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Author Spotlight: Lynn Coady

By 49thShelf
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tagged: lynn coady
When Lynn Coady won the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2013, the achievement didn't exactly mark the culmination of an extraordinary career—because Coady's work has been extraordinary from the very start. There is nobody else quite like her.
Strange Heaven

Strange Heaven


Winner, Atlantic Independent Booksellers Choice Award, Canadian Authors Association Air Canada Award, Dartmouth Book Award, and Thomas Head Raddall Award
Shortlisted, Governor General's Award for Fiction

She's depressed, they say. Apathetic. Bridget Murphy, almost eighteen, has had it with her zany family. When she is transferred to the psych ward after giving birth and putting her baby up for adoption, it is a welcome relief — even with the manic ranting of a teen stripper and come-ons of anot …

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Saints of Big Harbour

Saints of Big Harbour

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Back then it was spring. He had a truck. A girl had given him a picture for his wallet.

1982 starts well for Guy Boucher. But before long he feels the need to move to the town of Big Harbour to get away from his school, family life, and most of all "the supreme and utter retardation of my existence which mostly takes the form of Isadore".

An Acadian adolescent oppressed by boredom and poverty, Guy is made even more miserable by uncle Isadore who lives with Guy and his mother in exchange for use o …

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All sorts of deals being made around here. According to Isadore, everything is working out "beautifully" for "everyone," meaning him. You'd think he'd planned on being arrested all along. So he is paroled to my mother for driving the truck not just drunk but without a driver's license or insurance. My mother pays the insurance now that she's got a job in Big Harbour. I drive the truck all around hell and back, chauffeuring the both of them. My mother into town for her job, Isadore into town (once my mother's gone as if she won't know) to the tavern. And what's Isadore's job in this great deal? Babysitting me, apparently. And Louise, who is seventeen and hardly ever around anyway. The judge was delighted, he said. "I'm just delighted at this prospect. What this man needs is the responsibilities of a home and a family. God bless his dear sister for her generosity."

But it was for the truck. She couldn't have taken the job without it.

Here is Isadore's idea of baby-sitting: he wakes up at seven when he smells the bacon I'm frying for breakfast. He staggers out of - whose bedroom? my bedroom - without even brushing his teeth or picking the crumbs out of his eyes and grabs the plate out of my hands just as I'm sitting down. Then he dumps a bottle of corn syrup all over the bacon so it's inedible for anyone except himself, and when I complain, he tells me to make my own. Make my own, like I hadn't just done it. He reeks. To cover up his bed head, he wears a cap that reads, Wine me, dine me, sixty-nine me!

"Don't forget to come get me at noon," he says when he's done eating, heading back to bed. So I get to take the truck to school, after dropping my mother off in Big Harbour, but so what.

My lunch hour is spent driving him into town. We stop at the bank first and he gives me money for gas. Isadore always has money these days. When he's not working in the tavern kitchen for Leland, he's getting welfare. When he's not getting welfare, he has his disability pension. This is Isadore's other job, according to the judge. Helping keep the truck gassed up. And paying for some groceries. "Contributing to basic household maintenance," said the judge. But I drop him off at the tavern and God knows when we'll see him again. He never arranges for me to pick him up, but he always ends up back at the house somehow. I get some fast food and then burn it back to school and am always late for first period. My history teacher goes insane every time. I haven't bothered explaining to him about my responsibilities, because I like it to look as though I couldn't give a shit. He always makes a big production about me coming in late, and I kind of enjoy it.

"Ah, Monsieur Boucher graces us with his presence at long last. Applause! Fanfare!" The history teacher is English, from Truro or somewhere, and thinks it's hilarious to call everyone Monsieur this and Mademoiselle that when most of us don't even speak any French. Sometimes when I make my entrance a few of the guys will clap and whistle just to be assholes. It's the only time I ever get any attention. Sometimes I bow.

