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2019 Scotiabank Giller Longlist

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tagged: 2019 prizes
Your to-be-read list will continue to grow with these amazing selections, just named to the Scotiabank Giller Longlist. This year's jury is Randy Boyagoda, Aminatta Forna, Aleksandar (Sasha) Hemon, Donna Bailey Nurse, and José Teodoro. Shortlist will be announced September 30.
Days by Moonlight

Days by Moonlight

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook Audiobook
tagged : literary

2017 Windham-Campbell Prize for fiction Winner of the 2015 Scotiabank Giller Prize Almost a year to the date of his parents' death, botanist Alfred Homer, ever hopeful and constantly surprised, is invited on a road trip by his parents' friend Professor Morgan Bruno. Professor Bruno wants company as he tries to unearth the story of the mysterious and perhaps dead poet John Skennen. But Days by Moonlight is also a journey through an underworld that looks like southern Ontario, a journey taken du …

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The Testaments

The Testaments

A Novel
edition:Hardcover
also available: Audiobook (CD)

WINNER OF THE BOOKER PRIZE
LONGLISTED FOR THE SCOTIABANK GILLER PRIZE
INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER
Margaret Atwood's dystopian masterpiece, The Handmaid's Tale, has become a modern classic—and now she brings the iconic story to a dramatic conclusion in this riveting sequel.

More than fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid's Tale, the theocratic regime of the Republic of Gilead maintains its grip on power, but there are signs it is beginning to rot from within. At this crucial moment, the …

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Immigrant City

Immigrant City

edition:Hardcover
also available: eBook Paperback

FINALIST FOR THE 2019 SCOTIABANK GILLER PRIZE

Award-winning author David Bezmozgis’s first story collection in more than a decade, hailed by the Toronto Star as “intelligent, funny, unfailingly sympathetic”

In the title story, a father and his young daughter stumble into a bizarre version of his immigrant childhood. A mysterious tech conference brings a writer to Montreal, where he discovers new designs on the past in “How It Used to Be.” A grandfather’s Yiddish letters expose a love a …

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Greenwood

Greenwood

A Novel
edition:Hardcover

LONGLISTED FOR THE 2019 SCOTIABANK GILLER PRIZE
From the award-winning author of If I Fall, If I Die comes a propulsive, multigenerational family story, in which the unexpected legacies of a remote island off the coast of British Columbia will link the fates of five people over a hundred years. Cloud Atlas meets The Overstory in this ingenious nested-ring epic set against the devastation of the natural world.

They come for the trees. It's 2038 and Jacinda (Jake) Greenwood is a storyteller and a l …

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Excerpt

2038

THE GREENWOOD ARBOREAL CATHEDRAL

They come for the trees.

To smell their needles. To caress their bark. To be regenerated in the humbling loom of their shadows. To stand mutely in their leafy churches and pray to their thousand-year-old souls. 

From the world's dust-choked cities they venture to this exclusive arboreal resort—a remote forested island off the Pacific Rim of British Columbia—to be transformed, renewed, and reconnected. To be reminded that the Earth's once-thundering green heart has not flatlined, that the soul of all living things has not come to dust and that isn't too late and that all is not lost. They come here to the Greenwood Arboreal Cathedral to ingest this outrageous lie, and it's Jake Greenwood's job as Forest Guide to spoon-feed it to them.

GOD'S MIDDLE FINGER

As first light trickles through the branches, Jake greets this morning's group of Pilgrims at the trailhead. Today, she'll lead them out among the sky-high spires of Douglas fir and Western red cedar, between granite outcrops plush with electric green moss, to the old-growth trees, where epiphany awaits. Given the forecasted rain, the dozen Pilgrims are all swaddled in complimentary Leafskin, the shimmery yet breathable new fabric that's replaced Gore-Tex, nano-engineered to mimic the way leaves bead and repel water. Though the Cathedral has issued Jake her own Leafskin jacket, she seldom wears it for fear of damaging company property; she's already deep enough in debt without having to worry about a costly replacement. Yet trudging through the drizzling rain that begins just after they set out on the trail, Jake wishes she'd made an exception today.

Despite the litre of ink-black coffee she gulped before work this morning, Jake's hung-over brain is taffy-like, and it throbs in painful synchronization with every step she takes. Though she's woefully unprepared for public speaking, once they reach the first glades of old-growth she begins her usual introduction. 

"Welcome to the beating heart of the Greenwood Arboreal Cathedral," she says in a loud, theatrical voice. "You're standing on fifty-seven square kilometres of one of the last remaining old-growth forests on Earth." Immediately, the Pilgrims brandish their phones and commence to feverishly thumb their screens. Jake never knows whether they're fact-checking her statements, posting breathless exclamations of wonder, or doing something entirely unrelated to the tour.

“These trees act like huge air filters,” she carries on. “Their needles suck up dust, hydrocarbons, and other toxic particles, and breathe out pure oxygen, rich with phytoncides, the chemicals that have been found to drop our blood pressure and slow our heart rates. Just one of these mature firs can generate the daily oxygen required by four adult humans.” On cue, the Pilgrims begin to video themselves taking deep breaths through their noses.

While Jake is free to mention the Earth’s rampant dust storms in the abstract, it’s Cathedral policy never to speak of their cause: the Great Withering—the wave of fungal blights and insect infestations that rolled over the world’s forests ten years ago, decimating hectare after hectare. The Pilgrims have come to relax and forget about the Withering, and it’s her job (and jobs, she’s aware, are currently in short supply) to ensure they do.

Following her introduction, she coaxes the Pilgrims a few miles west, into a grove of proper old-growth giants, whose trunks bulge wider than mid-sized cars. These are trees of such immensity and grandeur they seem unreal, like film props or monuments. In the presence of such giants, the Pilgrims assume hushed, reverent tones. Official Holtcorp policy is to refer to the forest as the Cathedral and its guests as Pilgrims; Knut, Greenwood Island’s most senior Forest Guide and Jake’s closest friend, claims that this is because the forest was the first (and now, perhaps, the last) church. Back when air travel didn’t command a year’s salary, Jake once visited Rome on a learning exchange and saw only curving limbs and ropy trunks in its columns and porticoes. The leafy dome of the mosque; the upward-soaring spires of the abbey; the ribbed vault of the cathedral—which faith’s sacred structures weren’t designed with trees as inspiration?

Now some of the Pilgrims actually begin to embrace the bark for long durations without irony or embarrassment. In their information packages, the Pilgrims are instructed not to approach the trees too closely, as their weight compacts the soil around the trunks and causes the roots to soak up less water. But Jake holds her tongue and watches the Pilgrims commune, photograph, and huff the chlorophyll-scrubbed air with a reverence that is part performance, part genuine appreciation, though it’s difficult for her to estimate in which proportions. Soon they barrage her with impossibly technical questions: “So how much would a thing like this weigh?” asks a short man with a Midwestern accent. “This reminds me of being a girl,” a fifty-something investment banker declares, caressing a moss-wrapped cedar.

