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Editors' Picks: Week of January 14–20

By kileyturner
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tagged: Fiction
This week in Editors' Picks, we're spotlighting exciting new works from authors whose debut or sophomore books got lots of buzz, authors like Mona Awad, Kris Bertin, Amy Jones, Megan Gail Coles, Shandi Mitchell, Nancy Jo Cullen, Missy Marston, Andrew Forbes, and Karen Hofmann.
Bunny

Bunny

edition:Hardcover

"One of the most pristine, delightful attacks on popular girls since Clueless. Made me cackle and nod in terrified recognition." - Lena Dunham
Bunny is a curioser Wonderland where vicious, rabidly entitled artists mix hare-brained potions, where sweet bunnies are terrifying swains, and where literature’s newest and sexiest hybrid lurks. Hilarious and creepy with dead-on satire: I cannot think of a new book I like more.” - Lynn Crosbie
“It’s creepy and it’s kooky, mysterious and spo …

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Every Little Piece of Me

Every Little Piece of Me

edition:Paperback

From the bestselling author of We're All in This Together comes a novel about family, friendship, fame, and the cost of living in the public eye -- because when everyone suddenly knows your name, it's easy to forget who you really are.

"The first time they met, Mags saved Ava's life. The second time they met, Ava saved Mags's."
     Ava Hart is the most reluctant cast member of a reality TV show based on her big city family's (mostly staged) efforts to run a B&B in small-town Nova Scotia. Every …

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Excerpt

Mags
November 2014

"Barometer"

