyroid. She's bug-eyed.'
'Where'd they meet?'
'Seattle. She helped Bryan set fire — I believe — to a stack of pastel-colored waffle-knit T-shirts in a Gap — back during the World Trade Organization riots. They were separated, then a few months ago they met again destroying a test facility growing genetically modified runner beans.'
Janet could sense Sarah changing gears; she was finished discussing the family. Next would come business-like matters: 'Well, good for Bryan. You're OK for today's NASA gig?'
'Still.'
'Howie will pick you up at 9:30, after he picks up my darling brother. By the way, Dad's broke.'
'That doesn't surprise me. I'd heard he'd lost his job.'
'I tried to loan him some money, but he, of course, said no. Not that there's much to loan. Howie lost the bulk of our savings in some website that sells products for pets. I could strangle him.'
'Oh dear.' It's so easy to fall into the mother mode.
'Tell me about it. Hey, when was the last time you even saw Dad?'
'Half a year ago. By accident at Super-Valu.'
'Tense?'
'I can handle him.'
'Good. See you there.'
'Yes, dear.'
Click
On the walkway outside her room, Janet heard children mewling as they set off to Walt Disney World with their families. She walked to the bathroom across a floor made lunar from eons of cigarette burns and various stains better left uninvestigated. She thought of serial murderers using acids to dissolve the teeth and jawbones of their victims.
She unsuspectingly caught sight of herself in a floor-length mirror by the sink and the sight stopped her cold. Yes, Janet, that's correct: you are shrinking — sinew by sinew, protein molecule by protein molecule you are turning into an ... an elf, yes, you, Janet Drummond, once voted 'Girl We'd Rob a Bank For.'
She was transfixed by the view of herself in a blue nightie, as if she were once again young and this image had been delivered to her from the future as a warning — If I squint I can still see the cool immaculate housewife I once dreamed of becoming. I'm Elizabeth Montgomery starring in Bewitched. I'm Dina Merrill lunching at the Museum of Modern Art with Christina Ford.
Oh forget it. She peed, showered, dried and then modified those traces of time's passage on her face that she could.
There. I'm not so bad after all. A man might still rob a bank for me, and men still do flirt — not too frequently — and older men perhaps — but the look in the eyes never changes.
She dressed, and five minutes later she was a block away sitting in a Denny's reading a paper. The North American weather map on the rear page was a rich, unhealthy crimson, with only a small strip of cool green running up the coast from Seattle to Alaska. Outside the restaurant window the sun on the parking lot made the area seem like a science experiment. She realized she no longer cared about the weather. Next.
Back in her motel room, she lay down on the bed haunted by a thousand sex acts. OK — this place is creepy but at least I'm not throwing away money. Her lips were sore to the point that speech was painful, and it hurt to exhale. Her pill buzzer buzzed; she sat up. She reached into her purse and removed a prescription bottle. She turned on the TV, and there was Sarah being interviewed on CNN. As always, her daughter looked glowingly pretty on TV, like a nun who'd never touched makeup.
— Do you think you and children like you, born with damage caused by thalidomide, have other messages to tell the world?
— Of course. We were the canaries in the coal mine. We were the first children born in which it was proved that chemicals from the outside world — in our case thalidomide — could severely damage the human embryo. These days, most mothers don't smoke or drink during pregnancy. They know that the outer world can enter their babies and cause damage. But in my mother's generation, they didn't know this. They smoked and drank and took any number of medications without thinking twice. Now we know better, and as a species we're smarter as a result — we're aware of teratogens.
— Teratogens?
— Yes. It means 'monster forming'. A horrible word, but then the world can be a horrible place. They're the chemicals that cross the placenta and affect a child's growth in utero.