While most of the Pilgrims seem to be tuning in to the Green magnificence, a few appear lost, underwhelmed. Jake watches the short Midwestern man place his palm against a Douglas fir’s bark, gaze up into the canopy, and attempt to feel awed. But she can sense his disappointment. Soon he and the others retreat back into their phones for the relief of distraction. This is to be expected. Even though they’ve paid the Cathedral’s hefty fees and endured the indignities of post-Withering travel, there are always a few who can’t escape the burden of how relaxed they’re supposed to be at this moment, and how dearly it’s costing them to fail.

The Pilgrims are easily mocked, but Jake also pities them. Hasn’t she remained here on Greenwood Island for the same purpose? To glean something rare and sustaining from its trees, to breathe their clean air and feel less hopeless among them? On the Mainland, the Pilgrims live in opulent, climate-controlled towers that protect them from rib retch—the new strain of tuberculosis endemic to the world’s dust-choked slums, named after the cough that snaps ribs like kindling, especially in children—yet they still arrive at the Cathedral seeking something ineffable that’s missing from their lives. They’ve read that article about the health benefits of shinrin-yoku, the Japanese term for “forest bathing.” They’ve listened to that podcast about how just a few hours spent among trees triples your creativity. So they’re here to be healed, however temporarily, and if Jake weren’t mired in student debt and hadn’t embarked on such a pitifully unmarketable career as botany, she’d gladly be one of them.

When Jake notices a patrol of Rangers creeping through some cedars in the distance, she carefully herds the Pilgrims to the picnic area for their prepared lunches, dubbed “Upscale Logging Camp” by the resort’s Michelin-starred chef. Today, it’s artisanal hot dogs with chanterelle ketchup and organic s’mores. While watching them photograph their food, Jake’s eye snags on a particular Pilgrim sitting apart from the group, wearing large sunglasses and an unfashionable cap pulled low. He’s wealthy, some Holtcorp executive or actor no doubt, though Jake would be the last person to know. Because she can’t afford a screen in her staff cabin—her student loan interest payments don’t leave her enough for internet access—she seldom recognizes the resort’s famous visitors. Still, the true celebrities can be identified by that glittery aura they exude, the sense that they’ve forged a deeper connection to the world than regular people like her.

After lunch Jake escorts the Pilgrims to the tour’s grand finale, the largest stand on Greenwood Island, where she hits them with a poetic bit she wrote and memorized years back: “Many of the Cathedral’s trees are over twelve hundred years old. That’s older than our families, older than most of our names. Older than the current forms of our governments, even older than some of our myths and ideologies.

“Like this one,” she says, patting the foot-thick bark of the island’s tallest Douglas fir, a breathtaking tree that she and Knut have secretly named “God’s Middle Finger.” “This two-hundred-and-thirty-foot titan was already a hundred and fifty feet tall when Shakespeare sat down and dipped his quill to begin writing Hamlet.” She pauses to watch a stoic solemnity grip the group. She’s laying it on thick, but her hangover has cleared and she’s finally found her rhetorical groove. And when she gets going, she wants nothing less than to wow the Pilgrims with the wonders of all creation. “Each year of its life, this tree has expanded its bark and built a new ring of cambium to encase the ring of growth that came the year before it. That’s twelve hundred layers of heartwood, enough to thrust the tree’s needled crown into the clouds.”

As she's wrapping up, a hand shoots skyward from the back of the group, upon its wrist a thick, dangly Rolex. "A question?" Jake says. 

"How much do you think one of these is worth?" the celebrity says while kneading his square chin between his finger and thumb. "One tree. Ballpark." 

Normally, she'd shimmy out of answering a question of such crudely capitalistic inanity. But coming from that face, from behind those regimentally straight teeth that resemble actual pearls, it nearly sounds witty.

"Oh, I really couldn't say, sir," she says in a serious tone. "These trees are fully protected by Holtcorp's strict preservation—"

"Just toss out a number," he persists.

As a Forest Guide, Jake is routinely advised against making prolonged eye contact with Pilgrims, to avoid interfering with their epiphanies—but she now boldly peers into the greenish depths of the man's expensive sunglasses. "It depends," she says.

"On what?" 

"On who's buying. Now are there any other questions?" 

"You want a photo?" the celebrity asks her just before they start back. He says it like he's offering an object of great value. She nods and he stands abreast with her directly in front of God's Middle Finger, aiming his phone with a hooked wrist, kinking his neck into the frame. He doesn't know that appearing in photos and selfies are indignities that Forest Guides are contractually obligated to suffer—they're certainly Jake's least favourite part of the job. To think of all the photos she's haunted in her nine years here, a sedately smiling extra, briefly appearing in the brilliant, globe-trotting lives of others. 

"What's your name?" the celebrity says, thumbing the screen afterwards. "I'll tag it." 

Only because she's required to, she tells him. 

His eyebrows crest from beneath the rim of his sunglasses. "Any relation?" he says, doing a finger twirl, meaning: to all this?

Jake shakes her head. "My family are gone," she says. "And even when they were alive, they weren't the island-owning type." 

"Sorry," he says, wincing.

"It's fine," she says, forcing a smile. "But we ought to be getting back." 

Just as the group rejoins the path, Jake notices that some patches of needles high up on the east-facing side of the old-growth firs have browned. Odd, especially at this time of year. She calls a premature water break and picks her way back through the waxy salal underbrush while scanning the canopy. The Pilgrims wait at the trail, tapping the toes of their Leafskin hiking boots, eager for the private luxuries of their solar-powered Villas, which are in fact secretly grid-connected, because the primeval canopy allows only enough actual sunlight to power a two-slice toaster or to charge their phones, not both. 

Upon closer examination, Jake discovers two firs, both directly adjacent to God's Middle Finger, whose needles have rusted to a stricken, cinnamon tinge. And down near the soil, she notes that a few sections of their thick, cement-grey bark have gone soggy. A tree’s bark performs the same function our skin does: it keeps intruders out and nutrients in—so any weakening of the bark does not bode well for the tree’s long-term survival. With her heart banging behind her ribs, Jake scrutinizes the soggy tissue as though she’s peering out a car window at a roadside accident—with curiosity and horror, compassion and revulsion—but the bark seems to be intact, and there’s no sign of hostile insects or fungal intrusion. Somewhat satisfied, she takes one last look before hurrying back to the impatient Pilgrims.

To afford her some time to think during the hike back to the Villas, Jake omits her usual speech about the important riparian area that hydrates the forest. It was only two, she reassures herself. There were no bugs or funguses, and the surrounding soil looked damp and well aerated, so perhaps the two trees are an anomaly. If they are in fact diseased, it’s something she’s never observed on the island before.