Mags hadn’t expected the club to be so crowded. The band’s previous shows in New York had been sparsely attended. But Align Above’s new album had dropped a few weeks before, and tonight there was an electricity in the air, something that she couldn’t explain. In the green room she drank half a fifth of whiskey and smoked three joints before stumbling on stage in a haze, her body hot and cold at the same time, her skin sweaty and goose-pimpled.
     “I’m fine,” she told Emiko, her manager, who held Mags’s face in both her hands and stared into her eyes like she was trying to see into the future. “This is what I need. This is what I do.”
     She sang. She knows she must have, because people were cheering— so many people, the audience a big blur of colour in front of her, pulsing with vague outlines of human forms. Adrift, she locked eyes with a beautiful Asian boy while she was singing “Barometer”— a song she had written about Sam, so new she had only ever played it live once before— and she was surprised to see that he was singing along, gazing at her with such naked adoration that it made her shiver. “You will rise, I will rise, we will rise, like a barometer,” she sang, and his mouth moved with hers, almost as though he was claiming her voice somehow, making the words his own in a way that momentarily startled her, her hand dropping from the mic, her voice fading out before the end of the line.
     After the show, she found him in the hallway outside the green room, waiting for her. He was just a kid, a scruffy teenager with doe eyes and expensive sneakers, a forelock of hair sweeping down across his brow. But she could feel the relentless pull of the pit, that gaping maw of a comedown she ran from at the end of every show, so she pressed herself up against him, the contours of his body meeting hers in a way that was familiar and yet unfamiliar, like wearing someone else’s shoes. 
     “Do you have somewhere we could go?” she asked, lips inches from his ear, which fluttered almost imperceptibly as she breathed against it.
     “I have my own place,” he said, and she could feel the newness of those words in his mouth, how good it felt for him to say them.
     They were in the Uber by the time she started second-guessing herself, realizing too late he wasn’t even close to what she wanted. But it wasn’t until they got to his apartment and she saw all the video cameras that she knew she’d made a huge mistake.
     “I’m not a pervert or a weirdo, I swear,” he said, his doe eyes clouding over with worry as she inched toward the door. “It’s this stupid reality show I’m on. They leave the cameras set up all the time.”
     “Reality show?” Mags was sobering up, and all she could see were blinking lights, red and green and blue, cables tangling across the floor like tussling snakes. She suddenly felt as though the entire world was watching her, as if they could see through the eye of the lens right into the depths of her soul.
     “They’re not on right now, I promise,” the boy said. “See?” He picked up a cable attached to a camera and showed her the dangling end. Mags realized the blinking lights were all in her head. “There’s a schedule. They’re only on when the crew is here.”
     Mags stepped toward the camera tentatively, as if it were a wild animal she wanted to feed from her hand. She touched the top of the lens, which was coated with a fine layer of dust, and blew the dust away gently. “That doesn’t seem very real,” she said.
     The boy laughed nervously. “It’s not,” he said. “There’s nothing real about reality television, trust me.”
     She moved around the room, feeling the boy’s eyes on her. At least the reality show explained the apartment—sparsely but tastefully furnished, with high ceilings and exposed brick, a pool table at one end of the living room and an entire row of expensive guitars lining the opposite wall. She wandered over and picked one up, strumming it before realizing it was a vintage Gibson Les Paul Standard Sunburst. And it was signed.
     “Eric Clapton,” the boy said, shrugging. “I got it at an auction last year.”
     Mags ran her fingers over the strings. It probably cost more than all of Align Above’s equipment combined. But the boy didn’t seem to care—he hadn’t rushed over to grab it from her, hadn’t kept it under lock and key. “Do you actually play this?” she asked.
     “What’s the point of a guitar if you don’t play it?” He took it from her and began strumming softly. Oh no, thought Mags, please don’t. But then he started singing, his voice soft and earnest, and she could do nothing but sit there, helplessly listening, not knowing whether she should laugh or cry. At least it wasn’t one of her songs— from what she could tell, it was something he had written himself, probably during a period when he was listening to a lot of melancholy stuff, Bon Iver or The National. When he stopped singing, she smiled at him, and before he could launch into his next number, she kissed him, the guitar pressed between them, the strings mashed up against her belly.
     Later, Mags got up from the boy’s bed in the dark and walked naked to the bathroom, keeping the water cool as she splashed it over her face, avoiding her own red eyes in the mirror. Walked back through the apartment, head jumbled, running her hands over the exposed brick, heading toward the balcony to see those lights of Tribeca, wondering what it must be like to live here, to live this life.
     Before Mags made it halfway across the living room she saw her, through the glass doors of the balcony— a woman wearing only a T-shirt and underwear, climbing up onto the parapet, her pale skin scraping across the concrete as she stood up on the ledge. Mags grabbed a blanket from the couch, scratchy and wool but big enough to cover herself, and rushed to the balcony, the wind hurtling itself at her as she hauled open the doors, all rust and smog.As soon as the doors opened she realized she had no idea what to do. She tried to remember how high up they were— four storeys, five? Surely high enough.
     “Hello,” Mags said quietly.
     The woman turned to face her, and Mags realized she was still a girl, really, barely out of her teens. There was something vaguely familiar about her. Her eyes were a startling blue, her hair white-blonde and cut close to her head in a haphazard way that made Mags think she had done it herself. Her T-shirt had a picture of a fairy on it, possibly a cartoon character from a television show Mags had never seen. Even as she balanced there on the parapet, she stood with her back straight, her hand on her hip, her head angled at a perfect, fashion-model 45 degrees as she regarded Mags through mildly inquisitive eyes.
     “It’s you,” the woman said. She dragged both her hands down her thighs as though she were drying off sweaty palms. For a moment, Mags thought she was going to reach out to shake her hand, but instead she crossed her arms over her chest, cutting off the head of the cartoon fairy. “What are you doing here?”
     Mags didn’t say anything for a minute, afraid the truth might push this woman over the edge. “Are you planning on jumping?” she asked instead.
     The woman dipped her toe off the ledge, her eyes drawn to the street below. Then she pulled her toe back and turned to face Mags again. “Are you naked under that blanket?”
     Mags glanced down at her round calves and bare feet sticking out of the bottom of the blanket, which hung just above her knees. “I guess when I saw you climb up on that ledge, finding clothes wasn’t exactly my first priority.”
     Narrowing her eyes, the woman crossed her arms tighter over her chest. “You slept with Val,” she said.
     Val. Mags knew the boy’s name, but it was so much easier to think of him as “the boy,” as if he were the only one. But now. Val. She nodded.
     “Good for you. My brother loves you, you know. The show tonight was the only thing he could talk about for weeks.”
     “He’s your brother?” Mags asked.
     “We’re both adopted,” the woman said. “Everyone knows this. You know this.” She paused. “Or maybe you thought I was his girlfriend.”
     “No,” said Mags, realizing she hadn’t. But she didn’t want to talk about Val anymore. And she was sick of talking about herself. Sick of herself in all kinds of ways. Maybe just sick. “Can we get back to talking about why you’re standing on that ledge?”
     “I’m pretty sure I’m going to jump,” the woman said, without drama, without pathos. I’m. Going. To. Jump.
    “Pretty sure?”
     “Very sure.” She spread her arms wide, an eagle about to take flight.
     Mags thought about all the things she could say. No. Don’t do it. You have so much to live for. But did she? How could she know? “What’s your name?” she asked instead, stalling.
     The woman stared at her, her body silhouetted against the New York skyline, backlit by the lights from a thousand different windows, a thousand different lives being lived. Then she started to laugh, a huge, aching belly laugh that Mags worried would propel her off the edge through the sheer force of its kickback. When she finally stopped laughing, she looked out over the city again. It was like a switch had flipped, and she was back to thinking about whatever it was that called to her.
     “It’s Ava,” she said. “You might be the only person in New York who doesn’t know that.”

