by Robert J. Wiersema
From the bestselling author of Before I Wake and Bedtime Story.
A child who has only ever known the British Columbia farm of his birth finds himself caught between what once was and what will be. Not even the wonders of a travelling circus can ease his sadness and fear - that is, until he discovers a secret beyond his imagining.
I WAS ELEVEN YEARS old the day the last circus came to Henderson. It was late August, just before the Labour Day weekend, when the world would start to change and grow cold. The leaves were dry in the trees in the woods along the edges of the fields, not coloured yet, but you could feel it coming. The air was already chill in the mornings when I was out doing my chores. It was sweltering by noon, but the mornings were a hint of what was to come.
I was in the west field, far from the house, when the first of the trucks went by. I was going to bring the cows in from the pasture for milking, watching the tall grass as it whipped black lines of dew on the legs of my jeans, and probably wouldn’t have even noticed the truck – there was nothing unusual about trucks with rattling, roaring engines going too fast up the road out front of the farm, farting thick blue exhaust – if not for the horn.
The whole world seemed to jump, startled by the metallic braying that started off like a distraught donkey before dissolving into a hysterical laughter that echoed in the small vee of the valley. Twisting my back faster than my legs could turn, I almost fell over as I spun toward the road.
The caravan stretched as far as I could see, all the way down to the bend at Charlie’s place, maybe farther for all I knew, a ribbon of colour threading between the green of the fields.
I took a step toward the fenceline, toward the road, as the lead truck approached. It was red. You could tell the colour had once been as bright as a fire engine, but now it had faded to a rusty shade, all soft rounded lines and a bubbled hood. The truck was pulling a trailer, a battered silver Airstream, and it seemed to be barely holding together. I could hear the rattle of the frame even over the roughness of the engine.
The windshield was caked with dust; it was impossible to see the driver, but as the truck started to pull even with me, a bare arm extended from the window, gesturing in a way I couldn’t quite understand. Was it a wave? A salute?
I jumped almost as high when the horn sounded for a second time, and I could have sworn that I heard a laugh from inside the truck as the arm pulled back in and the window rolled up partway.
But I wasn’t looking at the arm, not anymore, or at the window. I was looking at the sign on the driver’s side door, the rough sketch of a rounded tent, circled by the words Zeffirelli Brothers Circus and Marvels.
Circus and Marvels.
I forgot about the cows, forgot about everything else. I turned and ran back toward the house. The wet grass slapped at my legs, sprayed as high as my face as I ran.
The caravan unspooled alongside me, faster than I could keep up, and I kept glancing sideways at the vehicles as I ran, the ragged edge of my breath as loud as the engines. Everything I saw, every fragmentary glimpse, felt like a promise: an old VW bug painted with DayGlo flames that I just knew was full of clowns, I could picture them spilling out the doors – onetwothreetwelvenineteen – each of them gaudier, more laugh-terrifying than the last. Another truck, this one a battered, rusted green, struggled to tow a trailer so huge I marvelled that it could move at all, the whole side of it covered with a painting of a trio of jungle cats, a lion, a tiger and a panther, garish and cartoonish, but they looked like they might leap off the truck, spring toward me without warning. A wheezing Winnebago, decorated with a painting of a beautiful woman, long red hair seeming to float behind her, the green of her eyes mirroring the scales of her tail ...
about the author
ROBERT J. WIERSEMA is a writer of fiction and non-fiction and a reviewer who contributes regularly to several national newspapers. He is the bestselling author of three novels – Before I Wake, Bedtime Story and Black Feathers – along with a novella, The World More Full of Weeping, and an autobiographical tribute to Bruce Springsteen, Walk Like a Man. He lives in Victoria, BC, and teaches creative writing at Vancouver Island University and Camosun College. His first collection of short fiction, Seven Crow Stories, will be published in Fall 2016.
from the library
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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
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
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
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 Psychology of Animals Swallowed Alive:
by Kirsty Logan
Embark upon these twenty short, scrumptious flights of fancy from the unmistakable pen of Scott Prize-winning author Kirsty Logan, and you will be astounded, titillated, disturbed, amused, heartbroken, and above all, astonished.
“Logan crafts an exquisitely wrought diorama full of tenderly compelling characters; observations about grief, worship, social order, and human nature, and a love that transcends definition.”
– NPR on Logan's debut novel The Gracekeepers
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.
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