As a dendrologist—a botanist specializing in trees—Jake knows that many tree species suffered catastrophic die-offs long before the Great Withering struck: the American chestnut in the 1900s, the Dutch elm in the 1960s, and the European ash in the 2000s. Insects, funguses, cankers, blights, and rusts: the enemies of trees are many, and include supervillains such as the emerald ash borer, the Asian long-horned beetle, the dreaded fungus Chalara. But no single organism is responsible for the Withering, and most scientists (including Jake) attribute it to the climate zones changing faster than the trees could adapt, which weakened their ability to defend themselves against invaders. Though formal research has surely been done, somewhere, scientists are no longer freely sharing their findings since the rise of environmental nationalism and the end of the free internet. Jake’s personal hypothesis is that Greenwood Island’s local microclimate somehow manages to regulate itself, which allows it to remain hospitable to its trees.

But could it be that whatever has protected the Cathedral for so long has now shifted, leaving its trees newly vulnerable to pathogens and intruders? But why would the Great Withering strike now, after all this time? It’s more likely something abiotic and noncontagious, Jake tells herself. A nitrogen shortage or a sunscald. Or a good old-fashioned drought-induced flagging. Or perhaps the two firs have simply grown old and, after living in tandem for a millennium, feeding one another through their mycelial networks and conversing through their scent compounds, their plan is to meet their end together, like a couple married for fifty years who die just days apart.

What I really need is a drink, Jake realizes later, while walking to the staff dining yurt after concluding her final tour of the day. But a drink might tempt her to tell Knut about her discovery. Knut’s botanical knowledge is vast, but she can’t be certain whether he’d help her diagnose the two ailing trees—recording rainfall and gathering soil and tissue samples to examine under a microscope—or whether he might do something drastic. Though he’s brilliant, there’s always been a precariousness to Knut’s sanity, a by-product of a green romanticism that Jake fears can’t possibly survive the real world’s serial letdowns.

And if the Rangers are now patrolling the old-growth in plain sight of the Pilgrims, then management is clearly already on edge. If they found out about the browning they might do something stupid, like spray the entire island with untested fungicides, or cut their losses and relocate the resort to another of the last scraps of heritage forest that remain—most of them also in Canada, with sprinklings in Russia, Brazil, and Tasmania, the majority on small islands.

For now, Jake decides, the pair of sick firs will remain her secret. The Rangers are private soldiers with no scientific expertise, so they won’t notice the browned needles. And since the other Forest Guides have prescribed routes and only Jake’s loops around to the east of God’s Middle Finger, there’s little chance they will see them either. Jake knows that Knut often sneaks into the old-growth during his spare time, so he might spot the damage—but his eyes are going, and it isn’t likely he could make out needles that high up. Besides, the soggy bark is impossible to see if you aren’t expressly looking for it.

So she has time. She only hopes it’s not already too late.

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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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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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The Innocents

The Innocents

edition:Hardcover

**FINALIST FOR THE 2019 SCOTIABANK GILLER PRIZE**
**FINALIST FOR THE 2019 GOVERNOR GENERAL'S LITERARY AWARD**
**FINALIST FOR THE 2019 ROGERS WRITERS' TRUST FICTION PRIZE**
**NATIONAL BESTSELLER**
Crummey's novel has the capacity to change the way the reader sees the world—Scotiabank Giller Prize Jury Citation 
From bestselling, award-winning author Michael Crummey comes a sweeping, heart-wrenching, deeply immersive novel about a brother and sister alone in a small world.

A brother and sister …

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The Driven Snow.
 
They were still youngsters that winter. They lost their baby sister before the first snowfall. Their mother laid the infant in a shallow trough beside the only other grave in the cove and she sang the lullaby she’d sung all her children to sleep with, which was as much as they had to offer of ceremony. The woman was deathly sick herself by then, coughing up clots of blood into her hands.
     The ground was frozen solid when she died and even if their father had been well enough to shovel there was no digging a grave for her. He and Evered shifted the covering of reeds and alders away from the overturned boat and hauled it down to the landwash before they carried the corpse from the house. They set it in the boat along with half a dozen stones scavenged along the shore. Their father slumped against the gunwale to catch his breath.
     “Will I come out with you?” Evered asked.
     He shook his head. “You stay with your sister,” he said.
     The two youngsters watched him row away from shore and out beyond the shoal water with his dead wife. They saw him leaning below the gunwales for what seemed a long time, his head and shoulders bobbing up now and then. He was working at something awkward and unpleasant it seemed though neither could guess what it was. They watched him wrestling the weight of the corpse with his back to the shore. He was far enough off they couldn’t see that their mother was naked when she was tipped into the black of the winter ocean.
     Their father tried to hand the clothes to his daughter when he rowed in but Ada held her hands behind her back and shook her head fiercely.
     “You’ll have need of these,” their father said. “Now the once.”
     Evered took them, folding the limp fabric against his stomach. The sour smell of a long illness and of his mother which he couldn’t separate in his head. “I’ll set them by for her,” he said.
     Their father nodded. He was too exhausted to climb from the boat and he sat there a long while. A dwy of snow had blown in across the bay and it turned the hair of his bowed head white as they waited.
 

 
Their father died in his bed before the new year.
     Without speaking of it they acted as if he was only asleep and they left him lying there for the better part of a week. Hoping he might wake up coughing in the middle of the night, complaining about the cold or asking after a drink of water. During the day they dawdled about in the store and spent as much time outside as they could stand, cleaving and stacking wood or hauling buckets of water from the brook, picking along the landwash for gull feathers and mussel shells and wish rocks to add to Ada’s collection. Inside they tended the fireplace and drank their bare-legged tea and spoke in whispers so as not to disturb the man.
     On the fifth night of the vigil Ada woke from a dream of her parents. They were standing back on, holding hands and looking at her over their shoulders. Her mother was naked and soaking wet, her hair streaming water.
     “What is it you’re bawling over, Sister?” Evered asked. “He can’t stay,” she whispered.
     “Don’t be talking foolishness.”
     “He can’t stay there like that, Brother.”
     And he set to bawling with her then, the two helpless youngsters holding on to one another in the pitch.
     Before it was properly light he pulled back the one ragged blanket and hauled his father’s body to the floor. The heels smacking like mallets against the frozen ground. His sister moved to pick up her father’s legs but Evered wouldn’t allow it. The man of the house suddenly. “You sit there,” he said. “Until I gets back.”
     He gripped the shoulders of his father’s shirt. He expected it to feel like hauling a seine of fish but there was a rigidness to the corpse that made it surprisingly easy to drag through the door- way. Only once on the way down to the water was he forced to stop to catch his breath and shake the numbness from his hands.
     He rowed out to the deeps beyond the shoal grounds, as close to the same spot as he could guess judging by his distance from the shore. Their parents might be together down there was his thought or within sight of one another at least, though he knew nothing below the ocean surface sat still for long. He tried to strip off the man’s clothes for practical reasons but his father’s eyes were half-open and he lost his nerve for meddling.
     Before pushing off the beach he’d gathered a length of old netting and enough stones to keep the body under and he tied that improvised anchor around his father’s waist. The day was still and cold, the ocean flat calm. He did not want to watch once the body slapped into the water and the rocks were hefted over the gunwale to take it down. But he couldn’t make himself look away from that descent until long after his father had passed out of sight and into the black.
 

