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
A recruiter for a Division I college basketball team travels to a town in hopes of finally convincing the year's prize high school prospect to play for his team. Over several days, he reflects on his love of the sport, his respect for the kids, and a job that forces him to sweep sentiment aside in order to get results.
“Andrew Forbes' The Gamechanger is a powerful work from a point-of-view — that of the scout, the talent evaluator — which is not often seen or done convincingly, as it is here. A story about fathers and sons, about fate, and about the implicit savageries that lurk at the heart of the sports we love and the teams we cheer for. This is wonderful, raw writing.”
— Craig Davidson, author of Rust and Bone and Cataract City
“A fascinating look at the relationships a recruiter has to manage, from the sacrifices of being away from their family, to dealing with rival recruiters, prospects and their friends and family ... a very nuanced and layered approach that goes beyond just a man with a job to do at a gym.”
— Alex Wong, stevenlebron.com
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.
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
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.
In this unexpectedly dark character study, Jessica Westhead puts you in the shoes of an apprentice forced to listen to a seasoned wedding DJ as he lectures on the tricks of the trade. Emboldened by the captivity of his audience, the DJ's 'humorous' observations and grievances claw deeper and deeper, betraying ugliness at the core.
“In the still-frothing wake of And Also Sharks, here’s another sadly hilarious and hilariously sad Jessica Westhead story with bite. The self-deluding wedding DJ in The Lesson is a perfect addition to Westhead’s bent gallery of sympathetic sad sacks blustering their way through work and love ever after.”
— Zsuzsi Gartner, author of All the Anxious Girls on Earth and the 2011 Giller Prize–shortlisted Better Living Through Plastic Explosives
After undergoing a cosmetic treatment to recover her lost youth, a middle-aged woman finds herself reconnected to her alienated daughter - a young woman still searching for her own path in life - in an unexpected and incredible way. A modern-day fable from two-time Scotiabank Giller Prize nominee Pauline Holdstock.
“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
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
An imaginative and resonant work of speculative literature from ReLit Award-winning author Darren Greer. Twin brothers, born on an oppressive family farm, discover a miraculous way to escape the dreariness of their lives, charting a course that promises equal measures of wonder and heartbreak.