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Shari Narine on Brothers
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Shari Narine on Brothers

By 49thShelf
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Shari Narine’s Oil Change at Rath’s Garage slices open today’s current hook-up culture to probe power plays, passion, and the hard decisions demanded by honest love. The focal point of that honest love is the relationship between brothers Matt and Ben Humphreys. The boys are held captive by their father’s endless grief and drunken violence, in their own way isolated and in every way desperate. That brotherly connection – sometimes in the face of violence, grief or abuse - highlights the list of books put together by Narine.
Oil Change at Rath's Garage

Jack Humphreys pushes back his lank dark curls with one hand.  With the other, he touches the almost empty bottle of Labatt Blue to his forehead.  No relief there.  The bottle is warm.  Benny is hunched over a thick book, carefully turning the pages.  It is hard to read the kid’s face.  His damned bangs are a curtain.  “You’re supposed to be unpacking the books, not reading them.”


Benny startles, drops the book.  A photograph flutters loose, lands on the stained yellow carpet.  “Dad!”


Jack looks at the book now resting at the kid’s feet.  Thick book.  Christ.  Is that one of his old textbooks from the University of Alberta?  “Where the hell’d you get that?”


“Uh.”  Benny whips his bangs out of his face with a quick jerk of his head, hesitates a moment to look behind him.  He tracks the textbook, the photograph before he lifts his eyes to Jack.  His words come out in a rush.  “It was stuck in a corner of the trunk.  I didn’t know it was your old textbook.  I would have left it if I’d known.”


“How do you know it’s my textbook?”  Jack braces his hip against the yellow and brown plaid couch.  He waits a beat or two as the kid shuffles his feet.  “Well?”


Benny stares at the book.  It lies open, spine facing the ceiling, purple cover no longer glossy.  “It has your name in it.  But it’s not your writing.”


“What do you mean it’s not my writing?”  Sweat runs down Jack’s neck, presses the cotton of his shirt tight against his chest.  An armoured plate.  “Benny?”


“It’s a girl’s writing,” Benny says softly.


“Miriam.”  The name is heavy in the thick air.  This is unexpected.  One more move to get away, but still she follows.


“Yes.  Mom’s.”  Benny hovers over the book.


Jack’s wedding ring clinks on the glass as he waves the bottle.  “What’s that on the floor?” 


“Oh.”  Benny moves quickly, retrieves the photograph.  His eyes stay firmly on the picture and he swallows convulsively.


“Whatcha got there, bro?” 


Benny jumps.


Jack loses his perch on the couch.  “Christ, Matt.”


Matt grins at Jack then swings his attention back to his kid brother.  “Well?”


“A photo,” Benny says.


“Duh, Einstein.”  Matt moves in.  “What is it? Let me see.”


“It’s a picture.  Of you and Dad.”  Benny shoves it at Matt.


Matt takes it, barely brushes his fingers over the surface.  He looks up at Jack.  Matt’s eyes are gentle.  “It’s your graduation from university, Dad.  When you got your engineering degree.”


“Yeah?” Jack says.  It is too hot to remember.


“Yeah, Mom took it.”  Matt’s eyes return to the photo.  “She called us her two handsome men.”


The boy was four and a half, Miriam only just pregnant with Benny.  Does Matt really remember that day?  It was such a good day.  Miriam smiling brightly, one hand constantly resting on the slight swell of her tummy, the other stubbornly twisting Matt’s curls into compliance.  Jack had wanted that second baby so badly.  Miriam did it for him.


“You have matching ties, Matt,” Benny whispers.


Jack closes his eyes tightly, can see that May afternoon like it was yesterday.  Sunshine and warmth.  Miriam dressing Matt in his little-boy suit, looping the tie around his neck, fussing with him to keep still.  She had sewn those matching ties.  She said the little flecks of gold in the green silk brought out the hazel that was hidden in both his and Matt’s deep brown eyes.


“Yeah.”  Matt clears his throat.  “Dad wore a green gown.”


“Green?” Benny asks.


“Tinkerbell green, right, Dad?”  Matt’s smile is strained.  He moves shoulder to shoulder with Benny.


“What?  No!” Jack says.  “Dark green.”


Matt toes the book in front of Benny.  “Huh.  Your engineering textbook.”


“Yeah,” Jack says.  “Your mom wrote my name in it.”


“Huh,” Matt says.  He doesn’t pick up the book.


Jack understands the boy’s reluctance.  It has been months since Jack has spoken Miriam’s name.  But she is always in his head.  How can she not be?  He looks at Benny and it is Miriam looking back – the eyes the colour of the sky on its best summer day, freckles spattered like wildflowers, blond hair so thick it is a field of hay.  That face taunts him, never lets him forget about the life he had.  That face keeps him firmly in the past, unable to move on no matter how far he runs.