The host turned to the camera: 'Time for a quick break. I've been speaking with Sarah Drummond-Fournier, a one-handed woman, and one heck of a fighter, who'll be on Friday's shuttle flight. We'll be right back.'
How on earth did I give birth to such a child? I understand nothing about her life. Nothing. And yet she's the spitting image of me, and she's gallivanting up into space. Janet remembered how much she'd wanted to help the young Sarah with her homework, and Sarah's polite-but-resigned invitations to come do so when Janet popped her head into Sarah's doorway. Invariably Janet would look down at the papers that might as well have been in Chinese. Janet would ask a few concerned questions about Sarah's teachers, and then plead kitchen duty, beating a hasty retreat.
She turned off the TV.
She once cared about everything, and if she couldn't muster genuine concern, she could easily fake it: too much rain stunting the petunias; her children's scrapes; stick figure Africans; the plight of marine mammals. She considered herself one of the surviving members of a lost generation, the last generation raised to care about appearances or doing the right thing — to care about caring. She had been born in 1934 in Toronto, a city then much like Chicago or Rochester or Detroit — bland, methodical, thrifty and rules-playing. Her father, William Truro, managed the furniture and household appliance department of the downtown Eaton's department store. William's wife, Kaye, was, well ... William's wife.
The two raised Janet and her older brother, Gerald, on $29.50 a week until 1938, when a salary decrease lowered William's pay to $27 a week, and jam vanished from the Truro breakfast table, the absence of which became Janet's first memory. After the jam, the rest of Janet's life seemed to have been an ongoing reduction — things that had once been essential vanishing without discussion, or even worse, with too much discussion.
Seasons changed. Sweaters became ragged, were patched up and became ragged again, and were grudgingly thrown out. A few flowers were grown in the thin band of dirt in front of the brick row house, species scavenged by Kaye for their value as dried flowers, which scrimped an extra few months' worth of utility from them. Life seemed to be entirely about scrimping. In fall of 1938, Gerald died of polio. In 1939 the war began and Canada was in it from the start, and scrimping kicked into overdrive: bacon fat, tin cans, rubber — all material objects — were scrimp-worthy. Janet's most enjoyable childhood memories were of sorting neighborhood trash in the alleys, in search of crown jewels, metal fragments and love notes from dying princes. During the war, houses in her neighborhood grew dingy — paint became a luxury. When she was six, Janet walked into the kitchen and found her father kissing her mother passionately. They saw Janet standing there, a small, chubby, fuddled Campbell's Soup kid, and they broke apart, blushed, and the incident was never spoken of again. The glimpse was her only evidence of passion until womanhood.
An hour passed and Janet looked at the bedside clock: almost 9:30, and Howie would have already picked up Wade by now. Janet walked down to the hotel's covered breezeway to wait for her son-in-law. A day of boredom loomed.
Then, pow! she was angry all of a sudden. She was angry because she was unable to remember and reexperience her life as a continuous movie-like event. There were only bits of punctuation here and there — the kiss, the jam, the dried flowers — which, when assembled, made Janet who she was — yet there seemed to be no divine logic behind the assemblage. Or any flow. All those bits were merely ... bits. But there had to be logic. How could the small, chubby child of 1940 imagine that one day she'd be in Florida seeing her own daughter launched into outer space? Tiny little Sarah, who was set to circle the Earth hundreds of times. We didn't even think about outer space in 1939. Space didn't exist yet.
She removed a black felt Sharpie pen from her purse, and wrote the word 'laryngitis' on a folded piece of paper. For the remainder of the day she wouldn't have to speak to anybody she didn't want to.
I wonder if Howie is going to be late? No — Howie's not the late type.

