New Books and Featured Reading Lists

Each week on the 49th Shelf homepage, we highlight new releases. We also make theme-based lists and showcase lists from guest contributors and 49th Shelf members. This page archives these selections so they are always available to our members.

Show only:
New Fiction for the week of August 5th : New Fiction for August
The Retreat

The Retreat

A Novel of Suspense
edition:Hardcover
tagged : psychological
More Info
The Chai Factor

The Chai Factor

A Novel
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook Paperback
tagged : humorous
More Info
You've Been Volunteered

You've Been Volunteered

A Class Mom Novel
edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover
More Info
City of Windows

City of Windows

A Novel
edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback
tagged : crime
More Info
This week's recommended reading lists

Watch Out for Wolves

0 ratings
rated!
rated!
View List
New Children's for the week of July 22nd : New Middle Grade Hits!
Shout Out for the Fitzgerald-Trouts
Excerpt

We had had a swim and we had eaten ginker cake and we were sitting on the rocks beside the Fitzgerald-Trout siblings’ favorite fishing stream when they began to tell me their story. Kim, the oldest, spoke first. “Kimo and I think what happened to us should be called ‘The Family Calamity,’” she said.
Family because it had happened to the five of us,” Kimo chimed in. “And calamity because that’s a word for when things go really wrong.”
“Did things really go that wrong?” I asked.
The childrens’ five sets of eyes in their five brown faces looked at me like my question was absurd.
“Um, yes,” said Kim in a voice that exposed just how hard she and her siblings found it trying to make a grown-up understand anything important. “We’re only telling you this because we want to make sure that what happened to us doesn’t happen to any other family, ever.”
“Write that part down,” said Toby, the youngest boy, pointing to my notebook. He was holding his baby sister, Penny, in his lap and she seemed to be nodding in agreement.
I was about to put pen to paper when Pippa added, “You should put the word monster in the name too, because a monster was definitely part of the problem.”
“Yeah. Plus, it sounds way cooler.” Toby grinned at his sister.
“Okay,” I said. “‘The Family Monster Calamity.’” I wrote it in big letters at the top of the first page of my notebook. “Tell me how it started.”
That’s when they all began to talk at once. Kimo said something about their boat being taken and Kim said, “It was all the secrets.” I couldn’t make out what Toby or Pippa were saying, but it didn’t matter because as soon as the baby spoke, they all stopped talking.
“What did Penny say?” I asked them.
The baby herself answered, saying, “Wimo.”
“She’s talking about the limousine,” Toby explained. He looked more than a little sheepish.
Kim stared at me gravely. “Penny’s right. The limo was the first secret between us.”
Pippa wiped her glasses on her T-shirt and said matter-of-factly, “The limo, yes, the limo. That’s where you should start our story.”

close this panel
Clara Voyant
Excerpt

Clara Costa had only been at Kensington Middle School for a month, but already she understood the implications of a Blazer Day. All the Newsies did. When Wesley Ferris, editor-in-chief of the Kensington Middle School Gazette, showed up to school wearing a blazer, she meant business.
So when the last bell rang on Tuesday afternoon, Clara was ready. She’d been watching the clock tick steadily toward 3:15 all through math class. The second it hit, she slammed her textbook shut, hopped out of her desk, and beelined for her meeting.
Unfortunately, it was hard to get anywhere fast at Kensington Middle School, or KMS as the students called it. KMS was enormous—easily three times the size of High Park Public, where Clara had gone to elementary school—and jam-packed with what felt like three hundred times as many kids (though it was probably closer to ten).
They surrounded her in the hallway, sweeping her along with them as they surged toward their lockers, laughing and shouting.
“Excuse me.” She tried to push her way across the hall. “Um, can I get through? I’ve got to—”
A basketball sailed over her head and smacked the wall. Some kids gasped. Others guffawed.
“Watch it,” someone warned. “She’s around here somewhere.”
Everyone paused to glance over their shoulders, including Clara. But Mrs. Major, the KMS custodian, was nowhere in sight. Relieved, she continued on, picking up the pace but being careful not to break into a run. Mrs. Major’s Number One Rule—even more important than No Throwing Basketballs—was No Running in the Halls. And Mrs. Major was not to be disobeyed. Mrs. Major was even more intimidating than Wesley Ferris in a blazer.

close this panel
The Diamond Mistake Mystery
Excerpt

Day One, Mistake One

“But why wouldn’t you want to walk your reading buddy to school?” Renée Kobai turns to me, her head tilted, her hair held up in two pigtails by sparkly red bows that match her glasses. “She lives right next door.” Those pigtails flip over like puppy-dog ears that listen for my answer.

We’re on our early morning dog walk together, the one we do before school. Mrs. Bennett pays us to exercise her dogs, Ping and Pong. Well, she hires my dad’s company, Noble Dog Walking, and we work for Dad.

Renée squints at me. “Is it because she’s a girl? ’Cause my reading buddy is a boy and you don’t hear me complaining.”

“Yeah, well you don’t have to walk him. Anyway, it’s not because the teacher paired me with a girl. You’re a girl.” Although if I’m being honest, I’d rather have a boy for a reading buddy; maybe he wouldn’t constantly be begging for sparkly fairy unicorn picture books. Also, a friend who’s a boy would make sleepovers easier. “C’mon, Pearl is a kindergarten baby. They slow you down. They forget things. They have to go pee.” As we walk away from Renée’s house, I steer Pong, the rescue greyhound, away from people’s lawns.

“But it’s only for three days, right?”

“I hope so. Her sister Ruby’s on set as a background performer on Girl Power and Mrs. Lebel has to be there with her.”

“And her parents are paying you?”

“Yeah, so? It’s still a pain.”

Renée turns back to Ping, the Jack Russell she walks. “Ping, no! Stop!”

Ignoring Ping on Renée’s part was a tiny mistake. Everyone makes them. Dad tells me if we don’t ever do anything wrong, we’ll probably never get anything exciting right. So I try to take note of mine — and those of my friends and family. I can learn from those, too, after all.

