by Devon Code
A landlord's disturbing eccentricities put him at odds with his tenants. A disgruntled barber's assistant endures his last day on the job. An aspiring painter combats an ongoing series of distractions.
With a generous spirit and keen eye for minutiae, Journey Prize winner Devon Code teases moments of clarity from the chaos of the everyday grind in these three thematically-linked microfictions.
THREE STUDENTS LIVED IN the three-bedroom house; their landlord lived next door. There was a firepit in his backyard, which adjoined the backyard of his female tenants. In this pit he would regularly burn all manner of synthetic substances, taking great pleasure in their incineration. When the flames were at their highest and the fumes at their most noxious, he could be seen standing before the fire, almost at attention, singing in an ardent, stentorian manner. He sang in a foreign language the tenants did not recognize, his lyrics entirely indecipherable, the tunes growing increasingly familiar with each fire.
The fumes would permeate the tenants’ home, making the rear rooms unlivable, causing the tenants to suffer headaches and other ailments as they speculated as to the origin of their elderly landlord’s mania. One of the tenants had learned from the landlord, in that brief mid-summer period before the fires had begun, that during the war he had been forced to work in the camps. In accented but articulate English, the landlord had spoken eloquently about the trials of this horrific time in his past and the lasting impressions they had made upon him. When, several weeks later, the same tenant to whom the landlord had spoken lodged a complaint about the fires, the landlord did not seem to understand, nor could he articulate a coherent response, his facility for English having regressed to a state of complete incomprehensibility, as if the fires’ fumes had a deleterious effect on his faculties. On subsequent occasions, other tenants would confront him, sometimes two at a time, the landlord’s inability to distinguish one tenant from another — along with his unwillingness to look them in the eye — becoming increasingly apparent.
Despite the tenants’ protestations, the fires did not abate. By early autumn they had grown so regular as to cause the tenants to consider breaking their lease. They were reluctant to do so given the reasonableness of the rent, their proximity to the university, and the spaciousness of their accommodation. Their determination to stay gave rise to a variety of measures to curtail the fires, the first of these being the protection of their recyclables. By mid-October, the landlord, having run out of synthetic objects, began to search for plastics in the recycling bin stored on his tenants’ porch, claiming, when questioned, that he was collecting refundable items, the deposits for which would otherwise go unclaimed. His tenants, who were not fooled, firmly forbade him access to the porch. The landlord took to conducting his searches at night, flashlight in hand, waking his tenants with the noise of his rummaging, as if he were a raccoon. In desperation, the tenants began storing their recyclables in their front hall, waiting on Wednesday mornings for the sound of the approaching sanitation truck, so as to prevent the bin from being intercepted.
about the author
DEVON CODE is a fiction writer. He is the author of In A Mist, a collection of stories. Involuntary Bliss, his debut novel, was published by BookThug in October 2016. In 2010, he was the recipient of the Writers' Trust Journey Prize. Originally from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, he lives in Peterborough, Ontario.
from the library
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.
by Kirsty Logan
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
This Is a Love Crime
by Lee Kvern
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
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.
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
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
by Don McLellan
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