“You want to see the picture?” Matt asks.  But he doesn’t move to close the distance, doesn’t hold the picture out.


Jack’s fingers cramp from clasping the bottle.  “I don’t want to see the fucking picture.  Get rid of the fucking book, too.”


Matt moves now but it is to stand between Jack and Benny.  Then Matt is shoving Benny back into the hall.  Getting rid of the face that hurts like hell for Jack to see.  Matt stoops, picks up the textbook, slides the photograph between the pages.  He drops the book on the coffee table.


“Christ, Matt,” Jack says, stares his oldest boy down.


Matt shrugs, stands firm blocking the hallway.


Jack slams his bottle down on the bookshelf.  “I’m going out.”










Late in the evening Jack finds Matt at the basketball court shooting hoops.  The Raptors’ ball goes up, swooshes through without hitting metal or twine.  Matt grabs the rebound, dribbles back.  Then goes in for a lay-up.  There was a time when Matt did his own play-by-play.


“Still got it,” Jack says.


The ball rounds the rim, flies wide.


“Dad!”  Matt grins, grabs the ball.  He one-hops it to Jack.


“Yeah?” Jack says.  He drops the newspaper and his coat on the bottom row of the bleachers.  When the air conditioning works at Rath’s Garage it gets damned cold in there.


“Yeah,” Matt says, wipes his forehead with his bare arm, crouches, palms up.


And then it is on.


Jack is stiff from changing one too many tires today, but he has the moves.  Or he remembers having the moves.  Matt is unrelenting.  Jack dekes and the boy stays with him.  Jack goes up and Matt stuffs him.  Jack sinks two points and Matt tags up and gets three points.  At the end of twenty minutes, with every muscle aching, Jack understands that all the points he managed were courtesy of Matt’s goodwill.


“Christ, you’re fast,” Jack says and slumps on the bleacher.  He is breathing hard, sweat stinging his eyes.


Matt tucks the ball under his arm and joins Jack.  Boy is barely panting.


“Here, old man, have a drink before you pass out.”  Matt removes the cap, taps the half full bottle of lukewarm water on Jack’s shoulder.


“I call rematch,” Jack says.  He polishes off the rest of the water, passes the empty bottle back to Matt.  Damn. He should have saved some for the boy.  Oh well.  Matt is young.  He will recover from water deprivation far faster than his old man would.  “But not today.”


Matt laughs, settles next to Jack.  He screws the lid back on the bottle.


This is the first time Jack has been to the school grounds.  He doesn’t usually head this way, but he heard the rhythmic bouncing of the ball, needed to check it out.  Needed to know it if was his boy.


“This isn’t a bad court,” Jack says.


“In the daylight it sucks,” Matt says.  “We play ball out here most noon hours.  The high school guys.”


“Yeah, I played ball all the time in high school,” Jack says. 


 “I watched you play basketball with the Golden Bears, didn’t I?” Matt says.


“You remember that?”  Jack keeps his eyes on the rusted red hoop.  Those university days were a long, long time ago.  Eons.


“Vaguely,” Matt says.  “Me and Mom.”


“She was a pretty passionate fan before you were born.  When we had you, she said she had to dial it back.  She figured she couldn’t yell the same way because she didn’t want you growing up thinking she was some kind of displaced sailor.”  Jack is surprised the words flow so easily.


Matt’s jaw drops. 


Jack snorts.  “Yeah, your mom had a mouth on her.”


Matt swallows hard.  “I don’t remember that.”


“Yeah, she cleaned up good, your mom,” Jack says.  He leans back, his elbows on the row behind him.  Matt follows.  Jack looks away quickly.  It has been a long time since Matt has mimicked him.


“Ben’s good at basketball,” Matt says.


“Hm?”  Jack doesn’t want to hear it.  It has been good sitting here, connecting with Matt, remembering Miriam so easily.  But the boy can’t let it alone.


“The three of us, we should come shoot hoops sometime.”


Jack grunts.


“We should.  You’d be impressed by how good Ben is.”


“Where is your brother?”


“Oh, he’s hanging with Becca.  They’ve got their own little book club,” Matt says. “Kid’s a geek.”


 Matt’s tone hits Jack hard, takes him back years and years when Miriam would speak so lovingly of Matt.  Even when the little monster left painted handprints on the walls.


Jack gets up suddenly.  Matt flinches.


“I’m heading off,” Jack says.  Too many memories.  Too many goddamned memories.