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Use Your Imagination!

Use Your Imagination!

edition:Paperback

A woman becomes obsessed with a story about her family from 1890—when a naked, mute girl stumbled onto their property—and whether or not it really happened. A self-help guru and his chief strategist take their most affluent and unstable clients on a harrowing nature hike that destroys their company. A young convict in a prison creative writing class chronicles the rise and fall of his cellblock's resident peacemaker. A rural neighbourhood becomes obsessed by the coming of a strange and power …

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The Waiting Hours

The Waiting Hours

edition:Paperback

“The most impressive trick of this book – and it is a very good one – is the way Mitchell pulls off a literary thriller that is as suspenseful as it is introspective.” - The Globe and Mail
When you spend your life saving others...who will be there to save you?

When tragedy erupts on a stifling summer night, three ordinary people, with the extraordinary jobs of rescuing strangers, are connected to one another in ways both explicit and invisible. Each is deeply devoted to what they do, but …

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Excerpt

1

Kate swung open the jeep’s rear gate and was greeted by Zeus’s tail thumping against the wire crate. Eager to be released, he stretched and pawed the latch. She made a visual check of her search-and-rescue gear, first aid kits, rations, dog supplies, all-weather kit, boots, and backpack. All that was needed to sustain them for a couple of days. Nothing had shifted. She unhitched the crate door and Zeus waited for her to indicate work or play. She fastened a line to his collar, and his tail hoisted higher. It wasn’t work yet.

“Ally-oop,” she said.

He jumped from the hatch, his nose to the ground before his hindquarters landed.

“Do your business.”

Trailing the line behind him, he headed around the SUV to check out the tires.

Kate scanned the debris field of twisted rebar, concrete slabs, mangled cars, and a collapsing barn. Flames and black smoke churned from a rusted oil drum. The team had done a good job mocking up the scene. It wouldn’t be an easy test.

Zeus bumped her fist with his nose.

“Done already?”

He sat and looked up at her.

“You think you need a treat?”

She opened her hand. It was empty. He nudged the other hand. Nothing. He looked to her eyes and breathed her in. He liked this game. Snuffling over her jeans, he focused on her right pocket. His velvety snout brushed her wrists and palm. He was correct. A biscuit had been in that hand and that pocket.

He circled her legs. His nostrils flared, inhaling sharp breaths and snorting out short puffs. He was filtering all that was extrane­ous to extract the singular scent, separating the air he breathed and the cookie he wanted. He licked his nose, heightening the sensitivity of the million receptors that catalogued his world.