Renée quickly tries to correct her little lapse of attention by tugging on Ping’s leash to get him away from Mr. Rupert’s wishing well. But it’s too late. His hind leg is up in the air and he’s watering it. All she succeeds in doing is getting Ping to bounce on his other three legs while still spraying. As a hyperactive Jack Russell, Ping loves to bounce.

The greyhound I’m walking turns his long, thin nose to gaze wistfully back at the wishing well. “No, Pong, don’t even think it.” The two dogs are a mismatched wagon team, both white with black spots, but Pong is tall, and Ping short. They love to play pee tag. “C’mon, guys, let’s run!”

Distraction works. Both Renée and I jog for a bit to get past Mr. Rupert’s house. He hates dogs going to the bathroom on his lawn, never mind that wishing well. Also, he recently adopted a huge cat named Bandit who attacks dogs and people. Bandit is nowhere to be seen today, nor is Mr. Rupert, so this mistake doesn’t need to count.

“Do you think walking your reading buddy will be more work than these guys?” Renée huffs and puffs as we slow down again.

“Probably.” I shrug my shoulders. “You know Pearl is a flight risk. She went to the bathroom in the middle of reading Dogman and never came back.”

“Oh yeah. Geez, I thought every kid liked Dogman. That half-dog, half-human thing is hilarious.”

“Comics, action, right? Plus, I think I’m a great reader.” We come to the end of a block and stop a moment to herd the dogs close, so we can cross safely over to the Bennetts’ house. “To top it off, she said she had visited with a pirate and his parrot.”

“So she has an imagination. She came back in,” Renée says.

“Yeah, but then she forgot to actually go to the bathroom and peed her pants.”

“She changed herself, though. Not like you had to clean up after her,” Renée says.

“I never got to finish Dogman. Little kids are a pain, I’m telling you.” Pong squats and I take out the last bag on the roll from my pocket, turn it inside out, and grab the long lump of warm poo he’s produced. Not my favourite part of the job. “Remind me to get another roll of bags,” I tell Renée. “I’m all out.”

“Okay.”

“And never mind Pearl, do you remember that time Mr. Lebel yelled at us? Because you looked at his Mustang?”

“Is Mr. Lebel Pearl’s dad? Wow. Okay, he is scary.”

“Scary and hairy. I think he’s really a yeti.” Not only does hair poke out of the top of his shirt, it also springs from his ears, his legs, his hands, and his nostrils, and while I think it’s a mistake to judge someone by his looks — my dad’s kind of furry, too — Mr. Lebel blamed us when paint streaks showed up on his car. Renée had just been bending down to check them out. He never apologized even after we caught the real criminal.

close this panel
The Mostly True Story of Pudding Tat, Adventuring Cat
Excerpt

The wide world drew Pudding on from the moment he stepped outside. The farm, the woods, the fields. He smelled it all.

And something else. His sensitive whiskers tingled with it.

Change.

The wide world was changing. Like Pudding, people were on the move, leaving farms for the cities, the old world for the new. Some wanted a better life, others adventure. All of them were dreaming. Dreaming big — of automobiles and airplanes, subways and electric lights. Dreaming of the things we take for granted now, but which were new amazements then.

The voice urged him on, too. “Giddy up.”

“Who are you?” Pudding asked....

“A flea,” the voice answered. “What did you think?”

close this panel
This week's recommended reading lists

To the Moon!

0 ratings
rated!
rated!
View List

YA Summer Reading

0 ratings
rated!
rated!
View List

Amazing DIY

0 ratings
rated!
rated!
View List
New Non-Fiction for the week of July 15th : New Books on Science
Science of Shakespeare

Science of Shakespeare

A New Look at the Playwright's Universe
edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover
More Info
The Bulldog and the Helix

The Bulldog and the Helix

DNA and the Pursuit of Justice in a Frontier Town
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged :
More Info
Why Do Onions Make Me Cry?

Why Do Onions Make Me Cry?

Answers to Everyday Science Questions You've Always Wanted to Ask
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
More Info
Orca

Orca

How We Came to Know and Love the Ocean's Greatest Predator
edition:Hardcover
tagged :
More Info
A Feast of Science

A Feast of Science

Intriguing Morsels from the Science of Everyday Life
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
More Info
Rise of the Necrofauna

Rise of the Necrofauna

The Science, Ethics, and Risks of De-Extinction
edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover eBook
More Info
The Whole-Body Microbiome

The Whole-Body Microbiome

How to Harness Microbes—Inside and Out—for Lifelong Health
edition:Paperback
More Info
18 Miles

18 Miles

The Epic Drama of Our Atmosphere and Its Weather
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
More Info
Excerpt

 

Introduction

“Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there really is no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.” — John Ruskin

You’d never guess it but we live in a world flatter than a sheet of paper. Shrink the Earth to the size of a basketball and our atmosphere would be as thick as a layer of food wrap. The oceans likewise. Two of the most critical elements for our survival, water and air, are relatively scarce commodities. We are like microorganisms living in an evanescent fluid film, a dampness that would burn off like morning dew if the sun increased its solar output by just 15 percent.

 

Astronauts know all of this. From the space station, they see the tops of clouds spread out at the surface of the atmosphere like smoke beneath glass. And slipping back under that thin blanket of air is a real challenge. Their reentry angle can be no shallower than 5.3° and no steeper than 7.7° — too shallow and they will ricochet into deep space, too steep and they will burn to a crisp.

 

Yet it’s also a question of scale. The vantage from here, from Earth’s surface, is of another order entirely. The sky seems to go on forever. When a waning moon shines by day, it looks to me as if it’s suspended in the same blue atmosphere I breathe. No wonder Icarus dreamed of flying to the sun. And the immeasurable vastness of clouds, taller than mountains, what could contain that immensity?

 

For us, the atmosphere is a theater beyond reckoning, a massive, transparent stage for the drama of the skies. Every sunset is a light show; every storm a nail-biting, colossal thriller. Weather inspires our emotions and sometimes seems to reflect them. There is nothing more romantic than a rainy evening for newlyweds on their honeymoon, and how many philosophers have paced through windy streets deep in thought?