 
He stared out at the spot where the man sank from view as he rowed in through the skerries. His teeth chattering helplessly, his mind swimming. Even after the keel brought up in the shallows he kept rowing at the water like a headless chicken strutting around the chopping block. He didn’t stop until Ada called his name behind him.
     “I told you to wait where you was till I come back,” he said, trying to set the oars and find his feet.
     “I was watching for you heading in,” she said.
     He stumbled as he climbed over the gunwale, his face like chalk. “I needs to lie down for a bit,” he said.
     Ada did her best to haul the boat out of reach of the tide, calling after her brother as he staggered up the path to the tilt. By the time she came into the room he was already asleep in their bed. He slept so long and in such a stillness that Ada considered he might have died on her as well. She sat across the room until dark and then climbed into her parents’ bed where she lay whispering to her dead sister to keep herself company.
     Evered didn’t wake until late the following morning. He sat bolt upright in the bed and seemed not to know where he was before he caught sight of her. She stared at him a long time without speaking.
     “What is it, Sister?” he said.
     She pointed then and he reached up to touch his crown. “Your hair,” she said.
     She thought of their father’s bowed head in the boat after he had committed their mother to the ocean’s deep, the drift that had settled on it like a veil.
     “What about me hair?”
     “It’s gone all white,” she said.
     As the driven snow, their mother would have said of it.
 

 
They were left together in the cove then with its dirt-floored stud tilt, with its garden of root vegetables and its scatter of outbuildings, with its looming circle of hills and rattling brook and its view of the ocean’s grey expanse beyond the harbour skerries. The cove was the heart and sum of all creation in their eyes and they were alone there with the little knowledge of the world passed on haphazard and gleaned by chance.
 
- The ocean and the firmament and the sum of God’s stars were created in seven days.
- Sun hounds prophesy coarse weather.
- The death of a horse is the life of a crow.
- You were never to sleep before the fire was douted.
- The winter’s flour and salt pork had to last till the first seals came in on the ice in March month.
- The dead reside in heaven and heaven sits among the stars.
- Nothing below the ocean’s surface lies still.
- Idleness is the root of all troubles.
- Their baby sister died an innocent and sits at God’s right hand and hears their prayers.
- Any creature on the earth or in the sea could be killed and eaten.
- A body must bear what can’t be helped.

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Dream Sequence

Dream Sequence

edition:Paperback

NOMINATED FOR THE 2019 SCOTIABANK GILLER PRIZE

A CBC DAY 6 MUST-READ BOOK FOR SUMMER

A 49TH SHELF EDITOR'S PICK

Henry Banks, star of the UK’s most popular television series, has higher aspirations, ones befitting of his talent: a serious film career, beginning with a role in a brilliant Spanish director’s next movie. To make the jump to the big screen, he’ll have to remake himself in more than one way. But as he runs his morning miles and scrutinizes his changing physique in the mirror, he d …

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Excerpt from Dream Sequence

The beautiful house was empty. Kristin watched from the front window as her sister climbed into her snow-spattered car and drove away, shuttling from one set of worries – Kristin – to another – the noisy, complicated, enviably involving struggles of her family life.

Suzanne had left behind a liveliness in the air through which she had moved and talked. Kristin walked back to the kitchen where there were syrupy breakfast plates to clear. She transferred them to the small dishwasher and sucked her sweetened thumbs. Diversify, Suzanne had said. Find some other activities and interests. She used a clear, careful voice with Kristin at the moment, stripped of challenge and controversy. In Kristin’s mind Suzanne’s broad, freckled face still hovered, neutral and patient, ready for her reaction. I understand you not getting a job for a while if you don’t have to. You’re in a great situation, when you think about it. Perfect fresh start time. Craig thinks … Kristin didn’t care what Craig thought. Craig was entirely unsympathetic. Craig was most of the problems Suzanne was now shuttling towards in her rattling Kia on the road back to Pottstown. Craig thought that Kristin had got it made: married to her boss, divorced by her boss and now entitled by law to the lifestyle to which she had become accustomed. You won the Rollover, he liked to say straight to her face and smiling, as though she wouldn’t hear the dirty joke he was pretending he hadn’t made. Craig was the sort of dumb and nasty that thinks it’s smart. Often, when Suzanne’s back was turned, he looked at Kristin, just looked at her for as long as he felt like it, smoking and thinking things.

Kristin was upstairs now, deciding whether she needed to change the sheets of the bed where Suzanne had slept. Kristin lowered her nose to the creased fabric and thought not, catching only a sharpness of lavender. She removed a long curving hair from the pillow and tugged everything straight. Kristin had painted the upper rooms of the house in colours she had seen on The Grange, a British TV programme that had in the most extraordinary way become a very important part of her life. In the show, the walls of the rooms where the wealthy family lived were painted in rich and sombre colours she didn’t like but the servants’ rooms downstairs had lovely colours that she spent many hours with swatch books seeking to match. Blues and greens that were spacious and honest, that had a dignity and sadness that were ideal as the containers of her new, ruined life. Not that Kristin spent much time in the upper rooms. The bedding in this one was white, voluminous, heavy, and made soft crunching sounds as she rearranged it. All neat again. A border of broderie anglaise, an intricate pattern of holes, ran across the top of the comforter.

Kristin had with great care and attention to detail redecorated her marriage away. Everything was now to her taste and signified her ownership of this desirable rowhouse. Removing all traces of Ron had been a relief but changing her stepsons’ rooms was painful. They had only been there for the odd weekends that Ron had them but Kristin had always loved that rushing influx of youth and energy, even if, except for the youngest, Lionel, they had not liked her back. Beautiful little Lion. The older boys would glare or speak in grudging single words while staring at their devices, but Lion recognised her kindness, her eagerness, and needed it, coming slowly closer and closer. Now she had removed the clutter and colourful walls of childhood and replaced them with tasteful, impeccable adulthood. Sometimes she regretted it.

Kristin decided to go to yoga. That was another activity and interest. Suzanne didn’t even know. Kristin went to the room with her wardrobe and changed from pyjamas into the soft second skin of her exercise clothes. Over them, she put on her long quilted coat and collected her mat and bag.

When she went to the front door, she found mail lying there, one piece, for Ron: a catalogue for a clothing company that he had never got round to cancelling. Kristin knew it well, mature men in outdoor wear posing in landscapes, fishing, striding, drinking out of enamel mugs with their shirtsleeves rolled. It would go straight into the trash. She was not his PA any more. It was maddening that she still had to deal with these things. Kristin pulled at it to tear it in half but it was too thick. The pages just twisted in her hands. The whole Ron situation had begun with tasks performed for him, note taking and letter writing and appointments in his diary and travel bookings and gifts for his wife and children. When he formed his own company, she went with him. Those morning drives away from traffic out of Philly into greenness and landscape and his big house near Valley Forge, the crackling sweep of his gravel driveway, that long wrong turning in her life. He was still there, with a new wife now, his third. And Kristin was alone. Almost alone.

