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Editors' Picks: Week of March 9, 2020
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Editors' Picks: Week of March 9, 2020

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Including the book Madeleine Thien calls "a powerfully unsettling work from a brilliant artist," a collection of short stories that received a starred review from Quill & Quire (and our own editor, Kerry Clare). Plus three other great reads!
Polar Vortex

Polar Vortex

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook Audiobook

Longlisted for the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize

Some secrets never die...

Priya and Alexandra have moved from the city to a picturesque countryside town. What Alex doesn't know is that in moving, Priya is running from her past—from a fraught relationship with an old friend, Prakash, who pursued her for many years, both online and off. Time has passed, however, and Priya, confident that her ties to Prakash have been successfully severed, decides it's once more safe to establish an online presence …

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No More Nice Girls

No More Nice Girls

Gender, Power, and Why It’s Time to Stop Playing by the Rules
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback

A groundbreaking, insightful book about women and power from award-winning journalist Lauren McKeon, which shows how women are disrupting the standard (very male) vision of power, ditching convention, and building a more equitable world for everyone.

In the age of girl bosses, Beyoncé, and Black Widow, we like to tell our little girls they can be anything they want when they grow up, except they’ll have to work twice as hard, be told to “play nice,” and face countless double standards tha …

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Excerpt

On November 8, 2016, I tried to pretend the TVs at my gym did not exist. I’d shown up that night to my weekly class expecting to walk out sweaty and exalted. If America elected a woman as its leader (as all the pundits and polls suggested the country would) then, surely, Canada would follow. Anything felt possible. I imagined a cascade of broken status quos — belligerent white men in crisp suits falling like dominos. But over the next hour disbelief replaced excitement. At one point, our class melted away from our workout stations to pool, lost, around the TV. Women muttered shit, what, no, over and over again. That night, I couldn’t sleep. I stayed seated on my bed, cross-legged, stunned. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t American, or that one of the wokest men on Earth supposedly ran my own country. Electing a blatant misogynist to one of the world’s most powerful positions symbolized something: we were fucked.
Since then, the question of women and power has undergone something of a renaissance — largely because we’ve been forced to confront, once again, how much of it women still don’t have. Quite literally overnight, many of us went from believing, with good reason, that we’d never been closer to equality — and power — to reckoning with just how far away from both women truly were. In response, women woke up, gathered, and demanded change. All around the world, they protested. The momentum from the Women’s March on Washington built into #MeToo and a very public reckoning with the everyday ways in which women’s power and autonomy are constantly undermined.
Watching it all, I was galvanized. But I also felt as though I was stuck in a not-so-fun house of magic mirrors. Come one, come all! Watch as the road to equality shrinks, stretches, distorts! Sometimes it seemed as if our fury, powerful in its own right, could propel us anywhere we wanted to go: into public office, into the C-suite, into a world in which we had bodily autonomy. Other times, as the anti-feminist backlash grew louder, bolder, and more expansive, it seemed as though women were in our most precarious spot yet. I began to think of feminist power as a paradox: from some vantages, we seemed closer than ever to achieving it; from others, we’d never been farther away.
I have spent the bulk of my journalism career investigating the ways in which women navigate, and in many cases push back against, the expectations of the world around them. In doing this, I now realize, what I’ve really been asking, consciously or not, is how women disrupt and reimagine power structures, how they gain power both in and over their lives. Many of the women I’ve interviewed are pioneers in their fields, often ones dominated by men, and you could say they are subverting from within. Others are pushing at established power structures from the outside, rallying from the grassroots. They are all inspiring and amazing. But is what they’re doing working? These past few years have illuminated some stark, and seemingly contradictory, truths. Despite immense progress, no amount of success can immunize women against the toxic, sexist environments around them, and it is not uncommon for women to be utterly alone: one of few in their field, the only woman in management at their company, or the only one breaking a certain convention.
The more I heard their stories, the more I wondered: Even if a woman won the next American or Canadian federal election, what would that victory gain us? Or, put another way: Do we have the very concept of women and power all wrong? I’m not saying I want all the feminists to give up the fight, retreat to their kitchens, and let one pucker-mouthed man and his acolytes burn the planet. I want women to attain the same powerful positions afforded to men, in equal numbers. But it’s also dangerous to see that status, in and of itself, as a panacea to centuries of Western civilization, all built on foundational histories of sexism, misogyny, and violence against women. A woman prime minister certainly wouldn’t “cancel out” this seemingly new brand of misogyny, dredged up for all the world to see. In fact, the past few years have revealed that any woman, or member of another equity-seeking group, who stands where white, straight, cisgender men usually do is certain to face violent backlash. Or, as University of Cambridge classics professor Mary Beard argues in her short manifesto Women and Power, throughout time women have been placed in, or near to, positions of power simply to fail. To illustrate her point, Beard borrows from Greek mythology, referring to Clytemnestra, who rules over her city while her husband fights in the Trojan War, only to be murdered by her own children after she refuses to cede her new leadership upon his return (well, okay, she also killed her husband rather than go back down the patriarchal chain). Or more recently, Beard suggests, consider Theresa May or Hillary Clinton. For women, power is messy from every angle.
Perhaps, then, it’s finally time to start rethinking feminism’s one-time end goals, to ditch our old checklists for equality. Yes, let’s not abandon our strategizing toward getting more women to the top, but let’s also examine a deeper, less considered problem: that is, what the view from “the top” looks like for women once they’re there. What if we could redefine not just women’s path to power but the very concept of power itself? Or more radical yet: What if we stopped focusing on playing the game better, ditched the rulebook, and refused to play their game at all? What would power even look like to us if we weren’t always visualizing it within the context of men?