 

When I was a boy, the wind was a mood, a way of being, a kind of delirium that called me out of my house. I raced the leaves blowing along the street or stood at the edge of the ravine to hear the wind’s soft thunder in my ears. Clouds were another mood. At sunset, they transformed into dreamlike landscapes inviting the secret empire of night. I was fascinated by weather. Every season was a new universe, the next chapter in an epic story I made up as I went along.

 

January found me at a research station in Antarctica in the ravine behind my parents’ house. There I braved subzero blizzards to map glaciers with my special team of explorers, handpicked from neighborhood friends. Once, with amazing luck, we unearthed the frozen carcass of a mammoth, and on another expedition there was a time warp in the middle of a particularly dense snowfall, and we came face-to-face with a snarling saber-toothed tiger that charged out of the blizzard. Fortunately, we survived.

 

One hot July, there was a softball game followed by an expedition to explore the upper reaches of the Amazon in the same ravine — the raucous calls of howler monkeys echoed through the rainforest while treacherous Komodo dragons rustled in the undergrowth. We came upon the forest trails of lost tribes, sometimes catching glimpses of their ocher-painted skin as they disappeared around the bend of a trail. Of course, since then I’ve discovered that mammoths didn’t visit Antarctica, nor do Komodo dragons inhabit Brazil, but I’ve never lost my deep connection with climate and weather.

 

When I was a little older, in my early teens, I was fascinated by weather forecasts. Forecasters were scientific magicians who could conjure storms out of a sunny afternoon. From Weather: A Golden Nature Guide, a book my parents bought me, I began to learn the weather signs: a ring around the sun meant rain within one to two days; earth glow on the moon (when the dark side of a half-moon is faintly visible) was the reflection of masses of white clouds to the west, an almost sure sign of rain to come. There were illustrations of hurricanes and tornadoes and sun dogs. Now I was really hooked.

 

Then one afternoon, while leafing through my new copy of the Edmund Scientific mail-order catalog, among the usual assortment of tempting items — ant farms, glow-in-the-dark stick-on stars, aquariums, test tubes — I noticed a new item, a complete home weather station that included an outdoor anemometer (those whirling wind cups that measure wind speed). I had to have it. I saved my allowance and made extra money doing yard work.

 

When the package arrived, it was a little smaller than I expected, but everything was in there, including the glorious anemometer with its three wind cups. I blew on them and they twirled obediently, orbiting the little mast. There was also a separate spar for the wind vane, and both had connections for wires that led to my indoor instrument panel. All I had to do was install the wind vane and anemometer high enough to give accurate readings, which wouldn’t be easy. It meant I had to make a trek to the top of my parents’ house.

 

The afternoon of the installation was cool and windy. I climbed out of an attic window that was barely big enough to squeeze through and then screwed the base for both masts into the wooden gable above the dormer at the peak of the house. I imagined being captured by a National Geographic photographer as I braved the harsh mountain gales to install my weather station. After setting up the anemometer and wind vane, I connected the wires and threw the loose coils over the eaves in the general direction of my bedroom window below. Then I clambered back inside.

 

In my bedroom, I snared the dangling wires with a rake and pulled them through the window. I’d already installed the two wall-mounted, battery-powered weather gauges that the wires would connect to, one for wind velocity and the other for wind direction. Then came the moment of truth — if nothing happened, if the instrument panel was dead, I’d have to trek back to the roof to check the connections. I hooked up the wires, and the gauges danced to life.

 

The directional gauge was a circular compass with a little arrow that pointed out the wind direction in tandem with the vane on the roof mast. The velocity gauge was horizontal with a needle indicator — like an old-fashioned speedometer in an automobile dashboard — that showed a wavering wind speed of about 20 miles per hour. I was euphoric. Along with the barometer and window thermometer that I’d previously mounted, I now had a professional indoor weather station. I could take instrument readings from the comfort of my own bedroom no matter what the weather outside, and, more importantly, I could make my own weather forecasts, going mano a mano against the evening news’ weatherman.

 

By combining weather signs with instrument readings, I became a pretty good forecaster. I learned that a halo around the moon at night along with falling barometric pressure meant that it would probably rain within 18 to 48 hours. When an east wind shifted to the west and the cloud bases got higher and the barometer was rising, fair weather usually followed. In the winter, a north wind that shifted counterclockwise to become a west wind and then a southerly wind meant that snow was likely within a day.

 

Later I discovered that I could make pretty good predictions — especially of stormy weather — using only wind direction and my barometer. If the wind was blowing out of the south and then shifted to the east and my barometer was 29.8 inches or below and falling rapidly, a severe storm was imminent. The same was true if the wind shifted from east to north, especially in the winter and my barometer again was showing 29.8 inches or below and falling rapidly. I usually compared my results to the evening news’ weather report. I wasn’t always right — there were some things I just couldn’t see coming without a satellite view and upper-atmosphere readings — but I did pretty well considering.

 

But for all the quantitative data I was now receiving, my love of weather remained visceral, aesthetic even. The instrument panel just underlined the meteorological drama. A howling gale, even if gusts were measured at 50 miles per hour, was still a howling gale, with all the excitement of the wind roaring through the trees and garbage cans blowing down the street. Somehow the science permitted an illusion if not of control then at least perhaps a complicity of sorts. I was part of the weather.

 

Today I like to think of myself as a connoisseur of weather, an epicurean of hourly changes. Perhaps it’s a consequence of being a writer, or maybe I’m just meteorologically sensitive, but I’m very susceptible to the moods of weather. I revel in certain hot, overcast August afternoons with a ceiling of featureless, rainless stratus clouds. It’s the brightest light possible without casting any shadows, only a gathering of darkness under the parked cars or trees in the park. I like a similar sky on October afternoons when the undersides of the clouds are quilted, and the gray light seems to amplify the fiery reds and oranges in the autumn foliage.

