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Middle-Aged Marvels
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Middle-Aged Marvels

By kileyturner
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tagged: KTKC, fiction
It's an indefinite era in our lives, full of questions about the next half of things, introspection, and wild adventures if you're lucky.
Half Life

Half Life

edition:Paperback

A raw, absorbing, tender, and witty novel about a woman's long-overdue reckoning with memory, truth, and the multiverse of familial love.

Elin Henriksen is a middle-aged single parent under pressure. Her formidable mother's health is declining, her fearless teenage daughter wants to leave but won't say where, and the new high school principal has problems with her unorthodox teaching of physics.

And then there is the upcoming ceremony at the Art Museum. In ten days, a gallery will be named after h …

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Excerpt

Bets has chosen a café-diner in Cudahy just beyond a row of puddlers’ cottages with an easy atmosphere and comfort food. It is intimate and appealing, the kind of place you’d go to break up with a lover or fire an employee, because a scene would be so conspicuous here, and if he or she left in a huff, it would feel okay staying, finishing their meal and yours.

Sitting across from each other, Elin and Bets are over-polite. They comment on the heaping plates of food being delivered to a couple at the bar. Elin pretends to be interested in the quirky art on the walls, the decent wine and beer list, the strangely uncomfortable chairs, and a display case of homemade pies.

But what she thinks about, with a rash-like itch of fear and curious hurt, is the large brown envelope sticking out of Bets’s purse.

Elin can’t see how she missed it, with her new obsessive mailbox checking.

They are relieved when a server who is a few years older than Bets arrives and takes their drinks order. Elin reminds herself that the kinds of good things she’s wanted for her daughter also come in envelopes.

While Bets studies the menu, Elin takes another peek. The face of it—with return address, postal marks, logos— is turned away from her. All she can see is the envelope’s perfectly intact tongue, neither dimpled nor torn, folded over the top end. This is so like Bets, this meticulousness, opening an envelope without destroying any part of it. How can it not be something precious to her, some fulfilment of a secret wish?

Over and over, Bets has said, I’m travelling. I’m starting in London and then I’m wandering Europe for a while. If my money lasts, a whole year. The ticket’s bought and paid for.

Elin has not believed her. Ideas change. Money never lasts as long as you want. Those European capitals, so enthralling at first, gradually weary travellers, ultimately disappoint. (Though she’s never been, Elin has overheard another teacher say as much.) Moving around can be lonely and fail to elevate. Now, at least she has a fallback; the envelope’s shaped for something serious and grounded: adulthood.

The server is back with their drinks and asks if they’d like to order. Elin has her eyes on the menu, but nothing is registering. Where? she wonders. Which school? She’s hoping for science. All those hours coaching Bets through binomial theorem and differentiation. And physics: the subject for which she had the most help, and which caused the most tears.

Mom? Are you ready?

Elin senses the server shift impatiently from one foot to the other, and eye the door where new customers enter.

I’ll give you a few more minutes.

Pasta special.

Elin blurts it. Bets will wait until the ordering is done before she starts a conversation about the envelope.

Anything to start?

She wants a salad, but its delivery will be another interruption. But then Bets orders a starter, something with hot cheese and rosemary bread cubes, that will postpone the substance of their conversation until later.

There’s a palpable hollow in the server’s cheeriness. Her eye twitches with impatience. Restless, Elin thinks. This is not where she imagined being at this stage in her life.

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The Age Of Hope

The Age Of Hope

edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback eBook
tagged : literary

Born in 1930 in a small town outside Winnipeg, beautiful Hope Koop appears destined to have a conventional life. Church, marriage to a steady young man, children - her fortunes are already laid out for her, as are the shiny modern appliances in her new home. All she has to do is stay with Roy, who loves her. But as the decades unfold, what seems to be a safe, predictable existence overwhelms Hope. Where - among the demands of her children, the expectations of her husband and the challenges of he …

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Norman Bray, In the Performance of His Life

Norman Bray, In the Performance of His Life

edition:Paperback

Finalist for the Governor General’s Award and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book (Canada and Caribbean region)

A Globe and Mail Notable Book of the Year

For years, Toronto stage actor Norman Bray has renounced all responsibility in the name of his “art.” Now, middle-aged, teetering on the edge of financial ruin, and clinging to the faded light of his career, Norman must answer to the bank, to the adult children of his recently deceased common-law wife, and, most of all, to …

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Excerpt

“You’re fucking late, Norman.” Robert Chenowirth, bald, lacquered with sweat, and aggressively unshaven, sits in front of an aging control panel on a swivel chair so flimsy that its ability to withstand his enormous bulk defies logic to the point of sorcery. His vast T-shirted belly (the T-shirt, black, features a startling woodcut of Liza Minnelli) is pressed into the ledge of the switching board, billowing above and below, but even so he has to extend his arms to rest his hands next to the yellowed controls. He is famous within his industry largely for having not yet died.