Kristin liked walking along with the rolled mat poking out of her tote bag. The spiral of foam was a recognised thing. People knew what it was and saw her walking brightly along, supple and sensitive and responsible. The walk was twenty minutes of mostly straight, harsh road but she liked to do it. Almost no one walked but she did. Kristin was in tune with a different time, historical and civil, walking in the salted channels between crusts of snow with the quick chirping British voices of The Grange talking in her head. Kristin admired good penmanship too and handwrote her letters to Henry Banks in navy ink. She tried to make them so beautiful and neat that they looked like you could put the pages upright on a stand and play them on a piano. She put on her hat and gloves and went out.

Henry. Henry was everywhere and nowhere, shaping everything. He was the key signature in which the music of her life was played.

The cold air was rough and quick, the light under grey clouds a thickened white. Unseasonable weather. They were barely into fall and this snow had come suddenly swinging down from the north, flinging whiteness. Kristin liked it, the thrill of this unexpected change. She walked with poise and purpose, her yoga mat protruding from her bag.

Behind the front desk at the yoga centre, the girl’s familiar face looked strongly exposed, floating in front of the cabinet of t-shirts and water bottles, smiling Buddhas and detoxing teas, as though it had been cropped out of a different photograph. ‘Wow,’ Kristin said. ‘I like the hair.’

‘Oh, thank you,’ said the girl, lengthening her neck with a slight inclination of her head as though the hairdresser were still circling her with a mirror to show her all the angles.

‘Dramatic,’ Kristin said and the girl looked directly at her. ‘It’s great,’ Kristin repeated.

‘I thought, you know, this could work for me.’

‘Oh, it works. Maybe I should take the plunge instead of.’ Kristin took hold of her braided ponytail and lifted it up to the side, demonstrating its weary familiarity. ‘You have to invite change, don’t you? Step into the new. Where did you get yours done?’

The receptionist hesitated. ‘Where did I get it cut?’ she asked.

‘Yes,’ Kristin read her name tag, ‘Layla. Where did you go?’

‘Well.’

‘It’s okay. You don’t have to tell me.’

‘No, no. I was.’

‘It’s fine. I understand. We can’t all have it done. I probably don’t want it anyway.’

‘It was at Salon Masaya, on Frankford Ave. You have such beautiful thick hair is all. And along with those bangs, so cute.’

‘I know. I’m a lucky person,’ Kristin said. ‘In a lot of ways.’

Kristin pushed through the double doors, splitting the lotus flower logo painted on them, and left Layla behind as the doors swung back together. Now, having entered the sanctuary, from small speakers overhead came the sound of flowing water, encouraging a peace of mind that had not been achieved by the small dog shifting from foot to foot outside the main practice room. Laurie was taking the class. Kristin didn’t think that Laurie should bring her pug with her, though everyone fussed over it and knew its name, Jasmine. The pug was adorable but unfairly so, because of its indignities, its crushed bulging features, wet and black, its short scraping breaths and urgent, inept waddle. Kristin scratched its furrowed scalp and pulled a velvet ear through her fingers before she went in. Hard to know if Jasmine even noticed. It reacted only to the opening door and shuttled forwards. Kristin kept it back with a raised foot and shut the door.

‘Poor thing wants her mommy.’

Kristin turned to see the man who’d made this comment, tall and soft in the middle, a dark bulb of hair, smiling. Around him, four women were readying themselves in different areas of the room.

‘But if I let her in,’ Laurie said, ‘she’d be licking at your faces and blowing her breath over you and you wouldn’t want that.’

‘No, probably not.’

Laurie stood on large livid feet, shaking her long fingers loose. Her flesh had been subdued with years of practice. Her belly lay meek and flat behind jutting hipbones. Hair scraped back, skin clear as rainwater, she smiled generally into the room, a kind of facial hold music, while Kristin deposited her bag and coat and unrolled her mat in a space between the others.

‘Okay, okay, yogis,’ Laurie said. ‘Somehow it’s wintertime already but there is still a sun behind those clouds to salute, so.’ She stretched up and poured herself down into the first asana. The others followed, growing upwards, folding in half.

Kristin stretched and breathed through the hour, seeing the room in different perspectives, the wrinkled cloth at her knees, her red and white fingers on her mat. Periodically, Jasmine scratched at the door. Kristin looked through the hoop of herself and saw the others in similar knots and star shapes. She felt vibrant with exertion, her heart beating heavily, sweat in her hair. Henry, the things I do for you.

Afterwards, they lay in corpse pose and the lights and shabby ceiling tiles drifted like clouds overhead. Kristin liked lying in corpse pose, at the bottom of things, her bones resting on the floor, like she’d sunk to the bottom of the ocean, discarded. Dying and dying and dying. The relief of a final state.

As she sometimes did, Laurie decided to share an inspirational thought to close the class. ‘It is suddenly cold and dark,’ she said, her voice deeper and slower after the hour’s yoga. ‘It feels like the end of the year, like we’re all about to hibernate. But you ask a naturopath, or a farmer, or anyone who really understands natural cycles, and they’ll tell you this is the beginning. The seeds are falling into the earth and will start germinating now, under the snow, underground. New futures are growing, new possibilities. So while you lie there at rest at the end of our cycle of activity, think of yourself as a germinating seed about to get up and walk into your future.’

Oh it was wonderful how if you were open the world told you what you needed to hear which was what you already knew. Kristin was alive with her very particular future. Suzanne had no need to worry. It would happen. The connection was made. Kristin had been reborn before, when she had met her twin soul, Henry Banks, by chance, on her way down to the Virgin Islands for a vacation. She remembered so well the strange dazzling period of realisation that the whole world had changed, down in the blue Caribbean. There was that butterfly that flew into her room and stayed there for several days, its unbelievable colours dancing and gliding. When it settled on her bedspread or curtains she could see the crystalline pattern of its wings, bars of glowing green, dots of yellow, its round, alien eyes and sensitive antennae. You can see the whole universe in a butterfly if you really look, its intricate, perfect machine. It was a sign. That was obvious. It bounced up. It sailed in curves. The butterfly had come to tell her that everything was going to be all right.

After Laurie rang the bell that marked the end of the session, Kristin was the first to leave, her warmth sealed inside her coat. She allowed Jasmine with great relief to scuttle in through the opened door.

During the class more snow had fallen. Kristin walked quickly home into a fresh, speeding wind. Cars thrashed wetly past. On the corner at a cross street the wind whisked up the surface snow and spun it in a little tornado and stopped and did it again. The wind must always spin like that, Kristin suddenly understood, only now it was visible. The snow illustrated the wind and Kristin, noticing, had a little bit more of the secrets of the world revealed to her, things you can’t see but are as true as true. The world is a magical place.

