by Jack Bootle
On an isolated English beach a man looks back on his school days, recalling the joy and torment of a secret love affair with a boy full of strange ideas, a boy obsessed with the language of the King James Bible. Moments from their relationship return to him: the hidden meetings on the beach, the first attempts at sex, the boredom of a school assembly in summertime, the cruelty of a young English teacher. But most of all he remembers the boy’s words. They’re words that, years later, will haunt him as he tries to come to terms with the person he has become.
“Psalm 77 is the type of story that one wants to read over and over, searching for meanings previously unseen. It is laced with the hidden, the secret, the sacred. From the sand dunes and their private longings in school to the verses, the imagery, and the final paragraphs, there is so much to uncover . . ." (Read full review)
— Amanda Miller from shortsundone.ca
THAT TERM, WEDNESDAY MORNINGS were chapel. The fifth form faced the altar in stiff rows, like soldiers lined up in front of a firing squad; boys on the right side of the aisle, girls on the left, blazers buttoned regardless of the heat. You stood two rows in front of me, the back of your neck sunburnt. Your erection, like mine, was straining against the black polyester of your school trousers, or at least that’s what I hoped. Mr Harris, a decrepit art teacher playing priest, his face sagged and wrinkled like an old leather handbag, loomed before us at the lectern, spluttering through his favourite Bible passages from a battered copy of the King James Authorised. I didn’t listen. All I could think about was your neck, how I would run my fingers down it, tracing lines of white in the redness, later on the beach. I wanted to climb over the heads in front of me and kiss that sunburn.
They were never-ending, those Bible passages. Vast swathes of Genesis one week, great chunks chewed out of the Gospels the next. Then endless Psalms, Proverbs that went on forever, an entire Epistle to the Ephesians. The student body, sweating and twitching in shirts and shoes, knotted ties and regulation tights, groaned under its collective breath like a single massive organism, an exhausted coral reef, every time Mr Harris stepped up to the lectern. One week, after a ten-minute recital from the Book of Job, Claire Simmons fainted on the front row and fell forwards across the sanctuary steps, her skirt riding up so everyone could see her knickers. In a rare moment of excitement, we were dismissed early, and we burst out into the sunshine, breathing great gulps of clean air and squawking; a flock of crows released into the summer sky.
It wasn’t like that for you. You thought those Wednesday mornings were beautiful. You didn’t think about the beach, or my cock, or GCSEs, or even Claire Simmons’s knickers. Instead, you leant forwards, eager to catch every sentence of those verses and psalms, the ancient words running through your body like an electric current. It seemed to you that the words themselves were speaking, not Mr Harris, that they were speaking through Mr Harris even as he spoke them, and they set off a kind of magical reaction in you—one that started deep in your body, your gut and your bones, but reached out through your eyes and skin into the world, transmuting every particle so that it shimmered in gold.
It’s like alchemy, you once said, and I got nervous and looked away and hoped no one could hear, because people thought you were a weird kid and speaking about things like alchemy and the Bible were only going to make you seem weirder.
about the author
JACK BOOTLE lives in London, England, where he writes and works as a TV producer. Over the past few years, he’s devised and produced a reality show about hot teens stranded on a desert island, a wildlife documentary about homeless badgers, a series about adult illiteracy, and a film set inside a maximum security prison in the Philippines (way more fun than it sounds). When he’s not busy writing and making television, he runs a strange quiz night in a basement in the East End. He has four webbed toes.
from the library
Romance is candlelight on cheekbones, blurring gazes and the press of heels on strange sheets. But what happens a year later? You’re sharing bath towels and bickering over who forgot to buy a light bulb. There is beauty in a familiar hand on the nape of your neck. There is love in waking up under a shared blanket. This story is about the romance of domesticity.
“Kirsty is one of the best and brightest . . . when I read her stuff I feel like I could taste it, chew it, roll it around on my tongue, the language is so delicious and sturdy and musical. She also has a knack for getting relationships exactly right in her writing, whether between parent and child or lovers or friends.”
— Amber Sparks, Fiction Editor at Emprise Review
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
Charlotte is on the cusp of adolescence, and her world is being turned upside down. Unable to turn to her distant mother or absent father, she searches for guidance on the streets of downtown Toronto—and discovers God (or some version of Him) in the gutter.
“The Last Judgment is a story that penetrates into the heart of childhood sadness. Charlotte is without tools to fix what is broken, except for the incredible force of her will. The connections she makes between religion, parental failure, sexuality, and love make perfect sense because they are told in her bell-clear voice. This story is warm and tragic and, at moments, grimly funny.”
— Rebecca Rosenblum, author of Once and Road Trips
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
A small-time internet scammer is shaken from her somewhat safe new life when an investigator arrives with questions to do with her erstwhile "period of moral decline" — specifically, the whereabouts of a young woman whose brief, bright friendship nearly steered her from the stability she now craves.
Steve has his own comic book store, a limitless supply of comic books, and all the time in the world to collect them. That should be enough. But eventually, everyone - even Steve - gets lonely. And when his time comes, he too has to learn that (eternal) life isn’t about what you spend it on - it’s about who you spend it with.
“Every time I read something by Kirsty, I think, ‘Damn her, I wish I’d written that.’ She is the kind of writer that you can’t help but read with teeth-crunching envy, broken-hearted admiration, and a realization that your own work is not half as good as you’d hoped it might be. Be forewarned writers and readers: you will never be the same.”
— Shanna Germain, finalist for the 2010 John Preston Short Fiction Award and nominee for the 2008 Pushcart Prize
Coming out of an unhappy relationship and a stint at an artist colony, Charlotte, a writer, takes a job teaching at a private ESL college. There she befriends Renata—audacious, sexy, and as changeable as Proteus. “I have a story for you,” Renata says to her one day over lunch. She doesn’t elaborate further, but Charlotte soon discovers that she has found in Renata an unexpectedly passionate and compelling subject.
“Caroline Adderson is such a graceful and intelligent writer that the work that must surely go into creating her hilarious, prismatic stories is never betrayed in the language. There is no strain on the page, not a bead of sweat. I think of her as a writer’s writer. I envy her talent and learn from her sentences. The short story, Obscure Objects, is, I’m happy to report, Adderson at her glorious best.”
— Barbara Gowdy, author of Helpless and The White Bone
“Obscure Objects, Caroline Adderson’s fierce and affecting workplace comedy, is a deadpan gem: droll, moving, snapping-smart.”
— Meg Wolitzer, author of The Uncoupling, The Ten-Year Nap, and The Position