by Matt Cahill
Portraits of people marooned within themselves, trapped by their past experiences, by uncertainty and anxiety — individuals for whom each new situation is a grueling journey towards the present, a place where action and choice are possible. In Second World, Matt Cahill illustrates, with honesty and empathy, how the most important breakthroughs are not the life-altering revelations, but rather the minor miracles that get us through each day.
I CROUCH UNSEEN, WAITING for you in the pre-dawn twilight, my eyes clear. Complete in the grim blue pigment, cardinal chirps punctuate the stasis. Nature's imperative cutting through my needs.
BLEARY-EYED, CASSANDRA REACHED into her bag, picked three dollars from her change purse, and held them out without further thought. The man behind the counter wore a leather vest over an old T-shirt, and understated jewellery, but nothing shiny. Barista didn't contain him. He looked at her outstretched hand and matter-of-factly asked her to place the coins instead into a shallow tray sitting on the counter next to the cash register. It was a plain porcelain dish, gently concave to prevent anything from rolling off. For a few seconds Cassandra stared at the tray, then his hands. They were long and sinewy like the rest of him, his nails trimmed neatly.
Was this what he did with everybody? Or just her? She had to use a special dish because she was stupid. Her worry didn't make sense, but sometimes her thoughts didn’t make sense. Too complicated, too busy. She examined him again, her eyes darting to his face, hoping he wouldn't make eye contact. He looked like he had been suspended and starved for years in the sun.
“CHRIS,” SAYS MONA, STARING at me like I'm bleeding. “Why are you sitting so oddly?”
I'm hunched over my laptop like Glenn Gould, the epitome of bad posture. I had hoped she wouldn't notice.
“I pulled something in my back,” I said indifferently, hoping my response would reassure her lest the oxygen be sucked out of our office. Her eyes on me, almost predatory.
I had woken up with my pain, as if I’d pulled something in a dream, but as the morning developed I realized it had been percolating for weeks — most likely caused by my lazy slouch. I couldn’t pretend it wasn't uncomfortable, that I didn't feel somehow deformed.
Earlier, I cried in the washroom. I'm struck by how easily I crumble when I'm carrying pain, the upper floor of my adulthood crashing onto the dollhouse mise en scène of childhood below. This despite my stupid stoicism, my instinct to downplay my condition like an injured animal in the woods. It's such a strange and patently male presumption that harm should so rarely occur, especially seeing as I come from injury — it’s etched on me from when I was a kid. And so this effort to hide what is intrinsically part of me feels immature.
Mona's inquiry makes me question my fortitude, and I need time to remind myself that her question was the act of someone curious and caring, not a threat. Her eyes on me now. Always.
about the author
MATT CAHILL is a Toronto writer. He writes novels, short fiction, and essays. He's contributed work to Ryeberg, BlogTO, and Torontoist. His short story, Snowshoe, appeared in September 2014 with Found Press. His debut novel, The Society of Experience was released in 2015 with Buckrider Books, a new imprint of Wolsak & Wynn. Matt worked for 20 years in the film and television industry before coming to his senses and training to become a psychotherapist. He now has a private practice and is a member of the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario. Matt reads high-falutin’ books of all sorts, plays intermediate soccer, and occasionally drums. His website is mattcahill.ca
by this author
A father, left to raise his troubled young son alone in their secluded country home, must work through his own deep-seated fears and resentments when the boy's ongoing night terrors lead to a confrontation with the inescapable.
“A great piece of writing.”
— Christen Thomas, Executive Director of the Literary Press Group
from the library
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?”
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
The depredations of a corrupt local government and the ravages of a harsh prairie winter force an ostracized but self-sufficient widow to open her home to innocents with nowhere else to turn. Journey Prize finalist Seyward Goodhand's effortless storytelling allows the humanity to shine through in this grim take on a classic tale.
by Richard Rosenbaum
Polly knows what she wants: to be in the greatest band in the world. Oliver knows what he wants: Polly. Together they are The Oughts, a duo trying to attain the unattainable, one basic chord at a time.
“Richard Rosenbaum’s The Oughts jabs its sticky little fingers right into your heart and swirls them around in there for a long, long time. Its characters unfold in pitch-perfect awkwardness and tender apathy, and readers will be struck by the surreal hinges and twitching imagery that Rosenbaum flawlessly weaves in. Writers in the audience should take note: Rosenbaum has created a writhing work of fiction that any scribe would aspire to be capable of pulling off.”
— Liz Worth, author of Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk in Toronto and Beyond and Eleven: Eleven
by Pauline Holdstock
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 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