|Other books we’re loving this month|
A stunning novel of loss, memory, despair and deliverance by one of Canada’s best young fiction writers, set on a Mormon ranch in nineteenth-century Utah.
Dorrie, a shock-pale child with a mass of untameable black hair, cannot recall anything of her life before she recovered from an illness at seven. A solitary child, she spends her spare time learning the art of taxidermy, completely fascinated by the act of bringing new and eternal life to the bodies of the dead. At fourteen, her parents marry her off to Erastus Hammer, a polygamous horse breeder and renowned hunter, who does not want to bed her. The role he has in mind for his fourth and youngest wife is creator of trophies of his most impressive kills, an urgent desire in him as he is slowly going blind. Happy to be given this work, Dorrie secludes herself in her workshop, away from Mother Hammer’s watchful eyes and the rivalry between the elder wives.
But as the novel opens, Hammer has brought Dorrie his latest kills, a family of wolves, and for the first time in her short life she struggles with her craft, dreaming each night of crows and strange scenes of violence. The new hand, Bendy Drown, is the only one to see her dilemma and to offer her help, a dangerous game in a Mormon household. Outside, a lone wolf prowls the grounds looking for his lost pack, and his nighttime searching will unearth the tensions and secrets of this complicated and conflicted family.
The End of the Alphabet
That contentment is thrown into turmoil on or about Ambrose’s fiftieth birthday, when they receive the news that he has contracted a mysterious illness that will most certainly lead to his death within the month. In panicked delirium, from beneath their bed Ambrose withdraws an oxblood suitcase containing the ephemera of his long-suppressed life’s ambition: to travel the world in a pilgrimage through the alphabet, from Amsterdam to Zanzibar.
Scuttling the responsibilities of their respectably successful careers, the two set off on an urgent voyage through real and imagined geographies of place, of history, of art, and of love.
Zipper is continually frustrated by Ambrose’s reticence, but loves him beyond all measure. And Ambrose well appreciates his miraculous good fortune in having Zipper by his side, drawing out the best in him. Zipper does not completely understand Ambrose’s compulsion to pursue his childhood dream, but her commitment to him is absolute and so she, too, is compelled to make this journey.
In Amsterdam, they revisit past debates on beauty and art. In Berlin, they weigh the burdens of history. In the glow of the Chartres windows, they explore the stations of life. In Deauville, they fondly recall their youthful love. At “E,” Ambrose adjusts his long-drafted itinerary, crossing out Elba and replacing it with the Eiffel Tower of Zipper’s beloved Paris, the city of their first predestined encounter. While resting in Florence beside the youthfully vital David, they meet a chivalrous old man who shares his insight into enduring romance. It is in Giza that Ambrose begins to falter as he climbs a pyramid, and they miss Haifa thanks to a sandstorm. In Istanbul, they realize that Ambrose can go no further and they must return to their London terrace.
But their voyage is not over. The two continue their odyssey, no longer via plane and rail, but now through the power of shared desire and love. The wise words of a hallucinatory camel in Ambrose’s fevered dream ring out to them with equanimity: “Why, you ask? There is no why, Master Zephyr. Life goes on. Death goes on. Love goes on. It is all as simple as that.”
In the tradition of romantic legend and fable, The End of the Alphabet is a lovingly rendered, richly nuanced treatise on the nature of true and enduring love. The story of Ambrose and Zappora is a precious gift, one that illuminates a pathway to the return of balance and joy after unthinkable loss.
An audacious New Face of Fiction debut: nine riveting stories that announce a major writer in the tradition of Yann Martel and Barbara Gowdy.
Unexpected humour and tenderness intertwine with loneliness and hopefulness in this remarkable book from an already acclaimed writer. In nine richly varied stories, written in intense, clear-eyed prose, the reader is led into an exploration of the human need for connection, however tenuous or absurd, and at whatever cost. The stories operate with heartbreaking precision, drawing us past the surface of characters’ lives and into the moments of decision and recognition that shape these people irrevocably.
Here are stories striking in the range of their shifting tone and the reach of their subjects. We are introduced to a support group for people who suspect their benign nature has caused benign tumours to grow inside them. The title story zeroes in on a girl with Fred Hoyle syndrome whose age expands and contracts like the universe. A recently widowed woman talks to her husband’s ashes, which are entombed in a hollowed-out curling stone. A store detective’s valiant act to save a pair of pink calfskin gloves is entwined with the unfortunate results of an unsuccessful space mission.
Rendering grief, loneliness, hope, love and happiness with exquisite subtlety and intelligence, Neil Smith proves himself an able chronicler of the human condition. Bang Crunch constitutes a significant achievement by a powerful new writer.
Publication date: January 1, 2008