Kitty-corner to him the studio technician, Bink Laughren, glances over the top of his Dick Francis novel at a green oscillating-wave monitor. Norman hears Penny come up behind him.

“I’m sure you said two o’clock, Robert,” implores Norman. “I’m positive. Whatever Penny says, I don’t miss my call times. You know that. I’m a goddamn professional.”

Chenowirth turns his head, an oiled ball dipped in metal filings, towards Norman for the first time, his threatening glare undercut just slightly by the feathery catch in his voice. “You missed this one.”

“But not —”

Robert swings his fists as if he’s pounding two sturdy lawn ornaments into the earth. “Oh Jesus Mary, Norman, just get into the booth. Somebody give him his fucking script.”

It is unfairness to such a degree that Norman considers walking out in protest. It’s what he should do. But instead — because he is a goddamn professional, and to some lesser extent because he needs the money — he takes the pages Penny hands him and makes his way back along the hall. He wrenches open the sound booth’s outer door and pushes on the inner, which gives with a slurp of air, and he enters a tiny room fronted by a large glass window looking out into the control room.

“Hello, Judith.” Norman nods at the actress already seated at one of two microphones and smiles to suggest that nothing is wrong, that he has had a perfectly reasonable conversation with Robert, an eminently reasonable man. Judith Fenwick, a matronly sort of woman smelling of hand cream and tea, regards him overtop pewter reading glasses tipped with tiny wings.

“I’ve had a very nice time going through this week’s papers, Norman, which someone was kind enough to leave on the floor.” She speaks with the vestiges of an elusive English accent, like so many other moderately talented actresses of middle age whom Norman has encountered. “I was about to start balancing my cheque book.”

Norman nods distractedly and emits a short humming sound, because he is essaying the role of an actor concentrating on his script. It is, just as he expects, the script for episode #001 of Tiny Taxi, a fifteen-minute children’s show produced on a delicately small budget for the new digital cable channel KidSpot. In concept and execution it is identical to Timmy Taxi, which Chenowirth produced over the previous two years for another channel (and for which Norman provided the lead character’s voice for all forty-two brief and brightly lit episodes) until Robert discovered an unnoticed clause in his contract that required him, after ten years, to relinquish his residual rights. Because he had planned to retire on the steady earnings of Timmy Taxi, and because the broad­caster’s lawyers would not bend to his protestations that the contract was void because he’d been hopelessly adrift over a failed affair — and very likely drunk on gin toddies — when he’d signed it, Robert folded his company, established another one, acquired a new cable partner, and resumed taping in the same studio, with the same set, after only a month’s delay. (Penny, whose employment contract calls for her to share in a percentage of the residuals in lieu of a decent salary, had tears in her eyes when she gathered the cast and crew to present Robert with a small celebratory taxi-shaped lemon cake.)

That Timmy-less month was an awkward one for Norman, who for these last two years has relied on his cheques from Chenowirth Productions more than he would care to admit. It necessitated visiting his sister on at least three occasions (it was four, to be precise, but one of those times she was at the doctor’s seeing to polyps on her colon, so it didn’t count) to negotiate the loan of sums so small they hardly warranted the inconvenience.

But yesterday, the first day in the life of Tiny Taxi, it was as though nothing had changed. The production process was the same: Wednesday afternoon, on a set no larger than an area rug, colourful toy cars with removable headlight eyes and toothy grilles were videotaped being pushed around the snap-together streets of Grandville by wires and unseen hands. On Wednesday evening, from six until midnight, the actors arrived to give voice to their dreams and dilemmas. Having played the robustly cheerful Timmy for so long, Norman adapted easily, he thought, to the demands of playing the equally jolly Tiny, whose only bane in life is the mildly menacing Cab Calladay (formerly Ty Cab), who seems to lurk around every corner waiting to muscle in on his fares. Last night, in fact, Norman was noting to Penny and Judith, and Fred Trumble, who plays Cab, that he really understood Timmy/Tiny, that it was not a stretch to say their essential nature mirrored his own. “Each of us is optimistic at the core,” he explained. “Willing to explore the unknown. Willing to embrace the new.” It wouldn’t have surprised him to find out that Robert had based the character entirely on him. As Timmy, Norman had even contributed the signature line: “Up the street or down the road, it’s all a trip to me!” delivered with the eager chirp he’d perfected after only a few months. (For Tiny, Robert, who writes most of the scripts, had adapted the line to read, “You never know, you know, where the next turn will take you!” which Norman granted was snappy, but seemed to lack the texture of Timmy’s sang-froid.)

