by Don McLellan
Father Michael, in his final assignment, has been asked by his Order to help facilitate recovery of an Asian country blighted by war. On the long odyssey into the interior, his driver and translator Trang tells him a story set in a once-famed traveller’s refuge known as the Inn of Tender Embraces. What starts as a simple tale of ill-fated lovers becomes, for Father Michael, a familiar beacon that guides him through the mists of an exotic landscape.
“Don McLellan is the kind of wise, well-travelled writer we don’t see much of these days. With Angels Passing he earns the right to be included in the exotic tradition of Hemingway, Maugham, and Graham Greene. Like all memorable writing, his story takes us to another world and holds us there. As spare and subtle as it is powerful, Angels Passing will linger in your mind long after the last page.”
— John Lekich, Governor General’s Award Finalist for The Losers’ Club
THE CREW HAD BEEN repairing the dike for weeks without respite, beginning each day before sunrise, stopping only when it became too dark to continue. But then the monsoons swept in from the southwest, washing out the road. The workers were given a much-needed hiatus.
The boss addressed the men as they jostled for their pay packets.
“Those whose names are on this list”—he nailed a leaf of rice paper to a banyan tree—“be back here when the rains stop. The others, return to your farms.”
Choi’s name was near the top of the list. The youngest of the labourers, he not only had enough energy remaining after the evening noodles to compete in the camp’s wrestling contests, but the strength and agility to win them.
He had fallen in with a carefree youth named Soo, who suggested they wait out the downpours at an inn located in a neighbouring district.
“That’s a long way to go for a bed,” Choi said.
“Have you never heard the song, ‘The Inn of Tender Embraces’?” asked Soo. He whistled a few bars from the traditional melody. “Like the lyrics say, ‘One night at the inn will change your life.’”
“I thought it was just a song!”
They set off immediately.
WHEN THE FIGHTING STOPPED and a truce had been signed, the Order instructed me to help facilitate reconstruction in the provinces. Trang was my driver and translator. Woo-ling, his wife, cooked and cleaned. The couple lived in a cottage behind the rectory.
“Have I told you the story about the inn, Brother Michael?” Trang asked me. “People say it’s true.”
I thought at the time that Trang shared such yarns to help pass the hours and to practise his English on our long, bumpy drives into the interior. A few were classic tales my assistant claimed as his own, confident I wouldn’t recognize them. He also relayed bits of gossip from the market, random thoughts that popped into his head—anything, it seemed, to void the silence as our Jeep skimmed over the bomb-scarred landscape of his beloved homeland.
It was during one of Trang’s accounts, his grammar and vocabulary amended here, that I was reminded of Brother Roderick. As part of our preparation for a life of sacrifice, seminarians are required to endure a year of silence. Brother Roderick counselled the novices.
“Occasionally a lull will occur between two people,” I remember him telling us, though I paraphrase here. “Between friends, between man and wife, between strangers who may have struck up a conversation.”
His Irish lilt is as soothing to me in recall as it was decades ago.
“You mustn’t let the absence of words upset you,” he continued. “Silence is a wonder, not a pothole. There’s no urgency to fill it.”
“And why,” asked one of the novices, speaking for many of us, “wouldn’t we offer a word? To move things along.”
“Because when it’s quiet,” replied the cleric, “the angels are passing. Let them.”
I had never before heard such a notion. The phrase has often been uttered in my presence since, of course, over the years, in disparate lands and circumstances. I know now that there’s a poem entitled “Angels Passing.” And a pulp novel. But Brother Roderick’s usage is the one I choose to remember: angels passing, silence sanctioned.
about the author
DON McLELLAN has worked as a journalist in Canada, South Korea, and Hong Kong. He currently edits a trade magazine in Vancouver. In the Quiet After Slaughter (Libros Libertad, 2008) his debut collection of short stories, was a ReLit Award finalist. Of the short story form, his preference, McLellan says, “Coming to fiction from journalism, I have an appreciation of spare expression. Redundancies are jettisoned. Alice Munro was alleged to have said that she’d rarely read a novel that wouldn’t have made a better short story. I couldn’t agree more. Ironically, the loquacious Gabriel García Márquez has spoken similarly.”
from the library
People grow in dimensions other than those we perceive. The teenage narrator of award-winning author Daniel Karasik’s latest story must deal with the fact that his older sister is now a grown woman, and Lucy, his crush-next-door, has become a mystery, with depths beyond his comprehension. Has he been coasting all this time, school and television his life’s only sources of momentum?
Marta is a human resources employee at a grocery store chain. She moves through the days passively, always taking the path of least resistance, until a case at work - that of a hijab-wearing woman, in defiance of a strict no-hats policy - awakens her to the injustices of her own life.