 

There’s magic to urban evenings just after the sun sets and the city lights the bottoms of scattered cumulus clouds. They become islands between which stars ride an indigo blue ocean. And in July there are windy, hot summer afternoons, clear and dry, sometimes followed by equally windy summer nights where even the Milky Way seems to be adrift. I have seen sunsets as astonishing as fireworks, like surreal Sistine ceilings that stretched from horizon to horizon, and I remember foggy mornings like mysteries that dissolve the world. As T.S. Eliot wrote about ocean fog in his poem “Marina,” “What seas what shores what gray rocks and what islands / What water lapping the bow / And scent of pine and the woodthrush singing through the fog.”

 

What exquisite atmospheric nuance — a boat in the fog, where scent and song are the only beacons. Eliot’s fog conceals our highest spiritual aspirations and yet also evokes our devastating ignorance. As a species, we have so much left to understand and yet our yearning is our beacon. In a way, we’re like astronauts riding flaming ships through the sky on their return to Earth; we can only have faith. The astronauts know our atmosphere is a narrow, fragile margin, but they also know that it’s a magnificent realm — at once gorgeous, terrifying, capricious and elusive.

 

close this panel
This week's recommended reading lists

Swim-Lit

0 ratings
rated!
rated!
View List
New Non-Fiction for the week of July 1st : New: Biography and Memoir
Love Lives Here

Love Lives Here

A Story of Thriving in a Transgender Family
edition:Paperback
More Info
Excerpt

She told me in the car.
   Or rather, she didn’t tell me. Because it’s what wasn’t said that gave it all away—the space between our words leaving a silence where you could almost hear our hearts break.
   It’s funny how much we remember about important moments. That night, a warm summer rain was tapping lightly against the car windows and I could smell the air conditioner as it worked overtime to push out the mugginess of early July. I could hear the splash of puddles as we made our way down the road toward our suburban neighbourhood. I remember how a bright-green grocery store sign lit up the car’s interior as I turned and asked that one pivotal question, and how our ten-minute ride home ended up taking well over an hour.
   Whenever I think about the night my life changed forever, I’m thrust backwards into sensory overload. The sights, the smells, the sounds are forever a part of the memory. It’s only one piece of a much larger story, but I recall it as clearly as I do my chil­dren’s first breaths or my grandmother’s last.
   I suppose this makes sense, since that night was both the start of a new life and the end of an old one.
   By any measure, it had been a terrible date night. Unbelievably so, even for us. And hey, we knew terrible. Back then, I had a mopey, moody partner. This made everything—including date nights—a lot less fun. How do you have a good time when some­one is lugging around misery like a millstone? The person I married barely smiled, even at the best of times. But after more than two decades together, I had come to accept this as our reality. Some people are just not the smiley types, you know?
   Oh, you know. We all know people like this: the ones you can’t coax a grin out of no matter how hard you try. For years, I figured that if I led by example—if I just smiled more, modelled joy or exuded gratitude—the moodiness would disappear. The cloud would lift.
   After trying those techniques for so long, and failing spec­tacularly to get the result I was hoping for, I probably should have known better. Sadly, I’m a killer optimist. I always see a way to let the light in. I’m Charlie Brown running for the football Lucy is holding for me with a mischievous glint in her eye. Damn it, I was going to get the person I’d married to love life, even if it took another two decades. Just watch me.
   That’s why I’d suggested we go for coffee and cinnamon buns. What kind of person can eat a cinnamon bun without cracking a smile? I was sure I had a foolproof plan as we made our way to Quitters, a quaint hipster establishment owned by the famed musician Kathleen Edwards. In 2014, she had pur­posefully stepped away from the spotlight to return to Ottawa and open a coffee shop. Her decision garnered much local atten­tion. Who walks away from a career full of accolades to make espressos in the suburbs? People like Kathleen, that’s who. Those who seem able to shift from one life to another with much grace and little fear. In hindsight, it seems only fitting that a place that symbolizes so much change would serve as the back­drop to our own seismic shift.
   That night, we sat along the back wall in mismatched chairs, a candle dancing on the table between us. I was probably smiling too much and drinking my coffee too fast, which I always do when I’m nervous and fidgety. I know for certain I was asking what was wrong. Because that’s what you do on a date night, right? One of you mopes, and the other tries to prod out the cause. They make movies about people like us and release them on Valentine’s Day.
   “I wish you would just tell me what’s going on with you,” I said. We sang this little song on a regular basis; we both knew the words.
   The person I loved stared out the window. It was nearly dark out; the dim candlelight between us was casting shadows on both our faces. Neither of us was smiling now.
   “It’s nothing. It’s not important.” This was the reply that always followed my prodding.
   “It is important, and I don’t buy that it’s nothing,” I coun­tered, just as I always did. “If it were nothing, you wouldn’t be this unhappy all the time.”
   Unhappy. So unhappy. I was tired of it. Twenty-two years later, it was time to figure out what the hell was going on.
   After years spent emotionally propping up our family—like Atlas with an impressive muffin top—I had reached my limit. All that emotional lifting was exhausting and left little room for compassion. Dealing with a spouse in an Eeyore-like state—anger or melancholy oozing out of every pore—and feeling like I had to crank up my own happiness to shield the kids from it all, my magical well of giving a damn had run dry. And there, at the bottom, sat the bitter little troll I’d become. Because once I had used up all my overcompensating smiles and excessive happiness, once I had tried to make things better yet again, I would land with a thunk on the cold, hard floor of failure. With that, my patience would unravel and the troll would start shouting angrily from the bottom of the well.
   “We have a great life!” I often said when I’d reached my breaking point, my voice filled with frustration. “Three amaz­ing kids, a nice home and full bellies. What more could you ask for? Some people would kill for this life! I just don’t get you.” It was a script I’d memorized.
   But not this time. For some reason, I went rogue. For some reason, on this night—in this place of coffee and big changes—I held it together. Somewhere deep down, I must have had a spe­cial reserve of patience for this occasion—vintage, stored in fancy bottles with dust on them. I pulled some of that patience out of the cellar and stayed surprisingly calm.
   That was a good thing. Because as it turns out, it’s hard to open up to someone if that someone is frustrated. This is espe­cially true if you are holding back on sharing a life-altering secret out of fear of your entire world falling apart.
   I’m glad I drew from my reserve that night. By not getting angry, I changed the pattern. I likely saved us another twenty-two years of dysfunctional dancing. Unfortunately, I took what nor­mally would have been a bad evening and turned it into a truly terrifying one. Because what would be revealed in the car on the ride home would shatter the life I thought we had. In just a few minutes, I would be staring at the rubble beneath my feet and wondering what the hell I had just done.
   But hey, at least I had good intentions.