The conditions weren’t ideal. In this heat, his nose would dry out quickly. She lightly tapped its wetness. He expelled her scent with a breath and zeroed in on her left ankle. His tail wagged faster. His tail was incapable of lying. His nose bumped her boot top and he sat expectantly, snorting one small woof. She hoisted her pant leg. Ever so gently, his lips tickling her shin, he extracted the biscuit protruding from her hiking boot’s cuff. In one crunch, the biscuit was gone.

She looked to the assessment officer overseeing the exer­cise. It was Riley. Beside him, Heather was serving as designated note taker. His wife was still in basic training with a six-month-old Belgian Malinois that was far too much dog for her to handle. She wasn’t a strong trainer. She flustered easily and talked too much. It definitely wasn’t her calling. Unlike her husband, who was legendary in the search-and-rescue community.

Riley had a reputation for impossible finds, unwavering calm, and a relentless will. He had been a medic in Iraq until he took IED shrapnel in his chest. He had told Kate about the girl who rode on the back of her father’s bicycle and her brother who sat on the handlebars. How he gave the boy a chocolate bar and the girl a pack of gum and how shyly the little girl took it. She wore a poppy-red dress and matching velvet shawl embossed with full-blown roses stitched with golden thread. He showed the little girl how to blow a bubble. It was large and pink, and her eyes widened when it popped.

In the camouflage of night, when she couldn’t see his face, he had told her about the sound an IED makes five hundred feet away, detonating in the trunk of a car. How the pressure drops as the concussion kicks your chest, and the air is sucked from your lungs. And the silence. The depth of silence, right after, and the fall-on-your-knees beauty of white smoke against a robin’s-egg sky. He told her how hot the parts of a bicycle get when it has been incinerated . . . and the weight of what remains of a poppy-red child. He told her this as her fingers traced rose-petal scars on his bare chest. Zeus looked up the leash. He felt her tension in the line. She smiled and loosened her hold. All’s good.

She watched Riley and practised not caring. He was a good-looking man and tough. During SAR’s brutal three-day winter survival certification, he broke his ankle less than half a mile from course completion. He wanted to keep going, and she didn’t doubt he would have crawled to the finish line if they had let him. As it was, he had to run the course again the following winter. He set a new record.

Every team member was loyal to him, and every handler aspired to reach the mastery of Riley and his beloved Belgian, Annabelle. Despite the pressure to get another pup before she died, he refused. They say he was with her at the end. They don’t know he injected the needle. Kate understood why he couldn’t get another dog. He had been with Annabelle for ten years. Four years longer than his wife. She had never seen him interact with his wife’s unruly pup. Kate looked to Zeus. She couldn’t imagine bringing home another dog.

Riley’s arm shot up in the air. It was time.

She grabbed Zeus’s working vest from the truck and he fell in tight against her leg, assuming the heel position. She slipped the stiff Kevlar vest over his back and secured the straps across his belly and broad chest. She completed the task in under thirty seconds. No talking. No dallying. This was work. She strode to the edge of the field. She had trained Zeus for both tracking and air scent. He could alert for cadaver or survivor. It gave him versatility as a search-and-rescue dog. They had never failed a certification test.

Near the burn barrel, Chris and Jake were sitting at the pump truck monitoring the fire. It was twenty-eight Celsius and they were wearing black T-shirts, turnout pants, and boots. The fire boys could have been posing for a calendar. She wondered who the volunteer victim was this week. There were three other dogs run­ning. A German shepherd had already failed with an off-course. She was the only civilian without military training attempting qualifications today. Riley nodded and his arm dropped.

She leaned over and patted Zeus’s lean, muscular side.

“Find live,” she said and unleashed his lead.

Zeus bolted forward. He huffed the air, making quick tight loops over the drought-stricken grass. He swept the open field in a grid pattern. In this stagnant heat, he would be working the updrafts. She kept pace behind him. He ignored the pumper truck crew, but she noticed the bob of his nose indicating their presence and his dismissal, as though he knew it was too easy. He kept course, not slowing or veering around the billowing smoke. She tasted gasoline and wood at the back of her throat.

