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2018 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize Shortlist

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The Saturday Night Ghost Club

The Saturday Night Ghost Club

A Novel
edition:Hardcover

SHORTLISTED FOR THE ROGERS WRITERS' TRUST FICTION PRIZE: An infectious and heartbreaking novel from "one of this country's great kinetic writers" (Globe and Mail)--Craig Davidson's first new literary fiction since his bestselling, Giller-shortlisted Cataract City

When neurosurgeon Jake Baker operates, he knows he's handling more than a patient's delicate brain tissue--he's altering their seat of consciousness, their golden vault of memory. And memory, Jake knows well, can be a tricky thing.

When g …

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Excerpt

As a boy, I believed in monsters.

I was convinced that if I said “Bloody Mary” in front of a mirror, a hideous witch-woman would reach through the glass with nails sharp as splinters. I considered it a fact that the Devil lingered at shad­owy crossroads and went to dance halls in disguise, where he’d ask the prettiest girl to dance and reel her across the floor while spectators stood terror-stricken at the sight of the Devil’s goatish shanks, until the girl fainted dead away and the Unclean One vanished in a puff of brimstone.

There was no falsehood I wouldn’t swallow, no quilt of lies you couldn’t drape over my all-too-gullible shoulders. But for a boy like me—chubby, freckled, awkward; growing up in a city where the erection of a new Kmart occasioned our mayor to announce, “This marks a wondrous new chapter in our town’s history”—imagination was my greatest asset. Not to mention my defence against a foe worse than the most fearsome monster: loneliness.

My ally against that foe was my uncle Calvin. If I told him there was a bottomless pit in my basement, he’d say, “Tell me, Jake, is the air denser around the mouth of the pit than in other areas of the basement?” Cocking an eyebrow: “Do ominous growling sounds emanate from this pit of yours?”

Uncle C was the ideal nursemaid for my paranoid fantasies. His knowledge of urban legends and folk­lore was encyclopedic—with the added bonus that he seemed to consider most of it true.
“Hey,” he’d say, “did you know there are crocodiles living in the sewers of our fair city? The poor suckers get smuggled up from Florida by dumb tourists. Sure, they’re cute as a bug’s ear when they’re six inches long.

But when they grow up and get nippy? Ba-whooosh, down the porcelain mistake eraser. They get fat ’n’ sassy down there in the pipes, where there’s plenty to eat if you’re not choosy. Every year a couple of sanita­tion department workers get gobbled up by sewer crocs. The press bottles it up, unscrupulous snakes that they are, but it’s a fact you can set your watch to.”

Uncle C would fiddle with the beads of his brace­let—each an ornate pewter Cthulhu head, mouths and eye sockets sprouting tentacles—and offer a wistful sigh. “And that, Jake, is why owning a pet is a big responsibility.”

Once, when I was six or seven, I became convinced a monster lived in my closet. I told my dad, who did what 99 percent of adults do when their child makes this claim: he flung my closet door open, rattled coat hangers and shoved shoeboxes aside, making a Broadway production of it. “See? No monsters, Jake.”

But monsters make themselves scarce when adults are around, only to slither back after dark. Every kid knew this to be an unshakable fact.

Uncle C arrived for dinner that night, as usual— Mom invited him every Sunday. He got an inkling of my worry as I sat picking at my Salisbury steak.

“What’s the matter, hombre?”

“We have an unwanted visitor in a closet, appar­ently,” Mom informed him.

“But we’ve established that there’s no monster,” my father said. “Right, buddy?”

“Ah,” said Uncle C. “I have some expertise in this area. Sam, with your permission?”

Mom turned to my father and said, “Sam,” in the tone of voice you’d use to calm a jittery horse.

“Of course, Cal, as you like,” my father said.

My uncle pedalled home to his house, returning ten minutes later with a tool box. Once we were in my bed­room he motioned to the closet. “I take it this is its lair?”

I nodded.