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The Birth Yard

The Birth Yard

A Novel
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback

A debut novel for readers of The Handmaid’s Tale and The Girls, The Birth Yard is a gripping story of a young woman’s rebellion against the rules that control her body

Sable Ursu has just turned eighteen, which means she is ready to breed. Within the confines of her world, a patriarchal cult known as the Den, female fertility and sexuality are wholly controlled by Men. In the season they come of age, Sable and her friends Mamie and Dinah are each paired with a Match with the purpose of concei …

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If You Hear Me

If You Hear Me

edition:Paperback

Sliding doors open and close automatically, exit to the left, entrance to the right. Beyond it, cars go by, and pedestrians and cyclists. A large park behaves as if nothing has happened. The mirage of a world intact.

In an instant, a life changes forever. After he falls from a scaffold on the construction site where he works, the comatose David is visited daily by his wife, Caroline, and their six-year-old son Bertrand—but despite their devoted efforts, there’s no crossing the ineffable divi …

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Excerpt

The First Hour

Hard to believe, but I’m alive.

In fact I’ve never been so present.

So clear.

I see everything.

Roger cursing and pacing back and forth, scolding the men one by one.

Body in the middle of the street, on the pavement, helmet lying near the head, a tool in between—the level, cracked. Liquid seeping out from it.

Martin running over, pushing aside Max and Vidal. He kneels on the glove, places his ear close to the lips, detects nothing. Looks for the pulse on the neck—no pulse. Opens the shirt, buttons flying in every direction. The red stain, on the chest, alarms him. Several ribs are soft, possibly broken. He hesitates. Makes a decision. He lifts the chin, feels the inside of the mouth, blows air into it twice, stands back, changes position, dares to press down, hands interlocked, elbows straight. By the book. His assurance is surprising, such a shy man.

He persists. Patiently, rhythmically.

In spite of everything, the lips, the blue nails, the white cheeks.

Roger paces up and down anxiously watching the far end of the street, the ambulance, the ambulance, the ambulance?

Finally.

Finally, Roger yells, raising his arms skyward.

Martin steps aside

mops his forehead

goes to sit down alone, in the shade, in a corner

the paramedics unpack their equipment

lift the eyelids

one blue eye, the other black, a bad sign

insert a tube in the trachea

open a vein in the arm

what are they injecting?

adrenalin

then

there’s nothing.