close this panel
Ready to Come About
Excerpt

Chapter One

Winter 1981, in our second-floor apartment of an old brick house in downtown Ottawa, I sat at the drop-leaf table David had set with a faded chintz tablecloth, a pair of candlesticks, and the sparkling cutlery we had been given as wedding presents, while he prepared dinner. There were blizzard-like conditions beyond the frosty panes of glass, but the kitchen’s baby-blue radiator kept us warm.

“What’s cookin’?” I asked, watching him turn stove dials up and down, lift and lower pot lids, and open and close the oven door like a one-man band.

“My own recipe.” He stirred a dollop of butter into a steaming pot. “Pork Shake ’n Bake, except on chicken,” he divulged with pride.

Gotta love ’im. I giggled to myself.

After serving up two plates of his concoction with Minute Rice, mixed vegetables, and sprigs of parsley placed just so, he sat down, uncorked a bottle of Mateus, and poured us each a glass.

“Happy anniversary, my dear,” he said.

“Happy anniversary,” I said, smiling.

We had been married seven weeks. He thought that was cause enough for celebration. My heart swelled as our glasses clinked.

We ate at a leisurely pace, but chatted with passion about our new life together.

Ottawa, with its green spaces and vibrant arts scene, had a lot to offer. Perhaps we’d even make it home. Kids? Absolutely. When? Soon, was my thinking.

“Well then …” David said with a glint, and we laughed.

And workwise, we were off to an auspicious start. He had been promoted to permanent status as an entry-level accounting clerk in a high-tech firm. The pay was good, his colleagues were collegial, and he could bike to work — perfect for the time being.

I had just completed a week of orientation as staff occupational therapist in the rehabilitation wing of a nearby hospital. The department was a beehive of optimism: an amputee being trained to feed himself using prosthetic arms in one area, a quadriplegic learning to drive a power wheelchair in another. “The OT mission is function with dignity. The vision is possibility,” I explained to David.

“You’ll be so great at it,” he said, his soft blue eyes moist.

I scooped up a forkful of veggies and considered that he was absolutely right.

“It feels like what I was meant to do. And to grow old and ugly with you,” I joked. “Seriously, everything’s just so perfect right now.” My eyes welled as I took a bite.

That’s when he said, “The only thing I regret about being married is I won’t ever sail an ocean.”

I stopped chewing — and, momentarily, breathing — and studied his face.

He was serious.

“Didn’t even know you sail,” I said as evenly as possible.

“Oh yeah. I did. My Aunt Caroline gave me a small sailboat my grandfather had built. I used to sail it on Lake Yosemite, an irrigation lake about seven miles from our house. My mom would drop me off there on her way to work. I”d sail back and forth all day long and imagine I was crossing an ocean, even though it was only a mile wide. Silly.”

Why was I just hearing about this for the first time now?

Why did he presume I’d be unsupportive?

And just how regretful was he and would he be with the passage of time? Would he become one of those bitter old men who look back on their lives with despair? Worse, would he blame me?

“More chicken?” he asked.

“God! I can hear it already; you introducing me as ‘my wife, Sue, the dream wrecker’ to our tablemates in the nursing home!”

“Whoaaaa! What the —”

“Don”t you whoa me!” I said, determined to nip any notion I might be overreacting in the bud.

David backtracked as best he could: it was a poor choice of words; he even surprised himself with the comment; he couldn’t be happier. “It was a childhood fantasy, nothing more,” he insisted.

But as he told the story, his face lit up in such a way I wasn’t entirely convinced he had left this fantasy behind. So, determined to seem open to the preposterous idea, I remarked with as much conviction as I could muster, “You know, anything’s possible.”

And we finished our meal listening to the radiator gurgle and ping.

close this panel
Me, Myself, They

Me, Myself, They

Life Beyond the Binary
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
More Info
Chop Suey Nation

Chop Suey Nation

The Legion Cafe and Other Stories from Canada's Chinese Restaurants
edition:Paperback
More Info
Dirty Work

Dirty Work

My Gruelling, Glorious, Life-changing Summer In the Wilderness
edition:Paperback
More Info
Excerpt

The first night in the back cabin, the four of us don’t stay up to chat. Instead, we lie in our bunks, silent and still. When I shift my gaze upward, I see that the names of all the female employees who have lived in this cabin throughout the years are written on the ceiling in permanent marker, along with inside jokes, nicknames, their coded wishes and hopes and upsets—all there, quiet graffiti watching over the rookies. I try not to think about the people who came before me; instead, I shift around on my mouldy mattress, listening to the other women. I’m pretty sure all of us are lying awake, trying to slow our breathing to make it sound like we’re slipping into sleep. But none of us is; we’re not even close. I’m thinking about my choices, what led me here, what led these other women here. What we might be running away from. What I’m running into. The fauna. The flora. The forest behind me, looming outside the little window at my head. The branches are just a few inches too short to tap against the glass; they fold and sway with the wind, casting shapes on my pillow. Every crack, rustle, lick of the wind makes my eyes fly open, but I don’t have the guts to lift my head, turn around, and peer out the window into the darkness.
 