At home, she showered and washed her hair. On the edge of her bed, she bowed into the blast of the hairdryer. From the kitchen, she collected some crackers and baby carrots and dip and took them down to the den. The den was the part of the house where she was most comfortable, warm and half-underground, the snow blue against the glass of the windows. The rest of the house, perfected and separate, hovered overhead. She turned on the TV. If she didn’t turn on the TV the silence could accumulate. Amazing how the silence could gather and get louder and louder and seem almost to be about to explode, like a faulty boiler shaking its pipes. It could give her pressure headaches. The TV kept it at bay. She settled on the sofa. Her hair was fragrant and light and voluminous. Before she started the TVO of The Grange she had her alerts to check on her iPad. Nothing new had come up for Henry’s name on Google. She checked Twitter for mentions. Something in a language she didn’t understand which when translated was just about the show going out that night in their country. In a way, it was a relief to search around and find nothing. The searching was stressful, unpredictable, thrilling sometimes, making her heart jolt with a new photograph or a new lie about his personal life. And there were so many people with stupid opinions, people who had never even met him who thought they knew something about him. Less of this now that the final season of The Grange had been aired with a frightening flurry of coverage. Sometimes she wished the whole online world didn’t exist to confuse her connection with Henry. Once it had all been so simple. He’d held her hand. One day he would again.

She set the iPad down, next to Spiderman. Spiderman lay on the sofa beside her, small and plastic, his stiff arms and legs raised as if for action, holding a stomach crunch position. Lion, little Lionel who loved her, had given her Spiderman one day without telling her. And Spiderman had become a crucial part of the story. It all added up. Kristin picked up the remote and flipped on an old episode. When Henry appeared, she thought she would tell him about the wind and the snow and about what Laurie had said about seeds in winter in her next letter. She would start on it later. Letters flew past all that electronic noise and went right to his hands. Henry’s movements on the screen, his expressions, the exhilarating moments of his smiles, his emotions, the dialogue in that beautiful accent that she could speak along with – it was all a timeless connection. She ate and she watched all the precise little moments, her mind fully fastened to them. She could stay like this until the daylight darkened and the neighbours’ cars, returning from work, passed like aeroplanes overhead.

*

The hunger was beginning to hurt. Three days of grinding emptiness, of heat and sudden flutterings in the left side of his body. The relief of small meals in the evenings, monkish bowls of rice and green vegetables that he perceived so sharply, his senses attuned to the rising steam, the warmth and aroma. And afterwards the velvety sensation of being fed that allowed him to fall asleep. In the morning he was hungry again. It was working. It was worth doing. He was becoming what he needed to be, to convince García who, finally, was in London to see him. But it would be a mistake to fast today. He needed energy. He went to his kitchen and ate a banana and two large handfuls of nuts, enough food to relax and feel well but not enough to dull his sharpness. He ate and hummed to himself.

He dressed. He ran his hands down the smoothness of his abdomen. His body was tight. His trousers hung from his hipbones. He chose a khaki linen shirt with button-down pockets that he thought had the right sort of feel: serious, adaptable, with connotations of the military and the desert. Henry checked how he looked in the mirror.

Henry’s face was something everybody had to deal with, to assimilate and get over, even Henry. When Henry caught sight of his face he often felt as though he were arriving late at something already happening. His face looked so finished and authoritative. He had the approved lines, the symmetry; he looked how a man should look. His handsomeness could be a shock, as much for him as for others who sometimes also had to process their recognition of him, their sensation of an untethered and inexplicable intimacy. Occasionally Henry thought that it would be nice, warm and relaxed and human, to be a little ugly, to have a face that showed personality in pouches under the eyes or a large, soft mouth, the face of a character actor, expressing suffering and humour. His own good looks were bland, Henry thought, mainstream, televisual. Hunger seemed to be improving it, its calm masculinity now fretted with sharpness and shadows. Henry had observed long ago that cinematic faces were not normally attractive, not attractive in a normal way. They did not belong on Sunday evening television or in clothing catalogues or any realm of the conventional ideals. The truly cinematic actors, that is. Look at Joaquin Phoenix with his dark stare and scarred mouth or Meryl Streep’s long thin nose and subtle, not quite sensual mouth, her large and frightening eyes, her affronting vulnerability. All of them, when you thought about it: Christopher Walken, Jack Nicholson. Bogart and Hoffman and Day-Lewis. Of course the actresses tended to be more straightforwardly beautiful but then overwhelmingly so. Think of the wide landscape of Julia Roberts’s smile, an American landscape, honest, expansive, full of hope. No, up until now, Henry’s face had been of the reassuring kind that made for success on TV. It had lacked the strangeness and astringency that made for cinema. But now, perhaps, it was coming, with age, with hunger. He observed himself in the mirror. He said, ‘Ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba. Pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa. Red lorry. Yellow lorry. Red lorry. Yellow lorry. How are you today? I’m fine, sir. How are you today?’

He checked his phone to see if his taxi had arrived. It hadn’t. He stepped out onto his balcony to smoke a cigarette, cupping the lighter flame from the blustery river air. A whirring sound: straight and fast, a cormorant flew low over the water. He should be looking at his pages again. He threw the cigarette away and went in.

He picked up the pages and glanced at them, reminding himself. He bounced up and down on the balls of his feet, swinging his arms. ‘Ba-ba-ba-ba-ba,’ he said. ‘Pa-pa-pa-pa-pa. You can’t just walk in here whenever you like. You just can’t.’

His phone chimed. The taxi was outside. According to the text, Omar was driving. Henry had booked a taxi because he wanted safety between his flat and Soho, a protected preparatory calm. The bike ride was too long, too raw, too sweaty, and he almost never used public transport now. You never knew what might happen. He put the pages in his satchel. He paused in the centre of the room to practise a facial expression, the animation of a friendly and relaxed greeting. He dropped the expression from his face. He bounced again on his feet then walked on. Locking the front door behind him, he immediately missed the safety of his flat. It would be there to receive him again, to hide him, after whatever it was that happened later in the day.

On the shelf by the exit door he had post. Two letters. He put them into his satchel and stepped outside.

The taxi was a large black people carrier with tinted windows. Inside, he said to the neck in front of him, to the bejewelled hand on the gear stick, ‘Hi, Omar. You know where we’re going?’

‘Got the address here. Greek Street.’

‘That’s the one.’