Excerpted from All Families are Psychotic by Douglas Coupland. Copyright © 2001 by Douglas Coupland. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Sistering

Sistering

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook

The second novel by award-winning novelist Jennifer Quist is a black comedy of birth, death, love, marriage, mothers-in-law--and five sassy sisters. When Suzanne's role as the perfect daughter-in-law ends in a deadly accident, she panics, makes a monumentally bad decision, and upends her world. The bond with her sisters is the strongest force Suzanne knows, and it may be the one that can keep her from ruin. Quist's new novel is a hilarious, spine-chilling, satisfying, and original. A romp.

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We're All in This Together

We're All in This Together

edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback

Winner of Northern Lit Award
Finalist for the Leacock Medal for Humour
Quill & Quire "Books of the Year 2016"
Globe & Mail "Best Canadian Fiction of 2016"
A woman goes over a waterfall, a video goes viral, a family goes into meltdown -- life is about to get a lot more complicated for the Parker family.

Like all families, the Parkers of Thunder Bay have had their share of complications. But when matriarch Kate Parker miraculously survives plummeting over a waterfall in a barrel -- a feat captured …

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Excerpt

The first call had come at ten that morning, while Finn was sitting outside with her coffee on the back steps of her townhouse, watching Max the golden retriever run around in the yard.
     “Ms. Parker?” a husky female voice asked. “I’m glad I caught you at home.”
Finn sighed. One of the perils of working from home is that you’re always at home. “Who is this?” she asked.
     “My name is Cassandra Coelho. I’m a reporter with Thunder Bay News. I was wondering if I could ask you some questions about your mother.”
Finn felt something like an electric shock spark in her brain. “My mother? Why?”
There was the sound of paper rustling. “You are Serafina Parker, right? From Thunder Bay?” Cassandra Coelho paused. “Your mother is Katherine Parker? The Conqueror of Kakabeka?”
     “My . . . The what?”
     “How is she doing? Is there any word on her condition? We’d love to talk to her when she comes out of the coma.”
     Panic crashed over Finn as she tried to process what she was hearing. Her mother, in a coma. This much Finn could understand, the words lining up with their proper meaning, an entire library of reference points tumbling out of her mental archive. Coma, noun: A state of deep unconsciousness that lasts for an indefinite period, from the Greek koma, meaning “deep sleep.” The rest, she had no idea. She hadn’t been home to Thunder Bay in over three years, hadn’t spoken to her mother in probably six months, with the exception of a few brief emails, which meant months and months of blanks she couldn’t fill in. It had been working for her. As long as she filled her days with the present, then the past didn’t exist – she could pretend she just sprang fully formed from the earth, or just willed herself into being all on her own. But now it was cracking open, this entire potential world of things Finn didn’t know. On the other side of the yard, Max chased his tail, and Finn watched him, mesmerized, as he turned around and around, her own brain spinning along with him.
    “Ms. Parker?”
    “No comment,” Finn mumbled and hung up. There were choices to make now, courses of action to decide on – it was almost as though she could see them all, playing out in front of her like movies over­lapping on a screen. She picked the only one she could handle.
     Her brother, Shawn, answered on the seventh ring, out of breath and annoyed.
     “What the hell is going on?” she asked.
     “Oh. Finn.” Shawn said her name as though he’d just remem­bered her existence. When was the last time she’d talked to him? Two weeks ago? Eight? “Can I call you back? It’s not a good time.”
     Finn made a fist and jammed it into her thigh to keep from screaming. “Not a good time? I just found out my mother is in a coma from a fucking reporter.”
     “I was going to call you.”
     “Of course you were,” said Finn. “I’m sure I was at the very top of your list of priorities.”