After school I drive back into Big Harbour to get my mother, which is not so bad because I can hang around the arcade or the mall or somewhere while I wait for it to be five. The irony of this situation is my mother's job. My mother's job is being a housekeeper. She looks after someone else's house and someone else's kids all day while I fry bacon for her alcoholic brother. She works in a big old house, and the kids she looks after are very small and very cute. She loves it. She can't believe her luck, how circumstances came together so perfectly for us - that Isadore would drive into a ditch with his uninsured truck one night and be forced to live with us.

So my life is incredibly boring, driving into town and back. Guys at school think I have it made because I've got a truck, and I get to go into Big Harbour all the time by myself. It is a big joke. It feels like a big joke.

I get up some mornings, my English teacher's lying on the floor. He drinks with Isadore, which is enormously stupid because Isadore has been known to break the limbs of some of the guys he's drunk with. The English teacher doesn't know this, or else he's not concerned. Drunks aren't picky about the company they keep, as long as it's other drunks, people who won't make them feel bad about it. The smell of bacon wakes the English teacher up too, but he bolts to the bathroom instead of going for my plate. He always comes out after about a half hour or so, always smiling, his hair wet and combed back.

"Ah!" he says. "Guy!" Like it's a beautiful day and nothing short of having woken up on my kitchen floor could have made him happier. "How about a lift to school?" So I end up having to chauffeur him around as well. It's a stupid, embarrassing life.

The English teacher has a girl's name - Alison Mason - but he likes to be called Al, for obvious reasons. He is from New York, and everybody says he is a draft dodger and a back-to-the-lander because anyone who would come here from the States always is.

"Are you a draft dodger and a back-to-the-lander?" I ask him one morning when I am pissed off at him for stinking up the truck with his booze fumes and the fact that I am going to have to listen to him talk about Flowers for Algernon all third period and the fact that I've just seen him sprawled across the linoleum.

"Back-to-the-lander I would need you to define," replies Alison Mason. "Draft dodger, yes. I answer without hesitation. It was an unjust war."

"I'd love a war," I tell him.

"You wouldn't, Guy."

"Fuckin Hitler!" I yell.

"Well - that was before my time..."

"Fuckin Commies!"

"Please don't yell," says Alison. "I had moral objections."

Yes, you strike me as an extremely moral person, I'm thinking. I would one day like to have the balls to say all the great things I think.

But Alison Mason didn't get where he is today by being dense. He sees me smirk at him and grins wide, like a guilty kid. It's a weird expression to see on the face of an English teacher, and I don't like it. He thinks now we are friends.

A lot of the girls at school think Alison Mason is incredibly hot. It's just because he's American. I should take a picture of him some morning at our house.

Girls are insane and for the most part I can't stand the thought of them. The ones at my school anyway. The girls in town are better, obviously. Last year I went to a dance at the vocational school in Big Harbour and it was like going to Disneyland. I didn't know anyone there, except the guys I came with. There was one girl who kept looking at me, and I danced with her three times. She kept yelling in my ear, "You're not from around here, are you? You're not from around here, are you?" because I think saying it made her feel sophisticated but it also made me feel pretty cool, because I realized I could've been from anywhere, instead of just out in the sticks, out in Frog-town. That's what she was thinking too. I could've been from New York for all she knew. Since the music was blasting, she probably never noticed my accent. She went to the bathroom with her gaggle of friends and after that I lost track of her.

They say in a year or so our school is going to be shut down, and we'll all be bussed into Big Harbour every day. I wish it would happen now.

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Play the Monster Blind


An exhilarating collection of short fiction, Play the Monster Blind showcases the remarkably original voice of Lynn Coady, the award-winning author of Strange Heaven. Funny, poignant and smart, full of unforgettable characters, these stories explore the violence of family, the constraints of small-town life and the elusive promise of escape.