Not wishing to talk any more, Henry pushed his headphones into his ears and put on his pre-meeting music. Years ago at university, as a music scholar, a member of his college choir, he had sung Renaissance polyphony. A sense of competence and self-confidence suffused him when he heard it now. The plainchant of the opening statement, low and horizontal, was followed by the higher voices joining one after the other, merging, ascending, passing one another, opening a great fan of sound. Calm and ethereal, a translucent grid laid over his view of Docklands, of Limehouse and east London passing outside his window. He hummed along with Palestrina’s tenor line. In the comfortable hollow of his leather seat, he watched the people outside, the Muslims with waistcoats and hennaed beards, the young mothers, the hipsters of Whitechapel over time giving way to the suited office types of Gray’s Inn and Holborn: London’s surplus of faces, of human versions, every permutation, all preoccupied, unconscious, milling towards something. At traffic lights the taxi slowed for him to observe a man on a corner holding a phone to his ear and eating an apple, delicately picking with his teeth at the remaining edible flesh by the core. A cyclist shuttled past his window. All these people, blind to his presence behind darkened glass. They would be interested in him, most of them. Their expressions would change. The taxi progressed in halts and short surges into Soho. Henry checked his watch. Good, he wasn’t too early. He plucked the flowing harmonies from his ears, paid Omar and stepped briefly into the movement of the street. Keeping his head low, hunched forwards, he walked to a discreet glass door with gold lettering and pressed the buzzer. There was no voice but the door buzzed. Henry pushed it open. He was met by a young man of the assistant type descending the stairs, what Henry’s friend Lucas had once referred to as ‘one of those little shits with the hair’. On his t-shirt, much more striking than his actual face, was a very realistic drawing of a gorilla wearing large headphones. He had a pen in his mouth which he removed to say, ‘Hi, it’s Henry, isn’t it?’ as if he didn’t know. ‘Come on up’, as if he owned the place. The guy put the pen back in his mouth and headed up the stairs. Henry followed. At the top, Henry was met by Sally, the casting director, a quiet, tightly organised woman, a great encyclopaedist of talent, and one of the most important people in the business. Often it was those people who seemed the least artistic, like they could work happily in any other business. They spoke in the universal language of professionalism, not one that Henry had been obliged particularly to learn. Sally Lindholm could just as easily have run a government department.

‘Henry, how nice to see you. Thank you for coming in. How are you?’

Thank you for coming in. The pretence that this was an equal relationship was something that Henry was used to ignoring. The answer to the question how are you was always to be kept brief. Genuine as her friendliness may be, Henry knew not to talk with any unnecessary personal detail. The space accorded for his response was like a box on a form to be filled out. It could only contain so much. ‘I’m good, I’m good,’ he answered.

‘You’re looking well,’ Sally said. Her friendliness was real enough. It was other people’s – actors’ – responses to her that couldn’t be trusted. They were always straining, eager, beaming, and Sally was like royalty, accepting this as normal, possibly at this point unable to tell the difference between the acting and the real thing, or not caring. ‘We’re ready to go, I think,’ she said.

‘Oh, really? No waiting area? No fellow actors I have to pretend I’m happy to see?’

She laughed. ‘Not today. You’re spared. Shall we go in?’

‘Sure. I’m excited to meet the man himself.’

‘Of course. Do you need anything? Water?’

‘Just some water would be great.’

‘Okay. Seb, could you bring some water for Henry?’

The assistant swept the upper mass of his hair from one side of his head to the other. ‘I’m on it,’ he said.

Henry animated his face with warm greeting as he entered the room but he had to wait. García was watching some footage on a laptop. A large man, his folded arms rested on his gut. Sitting low in his chair, his face was sunk down into his beard. He held up one hand to stay Henry and Sally then decisively slapped the spacebar.

‘Okay, okay,’ he said. ‘Please.’ He gestured at the seat in the middle of the room facing a camera.

‘You are Henry.’

 

‘I am.’

‘So, I’ve seen your work. I’ve seen you on tape. All very nice.’

Henry dropped his satchel by the door and sat down, leaning forward towards García, his forearms on his knees. ‘And I’ve seen yours, of course. Sueños Locos. The Path to Destruction. The Violet Hour. Bricks. I mean, those are … They mean a lot to me, those films. It’s an honour to meet you.’

‘Okay, okay,’ García exhaled through wide nostrils and shunted his glasses back up his nose.

Seb swooped down at Henry’s feet then backed away. Henry glanced down and saw a bottle of mineral water. Seb settled himself in a seat beside the camera. García said, ‘So, Mike. You like this character?’

‘I don’t know about “like”. I think I understand him. I feel him.’

‘You think you are like him?’

‘Sure. I know where he’s coming from, that commitment, that anger. We all are to some extent. That’s the genius of it.’

García didn’t smile or response. He hit the centre of his glasses again. ‘So we will read a little bit.’

Sally said, ‘You’ve got the pages, haven’t you?’

‘Yep.’ Henry raised an arm to indicate his bag. ‘But I shouldn’t need them. I’m off book.’

‘Excellent. Seb, ready to go?’

‘Just one …’ He pressed a couple of buttons. A small staring red light appeared on the camera. He gave a thumbs-up.

Henry dropped his head down onto his chest, disconnecting, becoming the other thing. He lifted his face. It was tighter, slightly stricken, his gaze significant.

‘Julia?’ he said.

García, an unlikely Julia, gruff and heavily accented, said, ‘Hey, Mike.’

‘Julia, you can’t just walk in here like this.’

‘The door was open.’

‘What does that mean? You walk through every open door you see?’

‘Jesus, Mike. I was just passing and I came in to see.’

‘You can’t do that, Julia. You can’t. You can’t. I’m just getting things, you know, clear here.’

‘Okay,’ García interrupted. ‘Leave it there.’

‘Sure.’ Henry drained back into himself. Uncomfortable, he reached down for the water bottle and twisted the top but didn’t yet drink.

‘That first “Julia”,’ García said. ‘It can be softer.’

‘Okay.’

‘And you know he is saying the opposite of what he wants. He isn’t sleeping. He isn’t eating. The war is in his head all the time. He knows he’s in trouble. He wants Julia to come in. You have to say, “You can’t just walk in.” Underneath it’s, “You have to come in. Please.”’

‘That’s what I thought.’

‘And “What does that mean?” That line, he’s thinking about meaning, he’s thinking in a different way, very fast, very conceptual.’

‘He’s like on a whole other level. He’s like, yes, but what does that mean? She walks through every open door she sees? It’s a description of her, of her freedom. It’s, like, the total contrast to him.’

‘Exactly, exactly. Also, a bit angry. “What does that mean?” It’s too much for him. We do again.’

Henry sighed and shook his shoulders, looking down then up. ‘Julia,’ he said.

‘Hey, Mike.’

‘Julia, you can’t just walk in here like this.’

‘The door was open.’

‘What does that mean? You walk through every open door you see?’

‘Jesus, Mike. I was just passing and I came in to see.’

‘You can’t do that, Julia. You can’t. You can’t. I’m just getting things, you know, clear here. I’m getting set. I’m making improvements. It’s delicate. People need their privacy.’

‘Okay, that’s good.’

‘Really? You don’t want to get more of the scene?’

‘No. Enough words. I want to see Mike alone in his apartment.’

‘Okay, sure.’ Henry took a drink. The bottle was full to the brim. Water toppled into his mouth.

He swallowed. ‘Sure,’ he said. ‘Just …’

 

‘Just be alone in the apartment.’

‘Sure. Cool.’ He closed his eyes and willed himself there. The apartment, as far as he was concerned, had yellowing wallpaper. There was a fridge, old, large, American, with rounded edges. Windows down onto the street. He stood up and paced, quickly, as though his body was a racing thought. He did that for a while then stopped still as though halted by some new idea. He sat down in the chair and stared into the distance, one hand picking at the fabric of his trousers. After a while he swigged from his water bottle with an overhand grip that made it beer. García said, ‘Okay, okay. Enough.’

Henry groaned and rubbed his face with his hands. He felt a drop of sweat, cold, appear at his waist on the right-hand side, rolling down from his armpit.

