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
THE CREW HAD BEEN repairing the dike for weeks without respite, beginning each day before sunrise, stopping only when it became too dark to continue. But then the monsoons swept in from the southwest, washing out the road. The workers were given a much-needed hiatus.
The boss addressed the men as they jostled for their pay packets.
“Those whose names are on this list”—he nailed a leaf of rice paper to a banyan tree—“be back here when the rains stop. The others, return to your farms.”
Choi’s name was near the top of the list. The youngest of the labourers, he not only had enough energy remaining after the evening noodles to compete in the camp’s wrestling contests, but the strength and agility to win them.
He had fallen in with a carefree youth named Soo, who suggested they wait out the downpours at an inn located in a neighbouring district.
“That’s a long way to go for a bed,” Choi said.
“Have you never heard the song, ‘The Inn of Tender Embraces’?” asked Soo. He whistled a few bars from the traditional melody. “Like the lyrics say, ‘One night at the inn will change your life.’”
“I thought it was just a song!”
They set off immediately.
WHEN THE FIGHTING STOPPED and a truce had been signed, the Order instructed me to help facilitate reconstruction in the provinces. Trang was my driver and translator. Woo-ling, his wife, cooked and cleaned. The couple lived in a cottage behind the rectory.
“Have I told you the story about the inn, Brother Michael?” Trang asked me. “People say it’s true.”
I thought at the time that Trang shared such yarns to help pass the hours and to practise his English on our long, bumpy drives into the interior. A few were classic tales my assistant claimed as his own, confident I wouldn’t recognize them. He also relayed bits of gossip from the market, random thoughts that popped into his head—anything, it seemed, to void the silence as our Jeep skimmed over the bomb-scarred landscape of his beloved homeland.
It was during one of Trang’s accounts, his grammar and vocabulary amended here, that I was reminded of Brother Roderick. As part of our preparation for a life of sacrifice, seminarians are required to endure a year of silence. Brother Roderick counselled the novices.
“Occasionally a lull will occur between two people,” I remember him telling us, though I paraphrase here. “Between friends, between man and wife, between strangers who may have struck up a conversation.”
His Irish lilt is as soothing to me in recall as it was decades ago.
“You mustn’t let the absence of words upset you,” he continued. “Silence is a wonder, not a pothole. There’s no urgency to fill it.”
“And why,” asked one of the novices, speaking for many of us, “wouldn’t we offer a word? To move things along.”
“Because when it’s quiet,” replied the cleric, “the angels are passing. Let them.”
I had never before heard such a notion. The phrase has often been uttered in my presence since, of course, over the years, in disparate lands and circumstances. I know now that there’s a poem entitled “Angels Passing.” And a pulp novel. But Brother Roderick’s usage is the one I choose to remember: angels passing, silence sanctioned.
about the author
DON McLELLAN has worked as a journalist in Canada, South Korea, and Hong Kong. He currently edits a trade magazine in Vancouver. In the Quiet After Slaughter (Libros Libertad, 2008) his debut collection of short stories, was a ReLit Award finalist. Of the short story form, his preference, McLellan says, “Coming to fiction from journalism, I have an appreciation of spare expression. Redundancies are jettisoned. Alice Munro was alleged to have said that she’d rarely read a novel that wouldn’t have made a better short story. I couldn’t agree more. Ironically, the loquacious Gabriel García Márquez has spoken similarly.”
from the library
At the Bar
by Rebecca Rosenblum
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
If You Waited Here, You Would
See Almost Everything
by Danny Goodman
After Ray collapses on the sidewalk outside a New York coffee shop, the bittersweet vagaries of his long marriage come into focus, one heartbeat at a time. From his new vantage point, flat on his back, all their conflicts are laid out against a canvas of sky, contrasting miscommunications and infidelities against something slower, steadier, and ultimately much vaster than he ever realized.
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.
by Jessica Westhead
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
Was More Here
by Danny Goodman
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
of My Sound
by Andrew Forbes
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
by Lana Storey
Some time after the incomprehensible death of his son, Joan Miró has settled into his new job working the overnight shift at a Hasty Market in Toronto. He has plenty of time to think beneath the fluorescent lights of the convenience store: of ghosts and late nights, of downtown living and dying, of customer service and self-preservation, of the beauty of the night sky, and of the attempts people make to connect with one another despite seemingly insurmountable distances. These fragments of life prove as difficult to make sense of as any code—until one night, when an extraordinary series of events suddenly teases a pattern from the dark.
“In this graceful, dark, and nuanced piece, Lana Storey reveals a private man unhinged by grief. These are events—and this a narrative—that will stay in my mind for a long time. Never one to shirk from difficult truths, Lana Storey writes in the tradition of George Saunders: an original, at times disturbing, but ultimately transformative worldview.”
— Carolyn Smart, author of Hooked: Seven Poems and At the End of the Day
“Cross Yourself is Lana Storey’s gorgeous swirling image constellation, a story about a man becoming unhinged from the universe and finding redemption in a downtown Hasty Market convenience store. A vibrant, beating heart of a short fiction, Cross Yourself is a vortex worth being pulled into.”
— Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer, author of the 2005 Amazon.ca/Books in Canada First Novel Award finalist The Nettle Spinner
Deep Breaths Underwater
by Meghan Rose Allen
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.