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Ellen In Pieces

Ellen In Pieces

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook Paperback
tagged :

Ellen McGinty: sexy, impulsive, loud-mouthed, chock full of regrets. In middle age she sells the house she raised her daughters in, slips off the shell of her old life, and steps out for a first, tentative foray into real contentment - directly into the path of a man twenty years her junior. Her story explodes into multiple points of view. Through the eyes of her lover, Matt, her ex-husband, Larry, her two daughters (one a former addict), her grandson, and her friends, we watch Ellen negotiate h …

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The Gum Thief

The Gum Thief

edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover

The first and only story of love and looming apocalypse set in the aisles of an office supply superstore.

In Douglas Coupland’s ingenious new novel–sort of a Clerks-meets-Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf–we meet Roger, a divorced, middle-aged “aisles associate” at a Staples outlet, condemned to restocking reams of twenty-lb. bond paper for the rest of his life. And then there’s Roger’s co-worker Bethany, who’s at the end of her Goth phase, and young enough to be looking at fifty m …

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Roger

A few years ago it dawned on me that everybody past a certain ­age–­regardless of how they look on the ­outside–­pretty much constantly dreams of being able to escape from their lives. They don’t want to be who they are any more. They want out. This list includes Thurston Howell the Third, ­Ann-­Margret, the cast members of Rent, Václav Havel, space shuttle astronauts and Snuffleupagus. It’s ­universal.

Do you want out? Do you often wish you could be somebody, anybody, other than who you ­are–­the you who holds a job and feeds a ­family–­the you who keeps a relatively okay place to live and who still tries to keep your friendships alive? In other words, the you who’s going to remain pretty much the same until the ­casket?

There’s nothing wrong with me being me, or with you being you. And in the end, life’s pretty tolerable, isn’t it? Oh, I’ll get by. We all say that. Don’t worry about me. Maybe I’ll get drunk and go shopping on eBay at eleven at night, and maybe I’ll buy all kinds of crazy crap I won’t remember I bid on the next morning, like a ­ten-­pound bag of mixed coins from around the world or a bootleg tape of Joni Mitchell performing at the Calgary Saddle­dome in ­1981.

I used the phrase “a certain age.” What I mean by this is the age people are in their heads. It’s usually thirty to ­thirty-­four. Nobody is forty in their head. When it comes to your internal age, chin wattles and relentless liver spots mean ­nothing.

In my mind, I’m always ­thirty-­two. In my mind, I’m drinking sangria beachside in Waikiki; Kristal from Bakersfield is flirting with me, while Joan, who has yet to have our two kids, is up in our hotel room fetching a pair of sunglasses that don’t dig into her ears as much. By dinnertime, I’m going to have a mild sunburn, and when I return home from that holiday, I’ll have a $5K salary bonus and an upgraded computer system waiting for me at my office. And if I dropped fifteen pounds and changed gears from sunburn to suntan, I could look halfway okay. Not even okay: ­hot.

Do I sound ­regretful?

Okay, maybe a ­bit.

Okay, let’s face ­it–­I’m king of the exit interview. And Joan was a saint. My curse is that I’d rather be in pain than be ­wrong.

I’m sad at having flubbed the few chances I had to make bold strokes in life. I’m learning to cope with the fact that it was both my laziness and my useless personal moral code that cheated me out of seizing new opportunities. Listen to me: flubbed chances and missed opportunities: I gloss past them both in almost the same breath. But there was no gloss when it was all coming down. It’s taken me ­what–­five years?–to simply get used to the idea that I’ve blown things. I’m grieving, grieving ­hard-­core. The best part of my life is gone, and what remains is whizzing past so quickly I feel like I’m ­Krazy-­Glue’ed onto a mechanical bull of a time ­machine.

I can’t even escape in my dreams. My dreams used to be insulated by pink fibreglass, but maybe two jobs ago my sense of failure ripped a hole through the insulation and began wrecking them. I dreamed it was that Monday afternoon in the 1990s when my high school buddy turned vampire stockbroker, Lars, phoned me a week after my mother’s ­funeral–­a week!–and told me to put everything and anything I might have inherited into Microsoft stock. I told him our friendship was over. I told him he was a parasite. And if Microsoft had sunk into the earth’s crust and vanished, I might have actually forgiven Lars, but that didn’t happen. Their ­sack-­of-­shit operating system conquered the planet, and my $100,000 inheritance from my mother, put into Microsoft, would currently be worth a smidge over $13 ­million.