I lie there for a long time. My thoughts race; mostly I feel worried, a greasy knot in my gut. It’s entirely possible that I’ve  made a gigantic mistake, sacrificing my privacy, my body, maybe even my sanity for these sixty-seven days. Still, the fluttering breathing of three other worried souls surrounds me, almost soothes me. Somehow, already, I feel vaguely connected to these women, we, the new ones, relegated to a falling-apart hut, sent to the woods. Already, the four of us are absorbing one another’s pheromones, idiosyncrasies, fears, and desires. Desire that the summer will give us what we need—except not all of us know what we need, and most of us have no idea what we want. But we’ve thrown our lot to the North, and all we can do now is hope that the North reciprocates.

close this panel
The Sadness of Geography

The Sadness of Geography

My Life as a Tamil Exile
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
More Info
Excerpt

CHAPTE R 1

Sangkaththaanai, Jaffna District, Northern Province, Sri Lanka
1983

“Elumpu! Elumpu!”

I woke up suddenly, in the dark, startled. Am I dreaming?

My father was standing over me, his face bent low to mine. He straightened up, then kicked me, hard. “Elumpu!” Wake up.

“I am awake,” I answered sleepily, although I wasn’t sure why. No lights were on. I could hear smothered whispers as my brothers and sisters moved around hastily in the house.

I begged my father to tell me what was happening. “Aamykarar vaarangal!” my father whispered. The army is coming. “Oodippoi oliyada!” Run away and hide.

Groggy with sleep, I rose clumsily but quickly from my bed on the floor.

It was still pitch dark inside the house. I peeked through the window. It was silent. The moon was gone; soon it would be dawn.

“Now!” my father hissed, yanking me along.

When the weather was hot, my brothers and I preferred to sleep on blankets strewn across the concrete floors in the front hall of our house, where it was much cooler. My father, however, had his own room and insisted on sleeping on a cushioned bed under the ceiling fan. My mother, my aunt, and my sisters slept on wooden beds topped with comforters.

I looked for Kanna, my younger brother, but could see only blankets scattered on the floor. Perhaps he was hiding or had run away already.

“Where should I go?” I blurted out, confused. I rubbed my eyes, attempting to bring my father’s dark silhouette into focus, but he was just a blur. I could hear more panicked rustling and harsh, muffled whispering from my mother and sisters.

“Be quiet!” my father said. “Go! Run!”

I blundered forward in the dark but slipped on a blanket and tumbled hard to the floor. It seemed easier and faster to crawl. I crawled as quickly as I could to the kitchen, where I found the key to the back door and flung it open. I ran outside, then froze. I turned back momentarily, looking for my two brothers and sisters, hoping they’d followed. I did not like the idea of being on my own.

“Lathy!” I called back into the house, hoping my older brother would appear. “Kanna?”

Where are my brothers? Should I wait?

I squatted in the darkness of our backyard for just a moment, one that seemed like an eternity, wondering what to do.

Where can I run?

I could hear the soft rustling of the wind passing between the leaves on the coconut tree, a soothing hush that belied the terror of the moment. My body felt like ice and my heart was pounding so hard it felt as if it would burst through my chest.

In the distance, a rooster was crowing. With the coming of the sun, the soldiers would appear and I would be caught. I had heard stories of what the soldiers did to Tamil boys. I was just a teenager and I could easily become their prey. They would murder me — or worse.

I could hear another sound: trucks on the main road outside our small village.

“Lathy! Kanna!” I called out again. Nothing.

I couldn’t wait for my brothers; I needed to go.

I stumbled through our backyard garden and crept along the high cement wall at the edge of our property. It was at least seven feet high. Even if I could climb it, the razor-sharp broken bottles anchored to the top — meant to keep intruders out — dissuaded me from even trying.

My mind was racing. Could I risk going through the front gate? There was no place to hide on the road, and I could not outrun the trucks. The soldiers would see me, assume I was a rebel.

I had no choice.

I propped an old piece of discarded lumber against the wall to hoist myself to the top. I had one hand on top of the wall when the piece of wood snapped. I crashed to the ground.

“Ennada saniyan!” I swore.

I jumped to my feet and circled the yard in a panic. There was nothing else to help me scale the wall.

I willed my heart to stop thumping long enough for me to listen. I could hear the trucks coming closer: the deep-throated sound of shifting gears, the revving of the engines, the shrieking of brakes.

By this time, the stingy early morning light was bringing the flat contours of our backyard into relief. I felt unbearably exposed.

I’m trapped!

I had no choice but to use the front gate. If there was a soldier on the road, however, there would be nowhere for me to hide. My knees trembled; suddenly I felt a warm dribble on my leg. I felt my sarong with my hand, ashamed to discover that I’d wet myself. How Lathy would make fun of me if he knew! In my shame, thinking of how he would tease me was almost as bad as my fear of the soldiers.

All I wanted to do was disappear, but somehow I convinced myself to creep around the side of the house. Our front gate was made of iron bars. In fact, it was the only iron gate in the neighbourhood. Most of the families in our neighbourhood were too poor to afford iron gates, which is probably why my father had insisted on having one. In our village, fences were usually woven from coconut leaves and affixed at intervals to the trees that lined the street. My father was a proud, prosperous, and well-respected businessman; exhibiting and maintaining his status was very important to him. He insisted the gate be locked every night against intruders. After all, the driveway was wide enough for two cars — even though we never had two cars. Most families in the village didn’t have even one car. The majority had bicycles or scooters, or simply walked.

In any case, the gate was no obstacle. I was barefoot, which made climbing it easier.

At the top, I looked up and down the road but did not see any soldiers or military trucks. I jumped.

The road in front of our house, like all the roads in our village, was unpaved. Luckily my feet were tough from walking barefoot; otherwise, landing on the sharp stones would have been painful. Even so, I winced and hopped before starting to run.

I stayed low, sticking as close to the side of the road as I could to remain inconspicuous. After just a few steps, I skidded to a halt. A military truck had stopped at the top of the road. Soldiers dressed in green and brown camouflage and carrying submachine guns were jumping from the back of the truck and fanning out in groups of three or four along the road. At each house, a group of soldiers would duck into the laneway.

Except for the faint crunching of boots on the gravel, the soldiers were eerily quiet, like ghosts. Suddenly the silence was broken by shouting, first in one house and then another, and another, like slowly toppling dominoes. Orders were being barked. Rough male voices, then women’s screams and wails.