In "Ice Cream Man," an adolescent girl struggles to come to terms with her mother's death and her father's seeming indifference while conducting a secret aff …

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The father was drinking again, in celebration. John said it bothered him. He remembered being three, tooling around town in the green station wagon with fake wood on the sides, watching his father drink. He would drink and visit his friends, at their homes or at the boxing club. He would pull into the driveway, pause to smile at John, take a quick couple of swallows before reaching over to unbuckle the boy. And he would hoist his young son inside to show him off, both of them pink-cheeked. He showed her a picture of himself then, his little hands tied inside of a pair of enormous boxing gloves, his father perched behind him, holding them up to take aim at a smiling, sweaty man in trunks.

John was strapping then, and he was strapping now. One of the first things the father told her was that they used to have to pin John into three layers of diapers, he was such a big eater. It was obvious the old man and he were close. The second evening after she and John arrived, she stayed inside doing dishes with the mother, and saw the two of them sitting out in plastic chairs on the lawn, facing the shed with rums in hand. The mother said, “That should keep him happy for a while,” and the plastic chairs sagged and quivered from the weight of men. The father was built all of hard, stubborn fat, but John was just big. They sat quietly torturing their lawn chairs together.

He told her he used to be fat. He was very sensitive about it. He told her he had never told that to anyone. In high school he stopped eating and started taking handfuls of vitamins, which made him thin and absent-minded, but his mother stopped buying them and he had no choice but to go back to eating. In university he just gave in to everything and ate and drank until he ballooned. Now he was approximately in the middle, a big man with a thick beard. When he was fourteen, his father had him collecting UI for all the dishwashing he had done at the family restaurant, because the workers didn’t know any better from the size of him. She had thought, when she met John, that he looked like a lumberjack. He wore plaid shirts and work boots whenever she saw him in class, not because it was fashionable, and not fashionably, but because it was what he wore. She learned where he was from and imagined they all must dress like that, that it must be a very welcoming place, rustic and simple and safe, like John himself.

When his sister showed up, pasty and in leather pants despite the August swelter, the first thing she said to him was, “Hey, you fat shit.” Bethany knew that they had not seen each other in a couple of years. He reached over and grabbed one of the sister’s wrists. Her knees buckled at once and effortlessly he turned her around, already sinking. Then he grabbed the other wrist and held them together in one large paw while guiding her face-first to the kitchen floor, using her wrists as a sort of steering apparatus. Then he sat on her.

“Pardon?” he kept saying.

“You fat bastard.”

The father sat nearby, laughing. The mother saying, “Johnny, Johnny, Johnny,” now, as she tried to move around them to the stove. Bethany and the sister were exactly the same age. She felt she should have something to say to her.

When the brother arrived, he at once began to beat and contort the sister in the same way, as if this were some sort of family ritual. She railed at him as he pulled her feet up behind her to meet her shoulders. Whereas John just used the sheer force of his bulk and his size, Hugh, smaller and wiry, was a dabbler in the martial arts. He said he used to box, like his father, but got bored with all the rules. Now he was interested in something called “shoot fighting,” which scarcely had any rules at all. He knew all sorts of different holds and manoeuvres, some of which he demonstrated on the sister for them. When he was finished – Ann yanking herself away, red-faced and hair awry and staggering towards the kitchen for a beer – he darted at John, head down and fists up. John responded in the way she had seen him do at bars whenever drunken men, maddened by his size, ran at him. The strategy was to reach out his big hands and simply hold the opponents at bay until they got tired and embarrassed.

Bethany thought of herself as an easygoing person and tried not to be nervous, but she and John were going to get married, and she knew that the family was striving to be civil in a way they were not used to. John kept cuffing his sister in the head whenever she said “goddamn ”or “cocksucker,” and quietly stating, “Dad,” when the father did the same. Bethany and the sister tried and tried to talk to each other, bringing up woman-things like belts and shampoo. She knew that the sister worked in theatre in Halifax and lived with a man who was thirty-five, and everyone was disappointed in her, but hoped she would soon turn her life around. It was touching the way the family spoke of Ann when she was out of the room. The father, overwhelming his armchair, ponderously clinking his ice cubes and turning to John.