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Why it's on the list ...
Shari Narine’s Oil Change at Rath’s Garage slices open today’s current hook-up culture to probe power plays, passion, and the hard decisions demanded by honest love. The focal point of that honest love is the relationship between brothers Matt and Ben Humphreys. The boys are held captive by their father’s endless grief and drunken violence, in their own way isolated and in every way desperate.
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Red Dog, Red Dog

It was stone country where a bone cage could last a thousand years under the moon, its ribs a perch for Vesper sparrows, its skull a home for Harvest mice. The hills rose parched from the still lakes, the mountains beyond them faded to a mauve so pale they seemed stones under ice. Sage brush and bitterroot weathered the September night. In the desiccated grass of a vacant lot, a rattle snake followed in the tracks of a Kangaroo mouse, a Fiery Searcher beetle clambered over the dried body of a dead Wood rat in the dust, and a magpie slept inside its wings on a branch of dying chokecherry, the berries hard as dog knots. Stars shone like sparks thrown from shattered quartz, Orion reeling in the southern sky and Mars sullen and red in the west.

In the heart of it was a valley leading nowhere out but north or south. North was going toward narrower cuts of rock, deeper winters, darker forests, and even more desolate towns that turned into villages, villages into clusters of trailers and isolated shacks in the trees, nothing beyond but bush that ran clear to the tundra. South was going toward the desert states where there was no place a man could get work unless he was Indian or wetback, someone willing to take cash wages half what anyone else might ask. The only way you could stay alive down in Washington or Idaho was to break your back in the onion fields and orchards, set chokers on a gypo logging show, or steal. East were mountains piled upon mountains, the Monashee giving over to the Selkirks and Purcells, and finally the Rockies and the Great Plains. To the west was a rolling plateau where nothing lived but moose, bear, and screaming, black- headed jays. At the edge of the plateau, the rolling forest rose up the Coast Range until it dwindled against the scree, and on the other side of the peaks and glaciers was the sea, something most people in the valley had only heard of, never seen, the Pacific with its waves rolling over the dead bodies of seals and salmon, eagles and gulls shrieking.

The town squatted in a bowl beneath desert hills, its scattered lights odd fires stared at from up on the Commonage where a rattlesnake could be seen lifting its wedge head from the heat- trail of a white- footed mouse and staring down at the three lakes, Swan in the north, Kalamalka to the south, and Okanagan in the west, the Bluebush hills and mountains hanging above them in a pall. Against the sky were rocky outcrops with their swales of rotted snow where nothing grew but lichens, pale explosions that held fast to the rough knuckles of granite as the long winds came steady out of the north. In the valley confluence where the lakes met were the dusty streets and avenues of the town shrouded by tired elms and maples. What the snake saw only it could know.

It was the hour after moonset, dawn close by. The darkness held hard on the Monashee Mountains. Eddy walked thin down a back alley halfway up the east hillside, his eyes blinkered, their blue faded to a mottled white, the colour of the junk in his veins. Ankle- deep yellow clay lifted and swam around his boots. Silica whirlwinds, they shivered behind his heels as they settled back into soft pools. He moved slowly between broken fences and sagging, fretful sheds. The open windows of houses gazed blind into backyards, sleepers heavy in narrow beds, sheets damp and crumpled at their feet. In the alley, wheat grass and cheat grass draped their seed heads over the shallow ruts. A single stem of spear grass brushed against Eddy’s pant leg and left two seeds caught in the wisps of cotton on his worn cuff. He waded on through dust, the seeds waiting for their moment to fall in what might be some giving dirt, some spot where life might find a place to hide in winter. The alley held the illusion of water, thin waves of powdered clay shot through with the dead leaves of grass and chicory.

A slender ghost, lean as a willow wand, Eddy flowed in the languid glow of the heroin he’d shot up a half-hour before. Sergeant Stanley’s German shepherd slept uneasy on its paws in the run next to the ashes of a burned- out shed. Eddy had set the shed on fire the week before. He’d watched the flames from his car on the hill above and imagined Stanley in the dark staring at the wild fire, raging.

Sergeant Stanley was nowhere around. Eddy knew he was likely taking his usual time with some frightened girl he’d picked up and squired out to the west side of the lake on some false, misleading threat or charge. Eddy had seen Stanley’s women. The cop took his due with all of them, each one owing him her body in unfair exchange for the cell she didn’t want to see, the father, friend, or husband she’d never tell. When he was a boy, he’d crouched behind a chokecherry bush up on the Commonage and seen Stanley with his pants open, a scared girl on her knees beside the police car, working for her life as she bruised her knees on rock shards in the clay.

The shed had been the first thing.

The dog would be the second.