His head swung back and forth, his body leaned in, and his ears perked forward. His nose popped up. He was on a scent and she jogged to keep up. Her muscles responded with the easy lope of her daily two-mile runs. It was more than a scent he was follow­ing. A scent was the past, a memory. He was gathering a story assembled through pheromones, skin cells, follicles, bruised grass, snapped twigs, and the molecular compositions of man-made scents—the traces left behind.

If he were trailing an animal, he would know the species, gender, and social order, alpha or follower. He’d be able to dis­cern what paths it travelled, the food it ate, and whether it was friend, foe, or prey. Presumably, with a human he could smell the cheapness of their shoes, the sourness of their pants, the soap used, the scrape of a knee, nicotine on fingers, alcohol in pores, and the cancer in their bones. He could smell fear. And death. And weakness. He could smell narrative. She often wondered if he knew the outcome before he reached the ending.

His ears twitched and she noticed the slight rotation of his head, widening his peripheral scope. He was working the scent cone, intent on his directive to find “live.” With a sharp bark, a thrust of his nose, and a sit, he indicated the objects on the ground as possible clues. She marked a sock, a glove, a ball—his eyes watched hers: this might be something. “Good boy,” she said.

His path oscillated and the cone of his track narrowed. He zeroed in on the debris pile. Pacing the base of the massive, upturned cement blocks, he looked for a pathway up and leapt. His hind legs clawed, his hocks knocked concrete, and he scram­bled up and over. Kate’s knee clunked the ragged edge.

Zeus nimbly treaded the twisted rebar, tangled wires, and large rocks that had been heaved up onto the loose boards and ply­wood sheets. Kate noted the clothing strewn about to condition her emotional fortitude—a pink floral dress, a plaid shirt, and a baby’s shoe. Zeus hopped over slabs driving upward to the ragged peak. The structure was more solid than it appeared.

Kate was huffing. Her trail pants were damp and her long-sleeved shirt stuck to her chest. Her feet were broiling in her boots. Slung at her waist, two water bottles slapped bruises on her thigh. She smelled suntan lotion and body odour. Her lips were already dry. Zeus poked his nose into a crevice and inhaled. She watched his ears and tail. There was nothing here.

The rescue organization she got him from had named him Zeus. He was from a litter of eleven found duct-taped in a box and left in a dumpster. Three had died. He had a border-collie brain and physique but his coat had the curl and wave of a spaniel’s. He was all black. His sleek racing body and spindly legs culminated in powerful haunches and a plumed, ever-alert tail. A black dog in the afternoon sun. He was panting.

It had been her weekly routine to walk through the pens of quivering and yapping adoption candidates looking for some­thing extraordinary in their eyes. Zeus was the most inquisitive, fearless, and confident of the litter. As the staff recounted the pups’ brief, sad history, she had surreptitiously run her own tests. Tests that gauged fear, drive, aggression, intelligence, curiosity, frustration—all gently concealed in the guise of belly rubs, head pats, and her fingers dancing across the floor. Commands designed as play. When the other pups had tired of her, Zeus remained, wanting more. It had taken only three hand gestures to teach him to sit, before he offered the behaviour unasked.

That was five years ago. Together, they’d had four live finds and three cadavers. They were catching up to Riley and Annabelle’s record. Kate stumbled and grabbed for a jutting metal rod. A cold-hot sliced through her leather glove. Zeus’s head turned, but she kept moving forward.

Focus, she berated herself. Zeus trotted across a narrow plank, stopping at a fractured opening. His nostrils flared. He bowed and leaned into its space.

“Wait.”

Kneeling, she shone her flashlight into the hollow, checking the ceiling and walls for stability, and gave the all-clear. He belly-crawled down the incline. She suppressed the urge to call him back to her safety. She had raised him to be tough physically and mentally, able to withstand gruelling conditions: heat, sound, and ever-varying stimuli. It was the handlers who were the most difficult to train. Choosing to trust their own meagre senses over their dog’s acuity, thus missing obvious communications because of emotion, fear, ego, and fatigue. In the field, these mistakes could cost a life.