“Closets are a favourite haunt of monsters,” my uncle explained. “Most are harmless, even good-tempered, if they have enough dust bunnies and cob­webs to eat. Do you clean your closet?”

I assured him that it was hardly ever tidied unless my mother forced the chore on me.

“Good, let them feast. If they get too hungry they’ll crawl over to your clothes hamper and eat holes in your underwear. No need to check the seat of your drawers for confirmation, as I can see by your expres­sion that yours have indeed met this cruel fate.”

Calvin cracked the tool box and pulled out an instru­ment—one that today I’d recognize as a stud finder.

“It’s a monster tracer,” he said, running it over the closet walls, making exploratory taps with his knuckles. “There are token traces of ectoplasm,” he said in the voice of a veteran contractor.

“Monster slime, in layman’s terms. What does this monster look like?”

“Hairy in some parts, slimy in others.”

“What’s its shape? Like a snake, or a blob?”

“A blob. But it can stretch, too, so it can look like a snake if it wants.”

“We’re dealing with a hairy, slimy blob with uncanny stretching capacities.” He gripped his chin.

“Sounds like a Slurper Slug. They’re common around these parts.”

“A slug?”

“Correct, but we’re not talking your garden-variety slug.” He laughed—actually, he exclaimed ha-ha.

“A little paranormal humour for you, Jake my boy. These peculiar and particularly gross slugs infest closets and crawl spaces. You haven’t been keeping anything tasty in your closet, have you?”

“That’s where I put my Halloween candy.”

“Slurper Slug, then, guaranteed. They’re not dan­gerous, just revolting. They could make a mortician barf his biscuits. If you let one hang around he’ll call his buddies and before long you’ve got an infestation on your hands.”

He rooted through his tool box for a pouch of fine red powder. “This is cochineal, made from the crushed shells of beetles. It’s used in containment spells.”

He laid down a line of powder in the shape of a keyhole 

“This,” he said, pointing to the circle, “is the trap. The Slurper Slug will traipse up this path, see, which gets narrower and narrower until the Slug gets stuck in the Circle of No Return. There it will turn black as night and hard as rock. Now, you’ll have to pull one hair out of your head to bait the slug trap.”

I plucked a single strand, which my uncle laid softly in the trap.

“Go ask your mom if she has any chocolate chips.”

I went down to the kitchen to find my folks engaged in a hushed conversation. My father’s shoulders were vibrating like twin tuning forks.

“Chocolate chips, huh?” Mom said in a Susie- Cheerleader voice. “I’ve only got butterscotch.”
By the time I got back, the closet was shut. My uncle instructed me to lay a trail of butterscotch chips along the door.

“The sweetness will draw that Slug out of hiding. Now listen, Jake, and listen carefully. If you peek inside the closet, the spell will be broken. Under no circumstances can it be opened until tomorrow morn­ing. No matter the sounds you may hear dribbling through this door, you must leave it closed. Do you swear this to me?”

“Yes, I promise.”

“By the Oath of the White Mage, do you swear it?”

When I admitted I didn’t know that oath, he stuck out his little finger. “The pinkie variety will suffice.”

I linked my finger with his and squeezed.

“Cross your heart and hope to die?”

“Stick a needle in my eye,” I said solemnly.

I awoke to sunlight streaming through the window. I crept to the closet and opened it. Just as Uncle C had said, the keyhole was now only a circle and in the middle sat an object that was dark as night and hard as rock.

My uncle was taking off his boots in the front hall when I stormed downstairs.

“The trap worked!” I told him, dragging him up the stairs to show him the blackened slug.

“Pick it up,” he said. “It may still be a little warm but it won’t burn you.”

Queasy warmth pulsed off the slug, or so it felt to me.

“It’s not every day that you can hold a monster in your palm, is it, Jake?”