“What do you think, me boy?”

“Well, who knows, boy.”

“She’s getting by,” the mother would say.

“But for how long?”

“We’ll talk to her at some point,” John promised, this being what the father was waiting to hear. The father was always turning to John and waiting to hear the right thing, and John always seemed to know what it was.

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Mean Boy

Mean Boy

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Earnest, small-town Lawrence Campbell is fascinated by his poetry professor, the charismatic and uncompromising Jim Arsenault. Larry is determined to escape a life of thrifty drudgery and intellectual poverty working for his parents' motel and mini-golf business on Prince Edward Island. Jim appears to the young poet as a beacon of authenticity - mercurial, endlessly creative, fearless in his confrontations with the forces of conformity. And he drinks a lot.

Jim's magnetic personality soon draws L …

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He sat on his desk, positioned in front of this enormous window with the sunlight streaming all around his outline. I could barely look at him without going blind. He saw me squinting and shading my eyes and squeezing them shut when they started watering, but he didn't move, or close the curtain. He had a little teapot on the desk beside him and he kept picking it up and listening to it. He told me my poem should have a dead person in it.

"Maybe a murder or something," he said, "to make it more exciting."

I didn't know what to say so I talked about what was in the poem already. I said I thought that maybe it was a little wordy, that I hadn't figured out how to distill my ideas yet. I figured he could speak to this - none of his poems are any more than ten lines long, and half the time each line has no more than three or four words in it. He just sat there listening to his teapot as I rambled away, carefully using words like distill and cumbersome.

"I think maybe it's a little cumbersome?"

Everything I said went up in a question. I sounded like I was still in high school. I knew I had to learn how to stop talking like that, especially around this guy, but it got worse when I was nervous.

"No, no, it's not cumbersome. It just needs something to happen. Nothing happens in it. There's nothing wrong with a lot of words - I like words."

"But your poems are so..." I wanted a really perfect word for this. Terse. Brief. Scant. Scant? Scant was good. But did it have any negative connotations? Would he think I meant insubstantial?

"...short," I said, before the silence could thicken.

"Those are my poems," he said. "And my poems are great. I'm trying to learn not to insist that other writers write poems like mine. In fact I prefer that they don't. Listen to this for a minute." I thought maybe he was going to recite something, but instead he extended the little teapot so that I was compelled to get up out of my chair and come toward him.

I listened. It was full of tea. I could feel the heat radiating toward my cheek. It was making a buzzing sound, sort of like a horsefly.

"Hm," I said.

"It's buzzing," he said. "Why do you suppose it does that?"

"I think maybe air is trapped in there or something."

"Well, it's weird," said Jim Arsenault, the greatest living poet of our time.

I sit obsessing on this, fingers poised over my typewriter keys. Every time I blink, the silhouette of Jim outlined against his sun-filled window flashes inside my head, like it's been burned into my corneas. I hear him saying, Well, it's weird. I hear him saying everything but what I wanted to hear about my poetry. I hear more exciting, which means not exciting. It's hard to come up with something new, hearing that. It seems like it might be easier - more fun, more inspiring too, somehow - to tear the page from my typewriter's grip, slowly, without releasing the catch, so that it kind of shrieks as if in drawn-out pain.

I have a poem called "Poem Poem" taped to the window above my typewriter - by Milton Acorn, who is my hero because he is an unschooled genius who, like me, is from Prince Edward Island. The poem is about the good days and the bad days of writing poetry. The first stanza talks about a good day, how Poems broke from the white dam of my teeth. / I sang truth, the word I was... Heart and fist thumped together, it says, a line I love.

Then the second stanza describes the poem "I write today," how it "grins" at him while. It is truth,I chop it like a mean boy / And whittles my spine says Acorn with regard to this poem, the word I am not.