I get the Microsoft dream about once a week ­now.

But okay, there’s some good stuff in my life. I love my spaniel, Wayne, and he loves me. What a name for a dog, ­Wayne–­like he’s my accountant. The thing is, dogs only hear vowels. It’s a fact. When I call Wayne in for the night, he doesn’t hear the W or the N. I could simply yell out Ayyyyyyyyyy and he’d still show up. For that matter, I suppose I could also simply yell out Paaaaiiiiiiiiiiiin and he’d show up. At my last job, I told Mindy the comptroller how much I loved Wayne, and you know what she said to me? She said, “Dogs are like people, except you can legally kill dogs if they bug you.” Which makes you ­wonder–­one household in three has a dog in it, but all they are (from the Mindy perspective) is ­semi-­disposable family members. We need to have laws to make killing dogs illegal. But what about cats? Okay, cats, too. What about snakes? Or sea ­monkeys?

I draw the line at sea monkeys. I draw lines everywhere. It’s what makes people think I’m Mister Difficult. For example, people in the ATM machine lineup who stand too far away from the dispenser forfeit their right to be next in line. You know the people I ­mean–­the ones who stay fifty feet away so they don’t look like they’re trying to see your PIN number. Come on. I look at these people, and I think, Man, you must feel truly guilty about something to make you broadcast your sense of guilt to the world with your freakish lineup philosophy. And so I simply stand in front of them and go next. That teaches ­them.

What else? I also believe that if someone comes up behind you on the freeway and flashes their lights to get you to move into the slow lane, they deserve whatever punishment you dole out to them. I promptly slow down and drive at the same speed as the car beside me so that I can punish Speed Racer for his ­impertinence.

Actually, it’s not the impertinence I’m punishing him for, it’s that he let other people know what he ­wanted.

Speed Racer, my friend, never ever let people know what you want. Because if you do, you might as well send them engraved invitations saying, “Hi, this is what I want you to prevent me from ever having.”

Bitter.

I am not ­bitter.

And even if I was, at least if you’re bitter you know where you ­stand.

Okay, that last sentence came out wrong. Let me rephrase ­it:

At least if you’re bitter, you know that you’re like everybody ­else.

Strike that last effort, too. How about: At least if you’re bitter, you know that you’re a part of the family of man. You know that you’re not so hot, but you also know that your experience is universal. “Universal” is such a great word. You know that we live in a world of bitter ­cranks–­a world of aging bitter cranks who failed and who are always ­thirty-­two in their own ­heads.

Failures.

But bitterness doesn’t always mean failure. Most rich people I’ve met are bitter too. So, as I say, it’s universal. Rejoice!

I was once young and fresh and dumb, and I was going to write a novel. It was going to be called Glove Pond. What a ­name–­Glove Pond. I don’t remember the inspiration, but the words have always sounded to me like the title of a novel or movie from ­England–­like Under Milk Wood, by Dylan ­Thomas–­or a play written by someone like Tennessee Williams. Glove Pond was to be populated with characters like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, movie stars from two generations ago, with killer drinking problems, ­teeter-­tottering sexuality and soft, unsculpted ­bodies–­from back before audiences figured out that muscle tone, not a press release, determines sexiness. Glove Pond’s main characters screamed and brawled and shrieked witty, catty, vicious things at each other. They drank like fish, screwed like minks and then caught each other in the act of screwing strangers like minks. At that point, they’d say even wittier things than before. They were wit machines. In the end, all the characters were crazy and humanity was doomed. The ­End.

I just googled “Glove Pond” and here’s what I ­got:

www.amateurmicroscopy.net . . . Index to ­Articles
. . . Part 1: Introduction and Webcam Modifications. If ever a subject and a method of recording that subject fit together like a hand in a glove, pond ­“micro-­critters” and videomicrography are an ideal ­fit.

Look at this: no one has ever put the two words together ­before–­a comma in between “glove” and “pond” doesn’t count as a true connection. So I still get dibs on Glove Pond!

Bethany

I’m the dead girl whose locker you spat on somewhere between recess and ­lunch.

I’m not really dead, but I dress like I want to be. There’s something generic about girls like me: we hate the sun, we wear black, and we feel trapped inside our bodies like a nylon fur mascot at a football game. I wish I were dead most of the time. I can’t believe the meat I got stuck with, and where I got stuck and with whom. I wish I were a ­ghost.