Nowhere.

Green room

too brightly lit.

Men, women, with gloves, masks

metal

stained sheets

murmurs.

Swollen face, shaved skull

neck in a harness

one arm in a splint.

Serum dripping drop by drop.

Each drop reflecting the neon lights, snail tracks.

Green garments, their folds like mountains, valleys

the weft and warp of the cotton, worn thin.

The body is young, robust, muscular, broken

familiar, but neutral

intimate, distant.

Nothing of this belongs to me.

Not the limbs, not the face, not the threads, not the seams.

Not the air in the tube,

not the lungs.

Just barely a point of transit.

I’m up here, at the ceiling, floating

suspended

between leaving and returning

held

within hazy boundaries

within a slack envelope

within a habit.

Early this morning I woke up, showered, shaved, ate three toasts with peanut butter.

The sun was shining, for once, and I remembered to put a brownie in my lunch box.

In top shape, just one filling, no eyeglasses.

It’s 11:43. That’s what it says there, on the clock.

These bones aren’t mine anymore, nor these tendons, these ligaments. This isn’t my skin anymore.

Just barely a possible location.

An alarm sounds.

It’s my turn to go fetch Bertrand at school this afternoon. I said we’d go play in the park.

Caroline always wears an ankle bracelet that tinkles like a little bell. Her cream has a scent of musk rose. She likes dark chocolate, she talks in her sleep.

The body, down there, is the only way I have of staying with them

two hundred and six bones six litres of blood seventy kilos

this intubated body is the only life I know.

The alarm never stops. The lines crawl, almost flat, across the black screens. He already looks like a corpse. The waxy skin. The immobility. The resemblance is perfect.

Yet seen from up here, it stays ready for use by a living man. You can tell from up here, it’s plain to see.

Plain to see, a possible life, and then nothing—black black.

It draws me upward, it buzzes, it goes fast, it goes without saying. I’m not afraid. It’s natural, after all, to die, why does it always bother us so much? It’s gentle.

The tunnel, yes, but no words to describe it.

I’m drawn by presences. I let myself glide. It’s good. It’s like giving in to a first love, on a perfect day of vacations, health, a wide-open future. I’m gliding at speed

slowly, though, s-l-o-w-l-y

until it strikes: the light

strong white unbearable

I explode without a sound.

I spread out, to the greatest length, to the greatest breadth, in all directions

my thoughts pure crystal

my heart swathed in cotton

I’ve just come back home after a long, harrowing journey

I evaporate like a puddle in August and it’s good

it’s so good

and true, so very true.

Threads that bind me to the living unravel

change into coloured beads

move off into unfathomable space

driven by what?

reconciliation.

For a long time: the void

In the void I hear:

You can still choose.

It snaps.

Whips. Guillotines.

I shrink.

Dark, once again, sticky.

Screwed, nailed, heavy,

little lights come on, thunder rumbles,

I don’t feel pain.

I feel the point of contact between my skull and the table, a point where

for a fraction of a second

the whole universe is gathered.

I feel my heart beginning to beat

haphazardly

like a horse shaking its head with a snort

Good boy, says a tired voice.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Day 1

Caroline has just come in with the groceries when they call her on her mobile from David’s phone.

 

“Hi there, Golden Muscle,” she answers.

At the other end, the response is slow.

They offer to pick her up to take her to the hospital. They refuse to provide details; the fact is, they don’t have any. Roger Pitt, the foreman, comes to get her himself. He had to stop everything anyway, send the guys home, and have the scaffolding inspected. What’s more, he feels guilty; there’s nothing like a work accident to spoil his week. He drives the pick-up without saying a word. Caroline looks straight ahead.

At the hospital, a receptionist at the front desk guides them toward the intensive care unit. She gestures for them to take a seat in the waiting room. They sit down as far as possible from two nuns consoling each other in a barely audible whisper. Judging from the thermos bottle and the pile of cushions at their feet, and especially from the dark rings around their eyes, Caroline infers that they spent the night here.