She kept her flashlight trained on Zeus. Several mattresses and pallets were propped against the low, bunkered walls. He paused, considering the cross breezes. Honing in on a mattress in the corner, he bowed and barked his deepest voice. Loud. Strong. Certain. A hand emerged. Zeus’s backside swayed with joy. The mattress jostled aside, and seventeen-year-old Ben’s grinning, sweat-drenched face appeared. Riley’s son from his first mar­riage. He had his father’s eyes. Kate raised her fist.

Found!

Zeus bounded up the makeshift ramp and slammed against her chest. He pranced on her lap, his hot tongue licking her cheeks. She rewarded him with his favourite toy, a ball with a tether rope. She tugged and the ball squeaked, squeaked, squeaked. She wrapped her arms around his squirming body and held on longer than he needed.

“Good boy,” she said.

She pulled off her glove. Blood seeped from her palm and dripped down her fingers. She reached for his water bottle. Only then did she feel the pinch of pain.

In her pocket, her phone vibrated. She checked the number and wondered why the hospital was calling.

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Western Alienation Merit Badge, The

Western Alienation Merit Badge, The

edition:Paperback

Set in Calgary in 1982, during the recession that arrived on the heels of Canada's National Energy Program, The Western Alienation Merit Badge follows the Murray family as they struggle with grief and find themselves on the brink of financial ruin. After the death of her stepmother, Frances "Frankie" Murray returns to Calgary to help her father, Jimmy, and her sister, Bernadette, pay the mortgage on the family home. When Robyn, a long-lost friend, becomes their house guest old tensions are reign …

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Bad Ideas

Bad Ideas

A Novel
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback Audiobook

Wildly funny and wonderfully moving, Bad Ideas is about just that — a string of bad ideas — and the absurdity of love

Trudy works nights in a linen factory, avoiding romance and sharing the care of her four-year-old niece with Trudy’s mother, Claire. Claire still pines for Trudy’s father, a St. Lawrence Seaway construction worker who left her twenty years ago. Claire believes in true love. Trudy does not. She’s keeping herself to herself. But when Jules Tremblay, aspiring daredevil, wal …

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Excerpt

Why do they do it?

 

Why do they do it? What makes them drive their fists through walls, through windows, into each other’s faces? What makes them press the burning ends of cigarettes into the backs of their hands while staring into each other’s eyes? Why do they ride wild horses, bucking bulls, motorcycles, whatever crazy, dangerous, stupid thing they can climb onto? And when they are thrown, trampled, broken to pieces, what in God’s name makes them get back on?

What makes a man imagine that he can drive a car up a ramp and fly over bales of hay, buses, creeks, canyons and forget that he will break his ankles, his ribs, puncture his lungs, bounce his brain off the inside of his cranium when he lands. If he is lucky. If his sorry life is spared one more time.

And why are these the ones? The ones making noise, wasting space. The ones that are covered in scars, that should be dead. The ones with less than half a brain inside their heads. Why are these the only ones she ever loves?

And here comes another one, sad story and all. His jeans riding so low, his T-shirt so thin, his eyes so dark. Jesus Christ. She’s a goner.

Again.

 

Because the air became water

 

That first spring evening seemed like a long time ago now. A lot can happen in seven months. A lot can fall apart. Trudy would say that it was like a scene in a movie except no movie she had ever seen was set anywhere that looked anything like Preston Mills, Ontario. Scrubby shit-town clinging to the bank of the cold grey St. Lawrence River.

Eight hundred inhabitants, one grocery store, one gas station, one corner store called Smitty’s where you could fill tiny paper bags with stale penny candy. Swedish berries, toffee nuggets, black balls, licorice nibs.

One pool hall no female would dare to enter and that hollering, fighting men tumbled out of at hourly intervals each evening.