“This Is a Love Crime by Lee Kvern is a cunning and intensely human look at one of the central issues of our time. It negotiates the space between belief, racism, liberty, and sexuality with curiosity and compassion.”
— Todd Babiak, bestselling author of Toby: A Man and The Garneau Block
“Lee Kvern paints with a scalpel. With characteristic unflinching honesty, she peels the relationship between Marta and Corbin back to quivering nerves in This Is a Love Crime and juxtaposes it against veiled assumptions about cultural oppression. The narrative leaps crackle with energy and empathy. When I read Kvern’s stories, I’m seduced by exquisite detail and—love or loathe them—left with the scent of her characters long after the last page.”
— Betty Jane Hegerat, author of Delivery and The Boy
“In This Is a Love Crime, Lee Kvern uses the intricately drawn characters of Corbin and Marta to explore the charged topics of ethnicity and Western modes of submission and control. Written in Kvern’s distinctive, poetic, and multi-layered style, the story leaves us with warm insight into all the characters—and challenges our hearts and preconceptions.”
— Barb Howard, author of Whipstock, Notes for Monday, and The Dewpoint Show
Health care workers on a night out unwind, allowing the anxieties and passions they've had to suppress on the job finally uncoil, like tendrils creeping out into the world - and into each other. Written with empathy and panache, this story is a portrait of briefly flaring humanity - of people granted a temporary reprieve from professionalism, and not quite knowing what to do with it.
“At the Bar is Rosenblum at her best - exploring the complicated nature of work and relationships with her trademark perceptiveness, humour, and compassion, and creating characters that will stay with you long after the story is over.”
— Amy Jones, author of What Boys Like and Other Stories
Toronto in the twenty-first century: At night, a beacon on a lonely ancient lake, a drainage pond from the last ice age. In the daytime, a bulwark of glass, glinting in the radiant sun. Joe, Mary, and her cat, Sam, sit in a lakeside condo, trapped by a crazed, mysterious sniper. What has become of their lives? What has become of their city? What has become of their century? As the situation begins to unravel, Mary finds herself wondering, “What would Margaret Atwood do?”
In the late 60s, the newest member of a group of all-female pearl divers — the ama — sees her life, and the lives of those dear to her, disrupted by an unlikely force: a James Bond film that sends American men to Japan in search of their own personal 'mermaids'.
Inspired by true events, this story by Scotiabank Giller Prize-nominated author Pauline Holdstock tells of the incredible bond between a mother and daughter, and with gut-wrenching poignancy reminds us of the little things that make life worth living.
“Hers is the kind of prose you get lost in.”
— National Post on The Hunter and the Wild Girl
“Holdstock’s writing manages to be both heartbreakingly poetic and densely detailed ... sad passages, ghostlike recollections, written almost from the vantage point of the present, establish the book as a great work of fiction.”
— The Globe and Mail on Into the Heart of the Country, longlisted for the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize
“Holdstock, with a few deft strokes, pulls the reader into the tumultuous life of an alluring rabble of characters: painters, sculptors, patrons, fools, and slaves ... In Beyond Measure, she proves herself a master of pacing. Her lively, macabre plot trips lightly along in spite of its dark elements.”
— The Globe and Mail on Beyond Measure, finalist for the 2004 Giller Prize and the 2004 Commonwealth Writers' Prize
The anarchic relationships holding together a group of teen girls - whose lines between love and hate, jealousy and loyalty, are not so much drawn as they are furiously scribbled - are put to the test at an unforgettable birthday party. This story captures all the angst and uncertainty of adolescence, with prose as sharp and jarring as a smashed kaleidoscope.
“Rarely an author comes along whose work hits you with the impact of a slap. I have had this experience with the work of Jayne Anne Phillips, with Lorrie Moore and Mary Gaitskill; most recently I have felt this on discovering the writing of Kirsty Logan. Her work is elegant, minimal, and innovative, but underlying it all is a great passion. If the world is a place where talent is recognised—in time, I believe, we may come to say her name alongside the aforementioned.”
— Ewan Morrison, author of Swung
Catherine wants what Richard has: a richly decorated house, and a perfect, lavished-upon baby. Catherine also wants Richard: a disaffected diplomat whose true passion is for cinema. But Catherine is only the babysitter, and her envy—and its fallout—come to the fore when Richard is accused of a crime, and she must decide whether to help exonerate him.
“Laure Baudot’s prose is exquisite, patient, and sophisticated. In the Afternoon immerses you in the fascinating and complicated mind of a babysitter who is wise beyond her years, yet dangerously impulsive at the same time. This story is irresistible and heartbreaking.”
— Sarah Selecky, author of the 2010 Giller Prize–shortlisted collection This Cake Is for the Party