“You really should go get some rest! Otherwise you’re going to end up on the other side,” the receptionist urges, pointing at the large swinging doors bearing a “No Entry” sign, behind which she then disappears herself.

She returns with a curvaceous nurse, who walks straight toward Caroline and plumps down in the adjacent chair. Her name is Sue, and this is the first time she has sat down since her shift began. Getting right down to brass tacks, she fires off a series of questions about David’s general health. No diabetes, no heart condition. No alcohol problem either. She promises to come back shortly and is swallowed up by the swinging doors.

The interval is filled with a hypnotic rosary that irritates and reassures Caroline at the same time. After three Sprites and a bag of ketchup-flavoured potato chips, Roger Pitt looks in vain for an excuse to leave.

“I have to get going, Mrs. Novak. Take a cab home, ask for a receipt, the company will pay.”

These are the first words he’s spoken since they got out of the pick-up.

A half-hour later, Sue comes back and sits down next to Caroline. She explains the situation in simple terms: David has suffered internal bleeding, a cardiac arrest, chest and head injuries. Also, a broken arm and collar bone, which, under the circumstances, are hardly worth mentioning. The attending doctor will be able to tell her more in a moment. See him? Of course. But not right away. Later.

Later.

Caroline thinks about nothing. The shock has completely emptied her mental space. She concentrates on the large beige wall tiles; the slightest crack turns into a living human or animal form, a hallucination.

They’re torturing me, that’s it! This is a torture room. I’ve got razor blades under my skin. Where? Somewhere under my skin. This is my body—get out! They’re flaying me alive. Long shreds of throat. A train rolls by, close, too close, it scrapes the rails, the cars screech, the cars reek. Is it day or night? I hear my heart, machines, orders, a saw. Dogs. A tank? Must be Nazis. Am I going to die again? They’re going to kill me. A dirty, long, painful death. They want me to talk to confess to own up to snitch—I won’t tell them anything. I have nothing to tell—what exactly do they want? This is a mistake. I have to defend myself. I have to stand up, to open my eyes.

Caroline decides to walk in order to set her brain in motion again. She ambles down the corridors, goes up and down stairways, and stops at random in front of the pediatric department. She keys her in-laws’ number on her cell phone. Karine answers with her sandy voice. They exchange a few brief sentences that poorly convey the magnitude of the situation. The love of their life has fallen from a scaffold. He fell just a few metres, five or six seconds, that’s all; whatever the outcome, it will take them months, years to get over it.

Caroline is overwhelmed by a wave of loneliness as soon as she hangs up. She suspects that a similar wave came over Karine at the very same moment. She doesn’t know her very well, but she intuits her. Underneath the prominent cheekbones, the delicately arched eyebrows, the porcelain skin, under the still striking beauty and unstinting kindness, Karine is a self-sufficient island with a fragile ecosystem. Everyone knows glaciers are melting in the north and oceans rising in the south. Islands will be the first places to get wiped off the map.

I should have been more cautious, too. I should have paid my electricity bill. But, then, it just arrived. They’ve slit open my guts with a kitchen knife. They want me to talk—I’ve got nothing to spill. They’re beating my head with a rifle butt, my head, my head. They’ve hung me from the ceiling by the wrists and are waiting for my shoulders to pop. They shout, they laugh, they bang on pots and pans. The leather around my wrists, the metal. The leather, the metal, my head.

The train.

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A Dark House

A Dark House

& Other Stories
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook

In Ian Colford's latest collection, people get themselves and those they love into situations awkward and sometimes dangerous, doing what they think is best for all. A man kidnaps his young son from his ex-wife and the road trip west quickly spirals out of control; a destitute mother makes a risky alliance with a neighbour; an almost comically wrong-headed older brother has a detective follow his sister; a retired shop-owner in north end Halifax reflects on his life before making a snap decision …

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