Six churches, one of them Catholic, one evangelical – complete with snake-handlers and speakers of tongues – and four barely distinguishable flavours of Protestantism: Presbyterian, United, Lutheran, Anglican.

A mile east of town, one massive set of locks that hugetankers eased into, then were slowly lowered and released to continue along the river to the ocean.

And there was a mill, WestMark Linen Mill, that employed Trudy and her mother, Claire, as well as most of the other working adults in the town.

There must have been other mills at some point, at least one other, to justify the town’s name. Maybe a long time ago, when it was Preston Mills, the first. Because this was Preston Mills, the second. Preston Mills, the ugly.

In the 1950s the town had been taken apart and reassembled between the river and the railroad tracks when the Seaway had gone through. Highway H2O, they called it. The way of the future. Higgledy-piggledy little Preston Mills – with its winding streets and courtyards, its barns and chicken coops and crooked lanes, its docks and boathouses and pebble beaches, was taken apart and put together again in straight lines. Houses jacked up, wrenched from their foundations, lifted onto trailers behind trucks, dragged back from the water and deposited on dirt lots along a grid of new streets. Schools and churches were taken down brick by brick and built again. The scar of the old town was still there, at the bottom of the river: the streets, the sidewalks, the rectangular concrete foundations, the fence posts. A map-like outline of the whole town imprinted on the riverbed. And every day giant ships passed overhead, casting shadows over the sunken town like long, black clouds.

Graveyards were moved, too. Coffins dug up and tombstones moved to flat, treeless fields. People worried that the workers had lost track, that the bodies no longer matched the names on the stones. But how would they ever know? They wouldn’t. The empty graves were flooded along with everything else. Slowly erased by silt and stones and shells and waving fields of seaweed.

(There were still bodies under there, though. Everyone knew it. For some graves, living relatives could not be found. Or there were people who were too squeamish or too superstitious to have their loved ones disturbed. Slabs of stone were placed over the graves to ensure the coffins didn’t float up to the surface after the flood. A sad fleet of haunted little boats bobbing around here and there on the surface. Not good, thought Trudy. That would not have been good at all.)

A new, arrow-straight highway bordered Preston Mills to the north. The old highway was under water about a hundred feet from the shore. In a couple of places, it rose out of the water and dipped back in, like the humps of the Loch Ness monster. Enough grass had broken through the asphalt and grown weedy-high that the hills looked like small islands. But if you swam out to one, you could see it was a road. There was a faded yellow line down the centre and you could walk along until the road sloped back down under water. In some places you could walk for half a mile before you lost your footing and started floating above the road.

That was how Trudy had felt when she first saw him: like the ground was suddenly dropping away beneath her feet, like the air had become water and she was floating up toward the bright blue sky.

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Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club

Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club

edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
tagged : literary

February in Newfoundland is the longest month of the year.

Another blizzard is threatening to tear a strip off downtown St. John’s, while inside The Hazel restaurant a storm system of sex, betrayal, addiction, and hurt is breaking overhead. Iris, a young hostess from around the bay, is forced to pull a double despite resolving to avoid the charming chef and his wealthy restaurateur wife. Just tables over, Damian, a hungover and self-loathing server, is trying to navigate a potential punch-up w …

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Excerpt

Olive waits below the sad mural painted in memory of some long ago drowned boy.

She can see up and down Duckworth Street from her perch though there’s not much to see this early in the morning. A scattered taxi slogs by carrying fiendish-looking passengers who attempt to discreetly smoke from barely cracked windows. Discretion is a skill they have fallen out with but they don’t know that yet. They still fancy themselves stealth, piling four parka-plied humans into a single toilet stall, scarves dangling beneath the door, telling tails on them all.

Volume control is a thing of delusion in the confined spaces they inhabit. It will be years before this is fully realized by those who escape the scene or are thrown into adulthood by overdose or pregnancy. These lucky few will feel overwhelmingly, retroactively embarrassed by their one-time rock star fantasies. Olive can hear them bawling about their supposed betrayals as clouds of tobacco smoke and slurry syllables updraft skyward through the slightly parted window.