That lump of obsidian would rest on my nightstand for years. Then one day I noticed it sitting between my Junior Sleuths magnifying glass and a dog-eared reissue of Stephen King’s Carrie, the one with the art deco cover. Opening the drawer, I swept the volcanic rock inside, embarrassed that I’d once been fear-struck by anything so infantile as a snot-ball slug in my closet. . . .

An hour later I took it out and put it back where it belonged.

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Washington Black

Washington Black

A Novel
edition:Hardcover
also available: eBook Audiobook Paperback
tagged : literary

Winner of the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize

A dazzling, original novel of slavery and freedom, from the author of the international bestseller Half-Blood Blues

When two English brothers arrive at a Barbados sugar plantation, they bring with them a darkness beyond what the slaves have already known. Washington Black – an eleven year-old field slave – is horrified to find himself chosen to live in the quarters of one of these men. But the man is not as Washington expects him to be. His new master …

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Beirut Hellfire Society

Beirut Hellfire Society

edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback

FINALIST FOR THE SCOTIABANK GILLER PRIZE
SHORTLISTED FOR THE ROGERS WRITERS' TRUST FICTION PRIZE
SHORTLISTED FOR THE GOVERNOR GENERAL'S LITERARY AWARD FOR FICTION
An explosive new novel from the award-winning, bestselling author of De Niro's Game and Cockroach.

It is 1978 in Beirut, Lebanon, partway through that country's Civil War. On a torn-up street overlooking a cemetery in the city's Christian enclave, we meet an eccentric young man named Pavlov, the son of a local undertaker. When his fath …

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Excerpt

One sunny day at the start of a ceasefire, a father drove with his son down towards where the fighting had been.

A cadaver had been lying on the ground for days, muti­lated. The son, who was named Pavlov, and his father, an undertaker, loaded the remains into plastic bags and carried them to the hearse. The cadaver’s belly had been opened by a bullet wound and vermin had claimed it and multiplied inside the soft organs, gorging on the entrails. Father and son gathered the scattered items that belonged to the dead: a loose shoe, a bag filled with mouldy food, broken glasses.

Now, the man told his son, you’re sixteen—old enough to become a member of the Society. The Hellfire Society, the father added. He switched on the car radio, and drove towards the coast and then up into the mountains of Lebanon.

They arrived at a secluded area in the high summit, and finally at a small stone house that looked to be abandoned. But the father picked up a key from under a potted plant, opened the door, and together he and his son entered. The house was simple and humble, cold and damp. Neglect and dust could be seen everywhere. The floor was bare, and through the soles of their shoes father and son felt the touch of leather against grains of dirt and sand. Walking across the room was slippery but manageable—two pairs of feet grinding little particles into the floor. The walls of the house were peeling, expos­ing straw mixed with clay, an ancient technique for efficient insulation that the villagers had used for centuries. There was a bed in the corner of the main room and, in the middle, a stove with a chimney that extended its charcoal tube towards the ceiling before the cylinder shifted at the end, a perfect ninety degrees, to reach the top of the adjacent wall and cough out its smoke.

Welcome to the Society’s mansion, the father said.

Pavlov followed his father into the second room. This was a later addition to the house, separate from the main area. Its cement floor was bare and unpolished and the room’s main feature was a large metal door in the centre of the back wall, with a smaller door beneath the large one. Beside the doors, two large gas tanks were linked by tubes. To Pavlov’s eye, they resembled the garden hoses often seen trailing like ser­pents around villagers’ houses.

Eventually we may have to change the pipes, his father said. It’s a simple procedure. You make sure to cut off the gas from its source there—he pointed at a handle embedded in the wall—and before you proceed, lock it firm. Look here, son. You twist this knob on the top in a counter-clockwise motion. Are you cold, son?

Pavlov nodded.

In no time this house will burn like hell, his father replied, and smiled. But let’s eat first, and then we’ll bring our unknown soul into the abode of fire, light and eternal warmth.

