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Editors' Picks: Week of April 20, 2020

By kileyturner
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How to Pronounce Knife

How to Pronounce Knife

Stories
edition:Paperback

Named one of the best books of April by The New York Times, Salon, The Millions, and Vogue, and featuring stories that have appeared in Harper's, Granta, The Atlantic, and The Paris Review, this revelatory book of fiction from O. Henry Award winner Souvankham Thammavongsa establishes her as an essential new voice in Canadian and world literature. Told with compassion and wry humour, these stories honour characters struggling to find their bearings far from home, even as they do the necessary "gr …

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Excerpt

How to Pronounce Knife
The note had been typed out, folded over two times, and pinned to the child’s chest. It could not be missed. And as she did with all the other notes that went home with the child, her mother removed the pin and threw it away. If the contents were important, a phone call would be made to the home. And there had been no such call.

The family lived in a small apartment with two rooms. On the wall of the main room was a tiny painting with a brown bend at the centre. That brown bend was supposed to be a bridge, and the blots of red and orange brushed in around it were supposed to be trees. The child's father had painted this, but he didn't paint anymore. When he came home from work, the first thing he always did was kick off his shoes. Then he'd hand over a newspaper to the child, who unfolded sheets on the floor, forming a square, and around that square they sat down to have dinner. 

For dinner, it was cabbage and chitterlings. The butcher either threw the stuff away or had it out on display for cheap, so the child’s mother bought bags and bags from him and put them in the fridge. There were so many ways to cook these: in a broth with ginger and noodles, grilled over charcoal fire, stewed with fresh dill, or the way the child liked them best—baked in the oven with lemongrass and salt. When she took these dishes to school, other children would tease her about the smell. She shot back, “You wouldn’t know a good thing even if five hundred pounds of it came and sat on your face!”

When they all sat down for dinner, the child thought of the notes her mother threw away, and about bringing one to her father. There had been so many last week, maybe it was important. She listened as her father worried about his pay and his friends and how they were all making their living here in this new country. He said his friends, who were educated and had great jobs in Laos, now found themselves picking worms or being managed by pimple-faced teenagers. They’d had to begin all over again, as if the life they led before didn’t count.

The child got up, found the note in the garbage, and brought it to her father.

He waved the note away. "Later." He said this in Lao. Then, as if remembering something important, he added, "Don't speak Lao and don't tell anyone you are Lao. It's no good to tell people where you're from." The child looked at the centre of her father's chest, where, on his T-shirt, four letters stood side by side: LAOS.

A few days after that, there was some commotion in the classroom. All the girls showed up wearing different variations of pink, and the boys had on dark suits and little knotted ties. Miss Choi, the grade one teacher, was wearing a purple dress dotted with a print of tiny white flowers and shoes with little heels. The child looked down at her green jogging suit. The green was dark, like the green of broccoli, and the fabric at the knees was a few shades lighter and kept their shape even when she was standing straight up. In this scene of pink and sparkles and matching purses and black bow ties and pressed collars, she saw she was not like the others.

Miss Choi, always scanning the room for something out of place, noticed the green that the child was wearing and her eyes widened. She came running over and said, "Joy. Did you get your parents to read the note we sent home with you?" 

"No," she lied, looking at the floor where her blue shoes fitted themselves inside the space of a small square tile. She didn't want to lie, but there was no point in embarrasing her parents. The day went as planned. And in the class photo, the child was seated a little off to the side, with the grade and year sign placed in front of her. The sign was always right in the middle of these photos, but the photographer had to do something to hide the dirt on the child's shoes. Above that sign, she smiled. 

When her mother came to get her after school, she asked why all the children were dressed up this way, but the child didn't tell her. She lied, saying in Lao, "I don't know. Look at them, all fancy. It's just an ordinary day."

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Vanishing Monuments

Vanishing Monuments

edition:Paperback
tagged : literary

A brilliant novel whose lead character returns home to their long-estranged mother who is now suffering from dementia.

Alani Baum, a non-binary photographer and teacher, hasn't seen their mother since they ran away with their girlfriend when they were seventeen - almost thirty years ago. But when Alani gets a call from a doctor at the assisted living facility where their mother has been for the last five years, they learn that their mother's dementia has worsened and appears to have taken away he …

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The Wild Heavens

The Wild Heavens

edition:Paperback

It all starts with an impossibly large set of tracks, footprints for a creature that could not possibly exist. The words sasquatch, bigfoot and yeti never occur in this novel, but that is what most people would call the hairy, nine-foot creature that would become a lifelong obsession for Aidan Fitzpatrick, and in turn, his granddaughter Sandy Langley.