     Shawn sighed. “I just got to the hospital. I have to find some­one to cover for me at the restaurant. And I still have to figure out who’s going to pick up the kids.” Shawn’s boys were named Tommy and Petey. That way, Shawn always said, when they were grown-ups they could be Thomas and Peter. And then when they were old men, they could be Tom and Pete. Their names could be modi­fied to fit any stage of life. Finn imagines Shawn likes this because Shawn was just Shawn, you couldn’t even make a nickname out of it except for maybe Shawny, which sounded less like a person and more like a town or a piece of farm equipment.
     Shawn’s wife’s name was Katriina. No one ever called her any­thing but Katriina.
     “First you need to tell me what’s going on,” Finn said. She started pacing the yard, the too-long grass prickling her bare feet. “The reporter said something about Kakabeka Falls?”
     “Yeah.” In the background, she could hear a tinny voice dron­ing over a loudspeaker, an unintelligible din that Shawn practically had to yell over. “She went over.”
     “She . . . went over?”
     “The falls, Finn. She went over the fucking falls.”
     “Oh my god. When?” asked Finn, hoping to hell it wasn’t two days ago, two weeks ago, two months ago.
     “This morning.”
     The droning stopped. In the resulting quiet, Finn could hear her own heart firing off in her chest.        “She got caught in the cur­rent?” she asked hopefully. But somewhere inside her, she knew what the answer was.
     “No.” Finn heard the sound of a door closing. “Kate went over the falls on purpose,” Shawn said, his voice low.
     And there it was. “How do you know?”
     There was a long pause. “She was in a barrel,” Shawn said. “One of Hamish’s,” he added, as if it made any difference whose barrel it was.
     Finn sat back down on the step. She had a sudden, sharp memory of her mother, years ago, standing in her kitchen on Victor Street, talking about something she had seen on television. Annie Edson Taylor, that was it, a sixty-three-year-old woman who was the first person to go over Niagara Falls and survive. Finn remembered Kate sighing, gazing out the window at a far-off place in history that seemed so much prettier from a distance, saying, “I don’t know. Doesn’t it just seem like there’s nothing left to be first at these days?”
     “Finn?” said Shawn. “Are you still there?”
     How would a normal person react to this news? What would someone else’s daughter say? Finn took a sip of coffee and swal­lowed it before she realized it had gone cold. On the other side of the yard, Max was having a stand-off with a squirrel in a pine tree. She couldn’t see the squirrel but she could hear it chattering away, taunting him. “Well, is she going to be okay?” Finn asked finally.
     “No, she’s not going to be okay, Finn. She’s in a coma.” Shawn paused. “You need to come back to Thunder Bay. You need to come home.”
     Finn closed her eyes. “I don’t think I can.”
     “Why?”
     “You know why.”
     Shawn sighed. “Come on, Finn, it’s been three years. Grow up.”
     She wished she was on a cell phone and not the cordless, so she could pretend that the call had been dropped. Shawn still talked to her as if she were a teenager, even though he was only four years older. He wasn’t even her real brother. He was just some street kid who hopped trains and sold drugs and lived in a tent in the woods behind the house where she grew up – until the day he stopped the family car from crushing Kate after she forgot to put on the emergency brake and it started rolling down the driveway towards her. After that, he started sleeping in their basement. “We could use a man around the house while your father’s away,” Kate had said to Finn and her twin sister, Nicki, winking at the scrawny kid with a forehead full of pimples and the ratty beginnings of a moustache, as though he could actually be mistaken for a man. “You know, someone to look after us girls.” Her mother’s idea of irony, Finn supposed. None of them had ever needed looking after. Not then.
     “You need to look after us girls,” Finn said under her breath.
     “What?” Shawn said.
     “Nothing.” Years later, she found out that the only reason Shawn had been there to save Kate is because he was trying to steal propane from their barbecue so he could do hot knives with a blowtorch. “How’s Dad taking it?” she asked.
     “Walter’s out on the lake with a research team. He won’t be back for a couple of days.” Shawn paused again. “Nicki’s pretty upset, though, in case you wanted to know.”
     “Right,” said Finn, rolling her eyes. “She still in rehab for that toe?”
     “Oh my god, get over yourself, Finnie.”