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Why it's on the list ...
This is the story of brothers Eddy and Tom Stark, now in their twenties. Their father is a violent drunk and their mother lives in isolation. The boys are devoted to each other, bound by a secret that younger brother Tom has pushed aside. Tom tries to protect Eddy, but Eddy’s anger and recklessness, fueled by drugs and weapons, lays bare something long hidden in their childhood. This is a story about complications, loyalties and power shifts.
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Crown Shyness

Crown Shyness

also available: eBook
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Why it's on the list ...
Paul Munk is a social idealist writing for a current affairs magazine. Richard Munk has just completed jail time. When Rick disappears into the United States, chasing after a woman he corresponded with while in jail, little brother Paul goes after him, intent on building a relationship that can overcome their differences.
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The Fortunate Brother

His father  was sitting at the table by the window, drinking coffee, when he came out of the shower. Addie was laying a plate of beans and runny egg yolks before him and Kyle’s stomach curdled and he lunged for the door. Holding on to the grump, he spewed into the water, his ribs spearing through his side like knives. He looked up, seeing two men in a boat paddling offshore from the outcropping of rock and cliff that blocked his view of Hampden. Hooker’s father, Bill, and his grandfather. They were standing now, tensed, looking ashore towards the rock face. Their voices grew louder, alarmed. Bill grabbed the oars and, still standing, rowed furiously towards the cliff, vanishing behind the outcropping.
Kyle heard his mother coming to the door, calling him, but he eased himself down over the wharf onto the beach and trekked across the shoreline towards the outcropping. As much to escape her attentions as to satisfy his curiosity.

During high tide the only way around the outcropping was by boat. This morning the tide was out. He climbed across wet rock made more slippery by tide-abandoned kelp. He’d been climbing around here since he was a kid, shortcutting it to Hampden. The front of the outcropping spanned a few hundred feet of rugged rock face, a small inlet forged into its centre. Hooker’s grandfather was holding the boat steady near a clutch of rocks before the inlet. Bill was out of the boat and hunched over, looking down at something amongst the rocks, his face scrunched up as though tasting some- thing nasty. Straddling the rocks opposite Bill was Clar’s dog, whin- ing and pawing at the head of a large pool of water left over by the tide. Something greenish was floating in it.
“What’s going on?” called Kyle. No one looked at him. He came closer and then went down on one knee, his breath sticking in his throat. Clar Gillard. Half submerged. Flat on his back, arms and legs strewn out as though he were basking in sun-warmed waters. Blue jeans suctioned like skin to his legs. Greeny brown seaweed shifting with the water over his chest and bobbing around a face that was grey and frozen like clay on a winter’s morning. His mouth was stretched open, his eyes wide and emptied. Clar Gillard did not look pretty in death.

“Teeth marks on his shoulder,” said Bill. “Looks like the dog dragged him ashore.”

“His truck’s over on the wharf,” said the old man. “Was there all night.”

“He must’ve fallen overboard,” said Bill. “Drunk, I suppose.” “Don’t think he could swim,” said the old man. They both looked to Kyle as if he might know.

“He ain’t never gonna learn now,” said Kyle.

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Why it's on the list ...
This is the story of the Now family plagued by the tragic death of eldest son Chris. Three years later, Kyle is still mourning his big brother’s death and feeling guilty because he convinced his brother to go west where he died in an accident. Then the blood of a murder victim turns up on the family’s pier and Kyle is a suspect. Secrets are revealed as the murder mystery unfolds.
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Why it's on the list ...
Two boys set out to find their “dog of a father.” They search in a world of violence and imagination, on an adventure painted in loss and revenge. This is a coming-of-age story. The lives of the two boys are physically and spiritually interwoven: the youngest brother has been created from the arm of the older boy, explaining why the elder brother is missing one arm and the younger boy’s arms are short for his body.
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The Sisters Brothers
Why it's on the list ...
Eli and Charlie Sisters are brothers who have been ordered to kill a powerful man. While they share the task, they don’t share the will. On the road to the hit, Eli begins to question his choice of vocation and who he works for. Eli’s questioning does not come as a surprise to Charlie, who remember his little brother was a whiner in childhood. But Eli soon discovers that not only is life on the straight-and-narrow difficult, but that he is bound to Charlie by blood, violence and love.
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Modern Classics Last of the Crazy People
Why it's on the list ...
Hooker Winslow has no friends. He adores his older brother Gilbert, but Gilbert, who has dropped out of prep-school, drinks, smokes, continuously talks and refuses to leave the family’s library. Hooker’s father is ineffectual, his mother is a volatile recluse. Hooker is lonely, sad and confused and trying desperately to keep the family together. Until he decides not to.
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