by Liz Harmer
Henry and Gretchen's parents have just gotten divorced. To take their mind off things, their dad takes them on a road trip down the east coast of the US. Along the journey, timid, insecure Henry secretly corresponds with his mother by email, while brash, certain Gretchen floats a disturbing possibility: perhaps, on this road, as with his marriage, their dad will prove too stubborn to turn back.
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THE LITTLE BLURBS OF flab hanging on either side of Henry’s back, pinched by the elastic of his swim trunks, were called love handles — so named because they were nice to grab during sex. Henry discovered this during an online search using terms like big hunks of flab above my butt and symmetrical back fat boys men. Heart racing, he cleared the search history and wiped the keys of his dad’s laptop, which had quickly greased with his sweat. Henry was just plopping down on the floral covers on the motel bed, trying to arrange his hands casually on his belly, when Dad walked in. No knock.
“Whatcha watching, buddy?”
The TV had been left on CNN. Henry shrugged.
“All right.” Dad put a hand through his sparser and sparser hair. The trip, now into its fifth week, had aged him. He was yellowing. The skin on his face seemed tougher somehow, less humanly soft. His ears were like costume ears, glued on. The balding was accentuated by the fact that Dad hadn’t gotten a haircut all summer. The strands had grown into long, sagging spikes of dried hay. “Hey. You know where your sister is?”
Henry shrugged again.
Dad sat down on the other bed, Gretchen’s bed. “You want to talk about anything?”
What Henry wanted to do was to cry, but he cried too much, too often, and it would only make his face red and splotchy, would only have him wiping his nose on his arm; these things were as bad as love handles and man boobs for making Gretchen and Dad look sadly away from him. They pitied him his shame, which only made it worse.
What Henry wanted to do was to find the zipper on this fat suit and peel the thing right off, to emerge tight and tanned and fast. What Henry wanted to do was to run away from this room, down the balcony stairs, past the pool and teenaged receptionists, down past the many parking lots to the beach. What he wanted to do was to keep running until he got back home. People ran like that, super far and without stopping. Forrest Gump and Terry Fox had done it.
“So. Hey. What should we get for dinner?”
But Henry couldn’t run for the bounce of his man boobs. At least girls had the dignity of bras. He shrugged.
Dad sighed loudly. “I know this is hard, but come on. You’ve got to give me something.”
DINNER WAS ANOTHER SEAFOOD place, another dingy patio surrounded by boats bobbing in the harbor. The patio was perched on a deck, and its angle was so lopsided that they might go sliding off into the water, sinking Titanic-style.
“Let’s do our highlights and lowlights,” Dad said, after ordering the cheapest fish and chips on the menu. Highlights and lowlights had been Mom’s dinner table talk, cheesy enough even then, this listing of the best and worst moments like sportscasters after a game.
Gretchen gave Henry the oh please look. They’d found her elsewhere in the motel, in a stranger’s room, sitting on the floor while this guy Mac played folk songs on his guitar. Mac had big sideburns, was easily twenty. Mom would have flipped, but Dad just told her quietly that it was time for dinner. She was acting strange, slow and smiley, and Henry knew she was pretending to be on drugs to impress Mac. They had x-ray vision with each other.
“Highlight: I met a guy,” Gretchen said.
Dad, unlike Mom, never asked follow-up questions.
“No lowlights,” she claimed.
A long pause followed, and the food arrived on three plates, wafting warmth and sweetness. It had been five hours since Henry ate. That afternoon he’d resisted the lure of snack-cakes sitting boxed on the motel desk and had instead walked down to the beach arcade, tummy gurgling, love handles wobbling as he slapped at the old pinball machines.
“Henry?” Dad said.
“No highlights. No lowlights,” Henry said.
“Come on, buddy.”
“But we’re not doing anything. Nothing’s happening,” he slurped at the straw in his diet coke. “When are we going home?”
about the author
from the library
June's mother is getting married and there's nothing June can do about it. Counting down the days to the wedding while trapped with a sort-of friend and unwanted family-to-be at their lakeside cottage in the Kawarthas, June searches desperately for a way to make the world - and her life - stand still.
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
In the rugged Nepisiguit River region of northern New Brunswick, two hunters face off. One is local sports lodge employee Danny Knockwood, a Mi’gmaw guide with a withered hand. The other is Mui’n, a one-eared black bear battling his inexorable hunger. When Danny is charged by the lodge owner to hunt down the bear that is frightening guests at the salmon pools, his personal values come into sharp conflict with his commitment to the task. The resulting confrontation tests both his physical strength and his beliefs, as Danny begins to recognize a kindred spirit within the fiercely determined bear.
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?
In New York City, Ben smokes too much and sleeps with women as a way to deaden his insecurities. With every indiscretion, he fights off adulthood for one more day, until the return of an ex-lover leaves him unsure of everything. Ben’s best friend, Josh, struggles to find the good in his marriage to Maddie, even as he searches for a way to keep from losing her. Ben’s neighbor, Mrs. Aguilera, looks to make peace with those she has already lost. Gripping tightly to one another like the oddest of families, Ben and his friends embody the place in which they live: a city where everything combines, with a touch of perfect madness, into something more than the sum of its parts.
“I love this story because it’s just plain good. The characters are broken and unsure, but the love they have for each other and the humor that carries them along is genuine and lovely to behold. This story made me laugh even while it was hitting me in the gut, and I’d like nothing more than to sit down and drink a beer with everyone in it. Mr. Goodman, thank you for rocking my literary waffle.”
— Lish McBride, author of Hold Me Closer, Necromancer
Saxophonist Metche Hufu and his band are the talk of Addis Ababa, filling nightclubs and packing dance floors. But the precarious existence of this golden age of culture depends on an emperor’s benevolence - and when his power begins to wane, Metche Hufu's music threatens to be silenced by the sounds of a country torn apart.
“How do you give voice to a sax player silenced by the politics of his country? If you’re a jazz singer like Kurt Elling, you take Dexter Gordon’s solo on ‘Body and Soul’ from his Homecoming album and you turn it into vocalese. If your name is Andrew Forbes and your tenor sax player is Ethiopian and it is Addis Ababa 1973 and his musical idol is King Curtis, you write The Expansiveness of My Sound and what you write is wider, more straight-ahead, stronger with political fervour, sadder than Elling but every bit as smart. Forbes is doing it solo and you have to imagine the quartet behind him. Read it with your fingers tapping and you’ll catch the beat. Read it with your ears open and you’ll hear Metche Hufu’s body and soul. Dig it!”
— T. F. Rigelhof, author of Hooked on Canadian Books: The Good, the Better, and the Best Canadian Novels Since 1984
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
After twenty years of running, Betty quietly returns to her hometown of Arbford, thinking it a solid place to finally put down some roots. But the adage 'you can't go home again' proves true, as Betty finds that her mere presence is more than enough to disrupt the stagnant lives of everyone around her.
“In this cautionary suburban fairy tale, a big-city refugee searching for home finds herself in a nest of multiple Mikes and Pyrex-wielding vipers. With enchanting style and snort-causing wit, Grace O’Connell does casserole-studded claustrophobia like nobody’s business.”
— Jessica Westhead, author of And Also Sharks and Pulpy & Midge