They washed their hands with cracked bars of soap under cold water, then roasted chestnuts, heated bread, set out thyme and olive oil and cheese that the father removed from a jar, and drank alcohol. When they were done, they brought the body inside, laid it on a wooden stretcher that the father had made himself and carried the cadaver to the second room. The father opened the metal door and Pavlov saw what looked like a deep, long oven.

The father turned to the cadaver, and with a singing, wailing voice he uttered these words: They say ashes to ashes, but we say fire begets fire. May your fire join the grand lumi­nosity of the ultimate fire, may your anonymity add to the greatness of the hidden, the truthful and the unknown. You, the father continued, were trapped, lost, ignored, dejected, but now you are found, and we release you back into your origi­nal abode. Happy are those rejected by the burial lots of the ignorant. The earth is winter and summer, spring and fall . . . We heard your call and we came.

Father and son lifted the bed off the stretcher and slid the cadaver into the stove. The father twisted the knobs of the gas tanks—bonbons he called them—struck a match and lit a fire inside. Then he asked his son to close the furnace door.

In time, the house became warm. It stood alone in its surroundings, a ball of heat against the chill of the mountains. Pavlov, bewildered by the rituals, sat in silence and listened as his father talked and drank and sang incomprehensible songs that had the rhythms of hymns. Then his father, drunk and tired, stumbled into bed and fell asleep.

Pavlov stayed awake and gazed at the wooden stove, watch­ing the glow of a few persistent coals coating themselves in grey dust on the outside, burning red and orange at the core. Heat percolated from the second room, so strong it made Pavlov loosen his wool coat and remove his socks and extend his toes. He studied the downcast moustache drawing a line around his father’s open mouth below a triangular Byzantine nose, long and curved, and thin at its tip. Pavlov wondered about the singing, and about the burning of stray corpses, unclaimed and bloated, about orphaned cadavers and their capacity for music and dance long lost. My father has done this before, alone. What strength, Pavlov thought, what willpower must have been required to lift the heavy bodies and load them into the car. Pavlov examined his father’s shoulders, strong from digging the earth and carrying hardened, blue bodies; and his father’s fingers, infiltrated by dust beneath the nails. From the balcony at home, Pavlov had often seen his father digging, and waving to him when he straightened to stretch his back, and drinking water from the bottle at his side. Tonight’s long, esoteric monologue and affectionate words made Pavlov wonder if his father was addressing him or some other distant son, or if he was simply filled with life and liquor. The incoherent speeches about death, ephemerality, the Iliad’s fallen heroes, and quotes from various saints and philosophers from Heraclitus to Ephrem the Syrian; the disquisitions on ancient burials, fire, and epics from antiquity; and the disdain for the earth, the body . . . it all made Pavlov wonder if his father might be a madman, a deranged heathen. All these years, he had thought his father’s criticism of the clergy was because the priests meddled in matters of burial grounds and money. Now he realized that his father disliked earthly burials on principle. He preferred fire.

And then his father woke, and liberating the words inside him, told his son that he dearly wished he could have burned his wife, Pavlov’s mother, when she had died a few months past—but she had insisted on being buried in the ground, and he had respected her wish. As for myself, the father said, you, my son, will bring me fire.

Pavlov looked at his father again and saw a gentle, eccen­tric man, and he pitied him and loved him all the more.
 
 
At dawn, the father woke the son, gathered ashes from the furnace, mixed them with water, and pasted them all over his face and hands.

Pavlov brushed his teeth and washed his face, and went to stand outside beside his father. He was both embarrassed and filled with wonder. It was cold that morning—the cold of soldiers marching towards battle, stomping across farmers’ fields, cold in the way vengeful villagers steal dead soldiers’ shoes after defeat in battle, cold like that rosy dawn in which the wounded trip over vegetables, roots and dead branches, bruised, shot, stabbed and hallucinating of a wedding with a farmer’s girl who will lead them towards their warrior heaven. Pavlov looked at the vast empty mountains while his father chanted. Then his father kissed Pavlov on the forehead, took his hand and led him in another dance, singing in a foreign language. Pavlov danced and smiled, bewildered but surren­dering to his father’s wishes and following his steps.