Get off the road!

I ran into my neighbour’s yard. Unlike our large, modern house, many homes in the village were crude and very small — many of them no more than improvised shacks or huts. Most had a tiny porch at the front and one big sleeping room for the family. The kitchen was cramped and had firepits made of clay for cooking. Toilets were located at the back, separate from the house. Some houses had a well, but none, except ours, had running water. Anyone who could manage it had a modest garden to grow vegetables and some little cages in which to raise chickens.

The shouts from the soldiers grew louder as they got closer. From the houses I could hear the shrill, terrified cries of women and girls. I zigzagged from one backyard to another until I reached a railway crossing. From behind some bushes I could see military trucks driving along the main road, known as the Kandy–Jaffna Highway. Soldiers were moving from house to house, searching. My only hope was to reach the rice paddies beyond the highway. Our house was only a short distance from the highway; the fields, however, were about four miles away, and I had no way of knowing if I could make it that far without being seen.

What if soldiers had been stationed at the fields to watch for boys and men making a run for it?

I waited by the highway, hiding behind the bushes until a short convoy of military trucks had passed. Then, crouching low, I ran as fast as I could across the tar-paved road toward the Sangkaththaanai Kanthasamy Kovil, a Hindu temple in our village. Years later, I can still recall the soft sound of my bare feet slapping the tar road as I ran.

I passed the temple and kept running, away from home, toward the paddies. The fields at the edge of the paddies were lined with mature trees with enough foliage to help obscure my movements.

I was panting, breathless, and slowed down to catch my breath. What a beautiful morning, I caught myself thinking, as if in a dream. I would never forget the image of the fiery edge of sunrise in the distance and the blue sky arcing above the green rice fields.

Just as suddenly as before, more trucks appeared nearby and my sense of security instantly disappeared. I hurried down a narrow path that split the rice paddy into two sections and was soon surrounded by rice stalks — bright green at that time of year — that reached to my shoulders. It was midseason, and the ground was still wet and muddy from a heavy rainfall the night before. It was early, but the sun would soon be a torch in the sky. I was alone. I had no idea what was happening to my family. There was nothing I could do but hide. And wait.

close this panel
Under the Nakba Tree

Under the Nakba Tree

Fragments of a Palestinian Family in Canada
edition:eBook
More Info
A Mind Spread Out on the Ground
Excerpt

A Mind Spread Out on the Ground

He took his glasses off and rubbed the bridge of his nose the way men in movies do whenever they encounter a particu­larly vexing woman.

“I’m really confused. You need to give me something here. What’s making you depressed?”

His reaction made me think briefly of residential schools, though at the time I couldn’t understand why. Maybe it was the fact that he operated his therapy sessions out of a church. That certainly didn’t help.

I wasn’t sure what to say. Can a metaphor or simile capture depression? It was definitely heavy, but could I really compare it to a weight? Weight in and of itself is not devastating; depres­sion is. At times it made me short of breath and at times it had the potential to be deadly, but was it really like drowning? At least with drowning others could see the flailing limbs and splashing water and know you needed help. Depression could slip in entirely unnoticed and dress itself up as normalcy, so when it finally took hold others would be so surprised they wouldn’t know how to pull you to safety. They’d stand there staring—good-intentioned but helpless. Empathetic, perhaps, but mute. Or, as in the case of this particularly unqualified ther­apist, angry and accusing. Not that I necessarily blame them. I’ve done the same thing.

When what was left of my family moved to the rez we lived in a two-bedroom trailer—my sister and I in the smaller room, my three younger brothers in the master bedroom. My parents had no bedroom, no bed. They slept in the living room on the couch and recliner. As one may assume of such circumstances, privacy was precious, if it existed at all. Doors never stayed closed for long; at any moment someone could barrel in unannounced. This meant there was no place for my mother to hide her illness.

I’d mostly known her as having bipolar disorder, though she’d been diagnosed and rediagnosed many times. Postpartum depression, manic depression, schizophrenia. Most recently, my mother has been diagnosed as having either schizoaffective dis­order, which is a version of bipolar disorder with elements of schizophrenia, or post-traumatic stress disorder, depending on which doctor you talk to. None of these phrases gave her relief. In fact, they often seemed to hurt her, turning every feeling she had into yet another symptom of yet another disease.

What these words meant to my siblings and me was that our mother’s health was on a timer. We didn’t know when the timer would go off, but when it did, our happy, playful, hilarious mother would disappear behind a curtain and another would emerge: alternatively angry and mournful, wired and lethargic. When she was depressed she’d become almost entirely silent. She’d lie on our brother’s bottom bunk and blink at us, her soft limp limbs spilling onto the stained, slate-coloured carpet. I’d sit on the floor beside her, smooth her hair—bottle red with grey moving in like a slow tide—and ask her what was wrong. She’d stay silent but her face would transform. Damp, swollen, violet, as if the words she couldn’t say were bubbling beneath her skin, burning her up from the inside.

Terminology is tricky. Initially, depression was known as “melan­cholia,” a word that first brought to my mind a field of blue cornflower and golden hay. Its trochaic metre gave it an inher­ent poeticism, an ingrained elegance. It was delicate, feminine. Hamlet’s doomed lover, Ophelia, definitely did not suffer from depression. When she floated down that river, decked in gar­lands, stones in her pockets, she was in the throes of melancholia.

The term first appeared in Mesopotamian texts in the second century BCE. At the time, they considered melancholia a form of demonic possession. They weren’t alone: ancient Babylonian, Chinese and Egyptian civilizations all attributed mental illness to demons overpowering the spiritually weak. Exorcism—which often entailed beatings, restraint and starvation—was the only known “cure.” Even during the Renaissance, when thinking about depression began to reflect the more progressive views of the early Greek physician Hippocrates, a heavily Christian Europe had another way to describe those with mental illness: witches. They were “cured” by being burned at the stake. Sometimes, as part of their trial, suspected witches underwent an ordeal by water. They were tied to a rope and thrown from a boat. If they sank they’d be pulled back to a safety of sorts, their innocence proven, but their illness unchecked. If they floated, like Ophelia, they were considered a witch and sum­marily executed.