The novel spans the course of single winter day, interspersed with memories from Sandy’s life—childhood days spent with her distracted, scholar …

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Excerpt

“Aiden crested a ridge and froze in place, heart pounding. It was right there in its own tracks, not twenty yards away. It was covered in grizzled brown fur and it stood upright, broad-shouldered and a good nine feet tall. It turned to face him, its features were both simian and human and it regarded him with a calm, perceptive curiosity. He could only stare mutely, his fear held loosely—ready to grasp but at arm’s length—because his primary impression was not that the creature was frightening, but that it was magnificent, miraculous. It was impossible, and yet there it stood.”

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Tell Me My Name

Tell Me My Name

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook

A roller-coaster domestic thriller for fans of Ruth Ware and Shari Lapena featuring a rustic cottage retreat, a suspicious new neighbour, a violent kidnapping, and a wife who learns her husband isn't telling her the whole truth.

Ellie and Neil Patterson are eager to enjoy some quality time at their new cottage. It’s the first time in ten years they’ve been alone … or are they?

When a friendly encounter leads to their violent kidnapping, they awaken to a living nightmare. Insisting he is Ell …

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Excerpt

Ellie opened her eyes. Tried to move but couldn’t. It was dark, and her vision was cloudy. She was able to make out the square case of a window. Curtains drawn, flaccid. A single wooden chair. She was lying on a wrought-iron bed.
She lifted her head, felt a wave of nausea roll through her. Remembered the noxious cloth. She wiggled her wrists and ankles. Something was binding them — something sharp and unyielding. Plastic cable ties.
She tried to scream, but the sound came out as a muffled moan.
Where am I? Who did this?
Light splashed the wall as someone entered an unseen door.
“Hello, Ellie,” a deep voice said. “Do you know how long I’ve been dreaming about this moment?”
She knew she couldn’t respond, not with the gag filling her mouth. But she tried anyway, releasing a series of stifled sobs.
“There, there,” the man said, stepping into view. The bed frame shifted as he eased himself next to her. “You’ll have your chance to speak soon enough. But first I’d like to get properly reacquainted. It’s been so long.” He paused, gazing into her eyes. “Man, what a surprise it was to see you driving by after all these years … you, of all people. I recognized you instantly. Still as beautiful as ever. Then, that shower routine you put on the other night … what a show, Ellie, what a show …”
Ellie stiffened. Remembered the feeling of being watched the night she’d tested the new outdoor shower. The man was crazy, or he’d made a mistake. Once he removed the gag, she could explain to him that he’d mixed her up with some other woman. Surely then he’d let her go. Otherwise, Neil would return with the groceries and he’d find her missing from their cottage. He’d call the police and she’d be saved.
“Ellie, Ellie, Ellie … the things you do to me,” he continued. “Neil is a lucky guy. But it seems his luck has finally run out. You see, I have a little game in mind for the three of us. Hey, don’t look so worried, I promise it’ll be fun. You just have to follow my rules. Rule Number One: no screaming. Rule Number Two: no flailing, no fighting, no trying to escape. And finally, Rule Number Three, the most important one of all …” He paused and stroked her hair. “It’s easy. All you have to do … is tell me my name.”
The man got up and looked down at her. With a surprisingly delicate touch, he leaned over and removed her gag, brushing away the tear that had trickled down her cheek.
“Please, you have me confused with someone else!” Ellie cried, anguished. “I swear to God. This is all a mistake —”
“Oh, spare me, Eloise. Do you really think I’d have gone to all this trouble if I wasn’t sure it was you? Look, I’m not saying it’ll be easy. It has been a while, and the truth is — well, I didn’t always look this good. I’ve made a few changes to impress you. But I want you to try to see past all the superficial details, see me for who I really am … for the man I’ve always been. Now, look at me, Ellie. Look at me really closely, and think.”
Ellie was sure she didn’t know the kind of sicko who’d abduct a woman from her own kitchen, surgery or not. The room was spinning so wildly she thought she was going to be sick. She closed her eyes and tried to calm down, tried to think of a plan to get free.
Her eyes snapped open as a sound caught her ear, the sound of a car passing outside. She could hear it slowing, then pulling into a driveway a little farther down the road. Their driveway.
“Hear that?” the man said. “That’s the sound of our game beginning. Time to put that pretty little head to work. Just say my name, Ellie. Say it, or your husband loses a toe. See you soon.”
The door clicked shut behind him.

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The Union of Smokers

The Union of Smokers

edition:Paperback
tagged : coming of age

Huckleberry Finn meets The Catcher in the Rye meets Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in this outlandish debut novel.

Kaspar Pine begins his day with a simple task: replace a pet canary. By day’s end, as Kaspar is being loaded into an ambulance, he delivers one hell of a "theme essay," covering such subjects as his ability to source and catalogue the cigarettebutts he harvests; information on maintaining the social order of chickens, along with general and historic farming details that run from Saskat …

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