That's the poem. I look at it when I'm feeling lonely, and when I feel like a moron - a not exciting moron - for sitting in front of my typewriter thinking I'm a poet. Sometimes I love it, though - some days are as different from one another as the two stanzas of the poem. That's why I have it up there. Sometimes, even if I'm not writing, just the feel of being alone in my apartment in front of the typewriter is enough. I take off my shirt. I can see myself, I can see what I look like sitting here wearing nothing but jeans and glasses, me and my pale teenage limbs. I look like a poet. I know that I do. I believe in it, those days.

I, I'll type. And that will be enough.

Then there are the other days, when nothing is enough. The poem grins. It grins because it knows it is a terrible poem. It grins in embarrassment. It grins in pity. It grins in superiority. I may be a terrible poem, it grins, but at least I have one comfort. At least I'm not a terrible poet. At least I'm not the guy who sat in front of a typewriter for two hours coming up with the likes of me.

A girl named Sherrie is busy reading her work for Jim and the rest of us - mostly for Jim. I am busy being made uncomfortable by it. It's all about desire and sex, but there is nothing arousing going on in the least. I expected to not like it because it would be sentimental, but that isn't the problem. It's just Sherrie standing up there with her yellow curls going everywhere like a doll or a crazed cheerleader, semi-whispering about "folds in flesh" and "shimmering" this and "shuddering" that - it makes me queasy. It's only our second class, for God's sake. Meeting, Jim wants us to call it.

Jim doesn't seem to mind Sherrie's stuff. He stands with the same demeanour he has whenever anybody reads. He leans slightly against his desk, stares at the ground, and folds his arms way back behind his head, so that his elbows stick out on either side of it like huge animal ears, a rabbit man. He'll stand that way for as long as twenty minutes sometimes, depending on whatever anyone's reading. There is a guy named Claude from Moncton who writes villanelles. These villanelles go on forever sometimes, and Jim will just stand there all contorted until the very last line.

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The Antagonist

The Antagonist

also available: Hardcover eBook

Winner of the 2012 Georges Bugnet Award for Fiction and shortlisted for the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

A finalist for the prestigious Scotiabank Giller Prize, and named one of the best books of the year by Amazon, the Globe and Mail, and the Toronto Star, The Antagonist tells the story of Gordon Rankin ("Rank"), a former hockey enforcer driven to seek revenge on a old friend who has published a novel revealing Rank's deepest secret.

The hulking Gordon Rankin has spent his life cast as an enfo …

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also available: eBook

Winner of the 2013 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

Shortlisted for the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize. Selected as an Best Book and for The Globe's Top 10 Books of 2013.

With astonishing range and depth, Scotiabank Giller Prize winner Lynn Coady gives us nine unforgettable new stories, each one of them grabbing our attention from the first line and resonating long after the last.

A young nun charged with talking an anorexic out of her religious fanaticism toys with the thin distance betwee …

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Who Needs Books?

Who Needs Books?

Reading in the Digital Age
by Lynn Coady
introduction by Paul Kennedy
also available: Paperback

“We look around and feel as if book culture as we know it is crumbling to dust, but there’s one important thing to keep in mind: as we know it.”

What happens if we separate the idea of "the book" from the experience it has traditionally provided? Lynn Coady challenges booklovers addicted to the physical book to confront their darkest fears about the digital world and the future of reading. Is the all-pervasive internet turning readers into web-surfing automatons and books themselves into mu …

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tagged : canadian

If you crossed Aristophanes with Eugene Ionesco, and then mixed in a bit of tag-team wrestling, you might end up with something like Lynn CoadyÕs irreverent short play Mark. When a not-so-innocent question provokes an argument one Sunday afternoon, it doesn't take long before modern-day courtesy is tossed aside and the true pagan blood sport of competitive couplehood rears its ugly head. Points are hard-won and the penalties are swift and painfulÑwith game play this punishing, what could possi …

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