     In the background, Finn suddenly heard Katriina, clear as her own thoughts, say, “Who’s Finnie?” Katriina was from Finland – which Finn used to think of as her land until she met Katriina and realized it would never be anything but Katriina’s land, even though Katriina has lived in Canada for most of her life. Sometimes Finn suspects Katriina just pretends to not understand what people are saying in order to seem more exotic.
     “Serafina,” said Shawn, muffling the phone to keep Finn from hearing Katriina’s response.
     Finn tucked the phone between her ear and her shoulder and walked across the yard to clip the leash to Max’s collar. The back­yard was fenced, but Max, while in a particularly focused state, had been known to fly right over it. “I can’t just drop everything and come back,” she said to the muffled phone. “I have stuff going on.”
     “What stuff?” Shawn asked.
     “Stuff.” She had no stuff, of course. She worked from home. She didn’t have a boyfriend, a sex life, or even a social life. Max wasn’t even her dog – she just took care of him for her neighbour, Dave, a divorced plumber with every-second-weekend kids and a Charger up on blocks in his backyard. She didn’t even have any plants to water.
     “You are coming home, Finn,” Shawn said. She could hear the Shawn-ness in his voice. He might as well have called her “young lady.” “Kate will wake up, and she will need you. She’s not doing good, Finnie.”
     Finn shaded her eyes, searching the tree’s branches for the squirrel. She finally spotted it, halfway up, nibbling delicately on a pine cone, which it promptly hurled in Max’s general direc­tion. “Superman does good,” Finn said. It was one of her favourite expressions, which also might explain why she had no friends.
     Max took off towards the squirrel like a sprinter at the starting gun, so fast that he ripped the leash from her hands. The phone tumbled to the ground. The squirrel tore farther up the tree and bounded lightly to a power line, and then was gone. When Finn picked up the phone again, Shawn was gone, too. Max trotted over to her, tongue hanging out, unfazed by his defeat, and licked her hand.
     “Mom does well,” Finn said to him. Although even Max knew it wasn’t true.
     She led Max into her townhouse instead of taking him back over to Dave’s, and because she didn’t know what else to do, she decided to try to get some work done. Finn was a technical writer, writing warning labels for small appliances made by a division of some multinational conglomerate called UniTech. They sent her the raw data and she translated them into plain English, something that people like her neighbour Dave or her sister, Nicki, would be able to understand. Well, Dave, anyway. The people at UniTech barely knew her name – most of the time they just referred to her as “the warning girl” – something she is sure her family has been calling her behind her back for years. But before she could even open a document, the phone rang again.
     “Ms. Parker,” a man said. “This is Lance Goodman from Citytv. Would you be interested in talking to someone on camera about the Conqueror of Kakabeka?” Finn hung up and then unplugged her phone. After three more voicemails were left on her cell, she turned that off, too.
     She stared blankly at her computer screen for half an hour before realizing she was not going to get any work done. And so she opened her email. The only message in her inbox was from a co-worker whose emails were almost exclusively forwards of stupid jokes, “inspirational” quotes, chain letters, and panicked warnings about lottery scams and chloroform-wielding rapists in parking garages. Finn was about to delete the email when she noticed that the subject line, buried beside a long line of fw:fw:fw:, read “The Conqueror of Kakabeka: must watch!”
     Oh god, she thought. No. I can’t. And yet her finger travelled over the touchpad, scrolled past the lines of addresses to find a small blue link buried at the bottom. Don’t do this. You don’t want to do this. Slowly, she brought the cursor over the link and clicked.
     She immediately recognized Kakabeka Falls, the “Niagara of the North” and one of northwestern Ontario’s most recognizable landmarks. The video was shot from the first viewing platform, where she had stood countless times, posing for family photos with the water crashing over the precipice behind them. The video panned across the top of the falls, and in the background she could hear the oohs and aahs of tourists. Suddenly the camera jerked back towards the centre. “What’s that?” a voice asked.
     The camera zoomed in, and Finn could clearly see a barrel hur­tling down the river towards the edge of the falls. She could also see a face peering over the rim. Her mother’s face. Then the barrel dropped off the edge, crashed with a loud bang against something jutting out from the centre of the falls, flipped in midair, and dis­appeared into the frothy pool below.