But Olive forgives them their make-believe follies.

They are no better or worse than most of the half well-off, half grown-up humans she has met. They are just flawed and vulnerable to the pitch. Olive is no different. She has chased the white dragon into smoky rooms where grad students complained about unkindly thesis feedback while wearing thousand dollar watches. A holiday-tanned winter wrist, a baggie held aloft, another Volvo fob serving key bumps round the ring. Under such circumstances, Olive is for the most part silent. She can pass for one of them until she releases language into the world.

Olive often holds her rural tongue for fear of being found out. She is not a card-carrying member of the townie majority. And rarely are there other fugitive faces for Olive to hide behind on nights when she wants to get on the go. There was a Mexican painter once. A Russian musician. There was the one Pakistani fellow whose name Olive could never recall. She did not think it was unpronounceable, she just could not pronounce it.

There are lots of words still beyond her reach.

Like Olive can think of no words to describe the pain felt where her pants nearly meet her feet. She winces and tucks her chin farther inside her coat. She tries to push her neck back to save from catching skin in the zipper. She sniffs back hard and swallows a slippery lob. Her grandmother would not approve of hoarding mucus in the body but her grandmother would not approve of much of what she does lately. Olive sighs and swells and swallows spit to slide the lob along.

Ollie my dollie, get a tissue.

Her grandmother’s voice is always a program running in the back of her mind. But Olive can’t sacrifice a tissue on mere mucus this morning. Her store of napkins is running low and the last time she tried to hock and spit the wind gust blew snot back onto her sleeve. The line of mucus running from her lips to her elbow turned her weak stomach over. A middle-aged woman in a bright blue Canada Goose coat muttered oh for the love of god as she hurried past the translucent boundary. This made Olive feel gross.

She swallows that gross feeling down again while she waits.

She can distract herself for a time from the damp soak settling in her heels by watching the craven-faced respectable people meander to their grown-up jobs after a weekend of pretending to be twenty-five. They are not twenty-five. They are not even thirty-five and feel as such. Most internally promise to stay home with the kids next weekend as they turn their faces to or from the sunshine depending on the quantity of painkillers ingested in the car. This temporary commitment to sobriety is bookended by revolving party systems.

Some relish vitamin D while others resent it.

The division will not last long, though, as the sun already has started to duck back inside the nimbostratus. It will storm again today as surely as the nearly forty will go out again in four days’ time. The babysitter will be called. The cat will be let in. They will flee their houses for a little look around.

Get the stink of house off ya.

They will reliably cloak this smell of domestication in alcohol and nicotine and self-loathing until Monday. Mondays are for quitting everything. Again. Except when it storms on Monday. Then quitting everything is pushed to Tuesday.

Today is such a Tuesday.

The weekend warriors refuse to sell out and so have fully bought in pound for pound.

Olive is just the same. She too had been sold the notion of party drugs as lazy fun and then fast gobbled them hand over fist. Swallow, snort, smoke; ingestion is an irrelevant matter of personal preference and ease. There is no wall to wall them out. Or in. Drug trends are trendingalong regardless of national media reports daily updating all on their progress east and upward. Olive has watched the same scenes play out on repeat in dark corners of the late night since arriving in Sin Jawns.

And they’ve gone and stashed the kits everywhere to protect against the siren call. A first line of defence kept behind wine bars. Under the bathroom sink. In purses. And Olive knows she must address the long list of reasons why self-medicare is needed to comfort her.

Eventually.

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Lands and Forests

Lands and Forests

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook

Escaping government-sanctioned flooding, obsessing over camera-equipped drones, violently mourning a lost brother, discovering a new passion in fencing, watching a wildfire consume a whole town: the stories in Lands and Forests survey the emotional landscapes of women and men whose lives, though rooted deeply in the land and their small communities, are still rocked by great cultural change. These are raw, honest character studies reminiscent of the work of Alexander MacLeod and Lisa Moore, but …

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