My quite Catholic mother believes demonic possession is a real danger. She pretty much used the 1973 film The Exorcist as an instructional video for my siblings and me. It was mostly effec­tive. I played with a Ouija board only once, reluctantly, and though I remained firmly in control of my body, I still try to avoid the game (and pictures of Linda Blair) at all costs. I know demonic possession is impossible, probably, but it still scares me more than I’d like to admit.

So when my mother, now living in an adult care home in Florida, told me she was hearing demonic voices and thought she needed an exorcism, I was legitimately terrified. Not because I thought she was possessed—she didn’t mention anything about floating above her bed, and her voice sounded normal. I was scared for her. She truly believed demons were real and could take control of the spiritually weak. If she believed she was being overtaken by these demons, logic dictated that she was spiritually weak. As if her depressed mind didn’t have enough to guilt her with.
She wouldn’t tell me what the voices were saying to her. She just reiterated over and over that she was a sinner, that she had impure thoughts, that she hadn’t been going to church enough. None of this seemed to me like enough reason to call in an exorcist.

Evidently her priest down in Florida disagreed. He said it did, indeed, sound like she was in the midst of a spiritual battle, that she should contact the church about sending an exorcist right away. Though he himself was part of the Catholic Church, he never offered any assistance with her “spiritual battle,” never offered to bring in an exorcist to slay her inner demon. He just gave her his half-baked opinion like a torch and watched as she caught flame.

As far as analogies go, comparing depression to a demon is a pretty good one. Both overtake your faculties, leaving you dis­connected and disembodied. Both change you so abruptly that even your loved ones barely recognize you. Both whisper evil words and malformed truths. Both scare most people shitless.

According to Diane Purkiss’s The Witch in History: Early Modern and Twentieth-Century Representations, European colonists widely considered Indigenous peoples to be devil worshippers. In fact, during the Salem witch trials, the people of the Sagamore tribe were blamed—described by early Puritan minister and master­mind of the witch trials, Cotton Mather, as “horrid sorcerers, and hellish conjurors . . . [who] conversed with Demons.” One person on trial claimed to have attended a black mass with the Sagamore Indians. Mercy Short, another accused witch, took it one step further: she claimed the Devil himself was an Indian, describing him as “not of a Negro, but of a tawny, or an Indian color.”

Literal demonizing of Indigenous people was a natural exten­sion of early tactics used to move colonization along. In 1452 and 1455 the Catholic Church issued papal bulls calling for non-Christian people to be invaded, robbed and enslaved under the premise that they were “enemies of Christ.” Forty years later, when Christopher Columbus accidentally arrived in the Americas, European monarchs began to expand on the ideas contained in those bulls, issuing policies and practices that have been collectively referred to as the Doctrine of Discovery. These new policies dictated that “devil-worshipping” Indigenous peo­ples worldwide should not even be thought of as humans, and thus the land they had cared for and inhabited for centuries was terra nullius, or vacant land, and Christian monarchs had the “right” to claim it all. The Doctrine of Discovery was such a tantalizing, seemingly guilt-free justification for genocide, even U.S. Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson adopted it as official policy in 1792—and we all know how much Americans wanted to distinguish themselves from Europe at the time.

The Doctrine of Discovery is still cited in court cases today whenever Canada or the U.S. want to shut up Indigenous tribes who complain. In an attempt to stop this lazy, racist rationale, a delegation of Indigenous people went to Rome in 2016 to ask the church to rescind these papal bulls. Kahnawake Mohawk Kenneth Deer said that after hearing their concerns, Pope Francis merely looked him in the eye and said, “I’ll pray for you.” Two years later, after the delegation’s second trip to Rome to discuss these papal bulls, they were told the matter was being sent to another committee. Nothing else has been done, though pre­sumably the Pope is still praying for us.

“Can you imagine going to a funeral every day, maybe even two funerals, for five to ten years?” the chief asks. He’s giving a decolonization presentation, talking about the way colonization has affected our people since contact. Smallpox, tuberculosis, even the common cold hit our communities particularly hard. Then, on top of that, we had wars to contend with—some against the French, some against the British, some against either or neither or both. Back then death was all you could see, smell, hear or taste. Death was all you could feel.

“What does that type of mourning, pain and loss do to you?” he asks. We reflect on our own losses, our own mourning, our own pain. We say nothing.

After a moment he answers himself. “It creates numbness.”

Numbness is often how people describe their experience of depression.

I was sixteen when I wrote my first suicide note. I was alone in my room, for once. It was cold; the fire in our wood-burning stove must have gone out. I was huddled beneath the unzipped sleeping bag I used as a comforter, listening to the only modern rock station my ancient radio could pick up. The songs washed over me. My brothers laughing, crashing and crying washed over me. My mother half-heartedly yelling at them while she watched a movie with my sister washed over me. My father’s absence washed over me.

Even though the trailer was full I was alone. I was alone and I felt nothing and it hurt so much. More than grief, more than anger. I just wanted it to end.

Tears fell on the paper faster than I could write. It was hard to read in parts. I didn’t care. As long as it reassured my family they shouldn’t blame themselves, it would do the trick.

I looked at the knife I’d smuggled from the kitchen, pressed its edge to my wrist. Nothing happened. The blade was too dull. I’d have to stab hard and slash deep just to break the skin. I was crying so hard.

I reread my note. I looked back at the knife. Even though it could hardly peel a potato it scared me more than the void I felt.

I lay back down, disgusted with myself and my lack of resolve. I tried to listen to the radio. I couldn’t hear anything.

close this panel
This week's recommended reading lists

Cottage Books

0 ratings
rated!
rated!
View List

Embed our weekly title selections from 49th Shelf on your own website. The embed will automatically refresh with new books each week.

Width: px
Height: px
X
Contacting facebook
Please wait...