     “Holy shit,” the voice said. “That was a lady in a motherfuck­ing barrel!”
     When Finn and Nicki were young, their mother used to tell them the story of Green Mantle, an Ojibwe princess who saved her father’s tribe from certain destruction by leading their Sioux attackers down the Kaministiquia River and over Kakabeka Falls to their deaths, including her own. If you look closely enough, Kate would say, you can see the image of Green Mantle in the mist at the bottom of the falls. From then on, every time they vis­ited the falls, the girls would climb down to the lowest platform built into the escarpment and stare hard into the mist, waiting for Green Mantle to appear. It never happened, but they waited anyway, until their father started complaining their parking pass was about to expire, or Kate’s camera ran out of film. Why couldn’t they see her? Finn wondered. What were they being punished for? Did they not believe hard enough? Were they not true-hearted enough? The failure of magic can be tough on little girls.
     Now, watching her mother’s own epic plunge, Finn couldn’t help but think of Green Mantle. Thankfully Kate, unlike Green Mantle, did not die. According to the news reports, her barrel – white oak with a steel rim, which Finn knew was used by her brother-in-law, Hamish, to make bootleg whisky in the back shed – was carried on the Kaministiquia River to the precipice of the falls, then plunged forty catastrophic metres over the edge. The barrel hit the shale cliff face halfway down the falls with a sound like a gunshot, then flipped into the air before disappearing into the mist gathered in the gorge, carved twenty thousand years ago into the Precambrian Shield by meltwater from the last gla­cial maximum. The barrel stayed submerged for another twenty metres before bobbing to the surface of the Kam and beaching itself on the western bank.
     The rescue team called the coroner. Radio stations cut into Rush and Nickleback to report the death of a woman at Kakabeka Falls. No one was making a joke of it yet, but they would – it’s natural selection, they said, modern-day Darwinism, where the stupid will fail to survive. But in the end it was Kate who had the last laugh – Kate with her two broken ribs, a fractured pelvis, two chipped front teeth, a ripped-off pinky nail, and a severe concus­sion. The barrel, the reports said, was actually what saved her life – hitting the rock face directly on one of the steel rings, which kept it from shattering, then trapping her in an air bubble when it flipped over, which saved her from drowning. No one could figure out how she didn’t get pulled down into the whirlpool. A one-in-a-million chance. Survival of the blind-luckiest. The giant pain in Darwin’s ass, smiling meekly on the homepage of the local news site, waving a trembling hand to the camera from the back of an ambulance before slipping into a coma on her way to the hospital.
     “I’m not going home,” Finn said to Max, who just stared at her. “I’m not.”
     Max spun around once and thumped down on the floor with a sigh, resting his chin on his paws.
     She knew Max was right. If she didn’t go home now, she would never be able to go home again.
 

Excerpted from We're All in This Together by Amy Jones. Copyright © 2016 by Amy Jones. Excerpted by permission of McClelland and Stewart, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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One Bird's Choice /tp

One Bird's Choice /tp

A Year in the Life of an Overeducated, Underemployed Twenty-Something Who Moves Back Home
edition:Paperback

Meet Iain Reid: an overeducated, underemployed twenty-something who moves back in with his lovable but eccentric parents on their hobby farm. But what starts out as a temporary arrangement turns into a year-long extended stay, in which Iain finds himself fighting with the farm fowl, taking fashion advice from the elderly, fattening up on home-cooked food, and ultimately easing (perhaps a little too comfortably) into the semi-retired lifestyle. Hilarious and heartwarming, One Bird’s Choice is a …

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  1. Go to any book page.
  2. In the right-hand column, click on "Add to List." A drop-down menu will appear.
  3. From the drop-down menu, either add your book to a list you have already created or create a new list.
  4. View and edit your lists anytime on your profile page.
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