Afterwards, he helped gather the ashes from the crema­torium and fold them in a cloth. The two of them walked along a narrow path, through bushes and between tall, pre­historic rocks until they reached a cliff that looked out onto a steep valley. The view was sublime and the wind passed over them, just as it had passed over the succession of round green hills and into the valley. Pavlov’s father flipped the cloth open, and the ashes were taken by the wind and the dust scattered in one direction. The northern wind, his father said, leads south, and the easterly wind leads west and carries with it the scent of time.

Inside the house, his father washed his hands and face, dried them with a cloth, fed the cloth into the stove in the middle of the room and let it burn.

Then father and son drove back to the city of Beirut, once more they drove, in silence under the falling bombs. The war had resumed.

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Land Mammals and Sea Creatures

Land Mammals and Sea Creatures

A Novel
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback Audiobook

A startling, moving magic realist debut

Almost immediately upon Julie Bird’s return to the small port town where she was raised, everyday life is turned upside down. Julie’s Gulf War vet father, Marty, has been on the losing side of a battle with PTSD for too long. A day of boating takes a dramatic turn when a majestic blue whale beaches itself and dies. A blond stranger sets up camp oceanside: she’s an agitator, musician-impersonator, and armchair philosopher named Jennie Lee Lewis — and …

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Julie Bird closed her eyes and listened to water slap the hull. The tinny taste of lager coated the back of her tongue. She and her father, Marty, spread themselves over lawn chairs on the deck of the old troller. Waves rolled under the boat, and the strips of rainbow vinyl creaked under their weight. Ice sloshed rhythmically against the sides of the cooler.

Ian, Marty’s best and only friend, emerged from the cabin and fished another beer from the ice. He called out to his two passengers. “Set?”

Julie’s father had his beer jammed into his prosthesis—his Captain Hook—and held it in the air for Ian to see. With his good hand he held binoculars fast to his eyes.

For the last half hour, Marty had been watching a figure on shore and giving Julie updates. The details were still shady. The figure, of indeterminate age, gender and height had been weighted like a pack mule when it’d arrived on the beach, and it was now setting up a bright orange A-frame tent, set in contrast to the navy water and dark conifers. Marty’s eyebrows, or the fatty lumps where his eyebrows used to be, rose.

“Now they’re stringing up a hammock in the trees. Looks like they’re there for the long haul. I didn’t think anyone camped on Tallicurn.”

“Marty, please stop spying,” Julie said.

“They just seem so familiar.”

“You know a lot of faraway specks?”

By Marty’s feet sat a small Tupperware container of herring pieces that were melting together in the heat. He’d set up a rod on the port side for some mooching, but so far, the line hadn’t budged. Marty wouldn’t have noticed anyway. Earlier, Ian had tossed a piece into the open water to “get the ocean’s juices flowing.”

“Hey,” Marty said. “I think they’re waving at me.” He took off his bandana, scratched his bald head, and retied the fabric.

“Marty, you’re a stick figure on a boat to them.”

“Look.” Marty handed the binoculars to her. Through the viewfinder, she saw a crowd of gulls circling above the orange tent. Farther down the beach, the backlit figure appeared with a blond puff of hair catching the light and shining like an anglerfish lure. The person stood in the water, looking in their direction. The waves crashed against their shins. They were gesturing with their arms, but it didn’t seem like a wave. More of a come hither.

Ian barged into the middle of their assembly and pointed starboard. “Hey, you two. Whale.”

Plumes of mist were approaching the troller. With a bird’s-eye view, one could trace a straight line between the puff-topped shadow, the fishing boat and the whale.

“Think it’s an orca?” Julie asked.