‘You can do it again,’ García said. ‘But you have to stop acting like somebody who is acting.’

‘You mean …’

‘Stop acting. Forget us. You’re alone in private.’

‘Okay. Sure.’ He stared past the blurred mass of García. He hardened his facial expression. Disconnected, he wanted to go to sleep. He thought about going with that impulse and letting his eyes close, but it wouldn’t be enough. He got up and paced again. He stopped. He sat down and fidgeted.

‘Okay, okay. That’s good.’

‘All right.’

‘Good. That’s enough.’

‘It’s enough? You don’t want?’

‘No, it’s good. We have it.’

Sally stood up, holding her notebook to her waist. ‘Great. So.’

‘Well, like I said,’ Henry advanced while he had the chance, hand outstretched, ‘it’s an honour. I’m pleased you called me back again.’

García did not stand up. He held out a surprisingly soft and heavy hand for Henry to grasp.

‘Okay, okay,’ he said. ‘Thank you.’

‘So,’ Sally said again, smiling by the door.

When they were the other side of that door, desperate to get a sense of what had happened, Henry said, ‘Wow, that was quick. For a fourth meeting.’

‘He’s like that,’ Sally said. ‘Quick and decisive. It’s fine. We’ll be in touch.’

‘Okay. Cool. Okay.’ Henry resisted the urge to grip her shoulders and say, ‘Just tell me now.’ He smiled at her and said, ‘Amazing. That was Miguel García. Okay. Well. I’ll see you next time. I guess I can let myself out.’

In the street, he wanted to shout and punch something, to free all of the crushed energy inside him. Instead, he walked quickly for a few yards then turned around and walked in the opposite direction with a destination in mind. Don’t act like a person acting. Such drama school level bullshit. García had a reputation for brilliance, for spontaneity, for breaking down his actors until, defenceless, they gave him what he wanted. But that couldn’t come from stuff like that. Henry wouldn’t believe it. Henry didn’t need manipulation anyway. He was ready to give García whatever he asked for. Henry hurried off Old Compton Street with its many obstructing pedestrians into Dean Street and through the door of the Groucho Club. He was furiously hungry and the Groucho cheeseburger was what he wanted right now. The garish, pretentious homeliness of the Groucho was also appealing, certainly more than the watchful grey restraint of Soho House. He signed the register and pushed through the inner door.

A bristle of inspection from those at the bar, carefully dissembled. He could feel a few of them recognising him: that momentarily prolonged glance before looking away. Their non-reaction was an important facet of their self-respect, a self-respect that Henry knew was nonetheless enhanced by his being there. He walked through the bar, past the piano and down the corridor to a table in the back. He opened his satchel, pulled out his phone and the post he’d forgotten he’d picked up and tossed them onto the table. He raised one hand to attract a waiter and picked up his phone with the other. A waitress appeared, blonde, attractive in her black waistcoat and tie, her long apron, her shining hair tied cleanly back. They hired them for a reason.

‘Mr Banks, what can I get you?’

‘Oh. Can I get a cheeseburger and a Diet Coke?’

‘Of course. Anything with that?’

‘No.’

‘Great. Sorry, to remind you, if you want to make a call you’ll have to take that outside.’

‘No worries. I know the rules.’

He waited for her to go away and put his phone back on the table. He wasn’t quite ready to phone Carol, his agent. Instead, he sat back in his seat, tired, molested with afterthoughts, with the image of García waiting for him to leave the room, with the memory of his own performance. That came back to him now in horrifying flashes of clumsy effort that went on who knew how long. Audition room time seems to distend to great length while it is happening and collapses into one catastrophic moment when it is over. Miguel García was one of the few filmmakers out there that everybody called a genius, a Werner Herzog, a Paul Thomas Anderson, a Scorsese, a man whose interest in you would guarantee the interest of others and who, moreover, made actual works of art. In so doing, he made actors, their faces, their gestures, their names, permanent in the history of the world. He was larger than Henry had imagined, thick-limbed, a slow and stubborn mass. His beard was unpleasant to look at. It was not an outgrowth of lustrous vitality, more a sign of indifference and neglect. His large, square-framed glasses were in the style of no style. They belonged on a man who lived with his mother, who spent hours in public libraries and carried his possessions in plastic carrier bags. That had been García. There was no outward sign of his intelligence, beyond a grumpy decisiveness. Sitting low in his chair, he gave the impression of an animal in an odorous den. He had peered out, judging Henry, deciding whether or not he was worthy of the immortality that he would confer only as a bi-product of pursuing the distinctive beauty of his vision. This film, The Beauty Part, was preoccupied with the central character, with Mike, with, potentially, Henry. Desire for the part flamed up in Henry, scorched and faded, leaving him even more tired and despondent. Fortunately, his Diet Coke arrived and Henry could take a long pull on its cold caramel flavour, its caffeine and enlivening bubbles. No new messages on his phone, he reached for his post.

The first, larger envelope was an invitation to a short film screening and party that he had no interest in. The second envelope was printed with his agent’s company name. That one contained another envelope, decorated with a sticker of a butterfly, in which was a handwritten letter. It began, My dearest Henry, it’s been so long since we met and yet every day I feel us growing closer together and I know you must do deep down as well. I watch you all the time on The Grange so I can keep seeing your face. I know it so well, I know your expressions, your hair and eyes, the sound of your voice. It is the music of my life.

Why had this come to him?

What’s the latest news I have for you? The strange weather I mentioned in my last letter keeps coming. I had a dream about you last night, back in the airport. And then, down in the islands. Remember how I told you that soon after we met I was down in St Thomas and I wrote your name in the sand and drew a heart round it? I was there again, looking ….

Henry stopped reading. This letter should not have got to him. Carol’s assistant, Vicky, was supposed to screen this stuff out, not just stick it in an envelope and send it to him. This was not helpful right now. This letter did not strike him as endearing or amusing. It was typical of quite a few he’d read in the past. Unsettling, uncanny, full of private madness and incantation and belonging to a live person who was out there right now, thinking about him, who thought she had met him, scrawling his name on pages, on the sand of a beach somewhere, and feeling a compulsion in the world that was about them, about his fate. It was nonsense and harmless, presumably, but so much better not to know, not to have this inside him. It should never have reached him.

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Late Breaking

Late Breaking

edition:Paperback

FINALIST FOR THE 2019 GOVERNOR GENERAL’S LITERARY AWARD

NOMINATED FOR THE 2019 SCOTIABANK GILLER PRIZE

SHORTLISTED FOR THE 2019 TRILLIUM BOOK AWARD

NOMINATED FOR THE TORONTO BOOK AWARD

AS HEARD ON CBC'S THE NEXT CHAPTER WITH SHELAGH ROGERS

A GLOBE AND MAIL BEST BOOK OF 2018

A QUILL & QUIRE BEST BOOK OF 2018

A 49TH SHELF EDITOR'S PICK

Inspired by the work of Alex Colville, the linked stories in K.D. Miller’s Late Breaking form a suite of portraits that evoke the paintings’ looming atmospheres a …

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