And FYI, I’m not in school any more, but the spitting thing was real: a little moment that sums up life. I work in a Staples. I’m in charge of restocking aisles 2-North and 2-South: Sheet Protectors, Indexes & Dividers, Notebooks, ­Post-­It Products, Paper Pads, Specialty Papers and “Social Stationery.” Do I hate this job? Are you nuts? Of course I hate it. How could you not hate it? Everyone who works with me is either already damaged or else they’re embryos waiting to be damaged, fresh out of school and slow as a 1999 modem. Just because you’ve been born and made it through high school doesn’t mean society can’t still abort you. Wake ­up.

Let me try to say something positive here. For ­balance.

Staples allows me to wear black lipstick to ­work.

I was waiting for the bus this morning, and there was a sparrow sitting in the azalea beside the bus shelter. I looked at it and it yawned . . . this tiny little wisp of heated sparrow yawn breath rose up from the branch. And the thing is, I began yawning ­too–­so yawning is contagious not only from person to person, but from species to species. How far back was it that our primordial ancestors forked into two directions, one that became mammals and one that became birds? Five hundred million years ago? So we’ve been yawning on earth for half a billion ­years.

Speaking of biology, I think cloning is great. I don’t understand why churchy people get so upset about it. God made the originals, and cloning is only making photocopies. Big woo. And how can people get upset about evolution? Someone had to start the ball rolling; it’s only natural to try to figure out the mechanics of how it got rolling. Relax! One theory doesn’t exclude the ­other.

Yesterday this guy from work, Roger, said it was weird that we human beings, who’ve evolved way more than anything else on earth, still have to share the place with all the creatures that remain unevolved, like bacteria and lizards and bugs. Roger said human beings should have a special ­roped-­off VIP section for people only. I got so mad at him for being such an ignorant shit. I told him that ­roped-­off VIP areas do, in fact, exist, and they’re called parking ­lots–­if Roger wanted to be such an environmental pig about things, he should go stand in the parking lot for a few days and see how much fun that ­is.

Calm down, Bethany. Look out the ­window.

I’m looking out the ­window.

I’m going to focus on nature. Looking at plants and birds cools my ­brain.

It’s late afternoon right now, and the crows, a hundred thousand of them from everywhere in the city, are all flying to roost for the night in their ­mega-­roost, an alder forest out on the highway in Burnaby. They go there every night, and I don’t know why. They’re party animals, I suppose. Crows are smart. Ravens are smarter. Have you ever seen a raven? They’re like people, they’re so smart. I was fourteen and collecting seashells up the coast one afternoon, and a pair of ravens landed on a log beside me and followed me around the beach, hopping from log to log. They were talking to each ­other–­I mean ­chatter-­chatter ­talking–­and they were obviously discussing me. Ever since then, I've firmly believed that intelligent life exists everywhere in the universe; in fact, the universe is designed specifically to foster life wherever and whenever ­possible.

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Bird Eat Bird

Bird Eat Bird

edition:Paperback

Bird Eat Bird, Katrina Best’s first book of short stories,is a funny, smart, offbeat, and insightful collection thatexplores themes that are equally poignant and hilarious:a middle-aged Cockfosters housewife decides totravel to Albuquerque in search of enlightenment; athirty-year-old woman who still lives at home anticipatesthe experience of a third date; a teenaged vegetariansupermarket cashier struggles to scan a packageof offal; an inscrutable pelican in a crowded Londonpark decides to try …

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Love Monster, The

Love Monster, The

A Novel
edition:Paperback
tagged :

The Love Monster is the tall tale of one woman's struggle with mid-life issues. The main character, Margaret H. Atwood, has psoriasis, a boring job and a bad attitude. Her cheating husband has left her. And none of her pants fit any more.
Marston takes the reader on a hilarious journey of recovery. Hope comes in the form of a dope-smoking senior citizen, a religious fanatic, a good lawyer and a talking turtle (not to mention Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Warren Zevon, Neil Armstrong and a yogi bur …

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A Large Harmonium

A Large Harmonium

edition:eBook
also available: Paperback

English Lit professor Janey Erlicksen wonders if she's coming unravelled, as her daily life progresses through the onslaught from work, friends and family, and her despotic toddler Little Max.

Janey knows she should be trying to put her academic career on the map, but how? She'll more readily poke fun at than engage in yet another overly dry and theoretical conference. And her husband and their friends simply encourage her off the serious academic path, providing anarchic ideas from Foucault-in-s …

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