“Nah. No pod—it’s solo.” Ian hoisted himself up and took the binoculars from Julie’s hand. He stood on the deck with one leg propped on the railing. His white shorts flapped in the breeze, revealing a vast expanse of untanned thigh. “Too big, too,” he said.

“Grey?” Julie asked.

“Maybe. Look at it.” Ian passed the binoculars back.

All she could see was sun bouncing off waves and a flash of black and white as a flock of murres glided above the surface, but then the whale’s rolling back filled the viewing area. A burst of mist shot into the air and dissipated. Julie adjusted the sight. A group of fat barnacles pocked the skin around its blowhole, but otherwise the whale’s complexion was uninterrupted slate, like a blackboard wiped clean with a damp cloth. It was smoother than the greys Julie had seen.

“Fuck, yeah,” she whispered.

The back of the whale rolled over the surface until the flukes broke free and heaved into the air. The whale dipped below the surface.

Ian’s voice came from behind them, somewhere between a prayer and a curse. “It’s coming towards us.”

Julie imagined the whale as a submarine designed to look like a biological being, but with two soldiers sitting behind the eyes. If they could build a camera the size of a housefly, why not this? The submarine theory seemed so much more likely than a living being double the length of the Greyhound she rode from Port Braid to Vancouver. Fifty-five people could sit inside that Greyhound on a busy holiday, meaning that 110 humans could be comfortably hidden within the whale’s blubber, with leg and luggage room to spare.

Julie zipped her life vest and shoved one at her father as the whale got closer to the boat. As usual, Marty wouldn’t think of his welfare, so she’d have to do it for him. She watched him slide the life vest on and struggle to do it up. When the zipper wouldn’t go past his belly, he visited the cooler for another beer. Julie counted this as his fourth, still within safe limits for a calm day.

The list of events that could disrupt a calm day had shape-shifted since she was last home in Port Braid. Once again the rules had to be relearned. Marty’s triggers developed like allergies. Some were long-term—bird bangers, air brakes, metal-tinged smoke—and others came and went in a matter of years—the smell of Julie’s hair straightener, the rattle of Boggle.

She stood up for a better look, binoculars pressed to her cheekbones.

The whale broke the surface again, much closer to the boat. Its blowhole looked like the thieved nose of an Easter Island statue. It let out another giant breath, and this time Julie could hear the sound—a bucket of ice water hitting a campfire. Julie brought the binoculars down and turned to her father. “It’s a blue, you know.”

Marty scoffed.

Blues migrated by Port Braid but weren’t typically interested in stopping. They were half-starved from raising their young at the equator. Up north, all they’d have to do to be full was open their mouths.

So much of Port Braid’s aesthetic was based on the idea that whale spirits permeated the air: a metallic statue stood proud outside the bank, a badly constructed orca mural graced the side of the pharmacy, and of course, all of the T-shirts in the town’s single gift shop were a blend of semi-transparent moons, whales, wolves, eagles and feathers.

“I’m serious,” Julie said. “It’s a blue.”

Marty brought his beer to his lips and held it there, waiting for the beast to reappear.

A bulge of water appeared a few boat-lengths away. Julie’s breath caught. The whale’s nose pushed through the centre of this water mountain. Its body rose up to its pectoral fins. Columns of water fell away. The animal lunged and sent a boat-rocking wave.

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Dear Evelyn

Dear Evelyn

edition:Paperback
tagged : literary

WINNER OF THE 2018 ROGERS WRITERS' TRUST FICTION PRIZE

A 2018 KIRKUS BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR

A GLOBE AND MAIL BEST BOOK OF 2018

A QUILL & QUIRE BEST BOOK OF 2018

Born between the wars on a working-class London street, Harry Miles wins a scholarship and a chance to escape his station, but discovers instead that poetry is what offers him real direction. While searching for more of it he meets Evelyn Hill on the steps of Battersea Library. The two fall in love as the world prepares once again for war, b …

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