Blurbed by Michael Chabon and Man Booker winner Eleanor Catten, A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing (Simon & Schuster Canada, $27) is one of the most anticipated debuts of the packed fall lit season. The idiosyncratic book—which took nine years to find a publisher—explores a woman’s abusive childhood and relationship with her tumour-stricken brother in a tangled stream-of-consciousness style that makes for a breathless, exhilarating read. Check out the first chapter below!
For you. You’ll soon. You’ll give her name. In the stitches of her skin she’ll wear your say. Mammy me? Yes you. Bounce the bed, I’d say. I’d say that’s what you did. Then lay you down. They cut you round. Wait and hour and day.
Walking up corridors up the stairs. Are you alright? Will you sit, he says. No. I want she says. I want to see my son. Smell from dettol through her skin. Mops diamond floor tiles all as strong. All the burn your eyes out if you had some. Her heart going pat. Going dum dum dum. Don’t mind me she’s going to your room. See the. Jesus. What have they done? Jesus. Bile for. Tidals burn. Ssssh. All over. Mother. She cries. Oh no. Oh no no no.
I know. The thing wrong. It’s a. It is called. Nosebleeds, head aches. Where you can’t hold. Fall mugs and dinner plates she says clear up. Ah young he says give the child a break. Fall off swings. Can’t or. Grip well. Slipping in the muck. Bang your. Poor head wrapped up white and the blood come through. She feel the sick of that. Little boy head. Shush.
She saw it first when you couldn’t open your eye. Don’t wink so long wind’ll change and you’ll stay that way. I’m not Mammy. It’s got stuck. She pull it open. Hold it up. I can’t it’s all fall down.
And now Holy Family on a Saturday night. He is leaning you are sleeping she the chair me whirlabout. Listen in to doctor chat. We done the best we could. There really wasn’t much. It’s all through his brain like the roots of trees. Sorry. Don’t say. That. He’s running out I’m afraid. I’m afraid he’s running down. You should take him home, enjoy him while you can. He’s not. He is. Can’t you operate again? We can’t. Shush. Something? Chemo then. We’ll have a go at that.
Gethsemane dear Lord hear our prayer our. Please. Intercession. Night in hospital beds. Faces on the candlewick. Lino in the knees. Please don’t God take. Our. Holy Mary mother of all, humbly we beseech thee.
You white-faced feel the needle go in. Feel fat juicy poison poison young boy skin. In your arteries. Eyeballs. Spine hands legs. Puke it cells up all day long. No Mammy don’t let them.
Weeks for you. Weeks it. Scared and bald and wet the bed. Dark trees outside for me when it weather rains. She praying in a coat until I am froze. Hard chapel kneelers bare-kneed real repents. She does. And our father was. Where? Somewhere there. I think.
There’s good news and bad news. It’s shrunk. He’s saved. He’s not. He’ll never be.
So like it lump it a short breath’s what you’ve got. Jesus in her blood that minute. Rejoice sacred heart of Christ. But we’ll never be rid do you understand? he says. Shush now she says shush.
Your pink face make that sitting up the best thing she’s ever done. Watching you going growing hair. Scabby over slices where scalpels were. Don’t look. Telling what’s the time and where you are. Makes her happy. Makes our father. Walk down corridors alone.
He says I can’t be waiting for it all the time. I’d give my eyes to fix him but. The heart cannot be wrung and wrung. And she like calmest Virgin Mary sitting on the bed. Hands warming up her sides for. What’re you saying? Breath. Going? Leaving? But he’s just stopped dying. This one’s to come. Please don’t no I won’t stop you. Could never make you do a thing. You’ll support us. Aren’t you great? Oh the house is mine. It’s for the best. For who you me? Board my body up. I’m not for loving. Anymore. I’ll live for housework. Dressing kids. And you for mortgage new shoes spuds. Can’t live short hope but gas bills long and paid on time too. Oh so kind. Aren’t you the fine shape of a man.
He left her with a fifty pound note. Take care! Stroke combing full untidied hair.
Thinking I think of you and me. Our empty spaces where fathers should be. Whenabouts we might find them and what we’d do to fill them up.
But didn’t time continue still. Where’s Daddy? Gone. Why’s that? Just is. And yelp she at the strength growing to your tips. Poke belly of baby that’s kicking is me. Full in myself. Bustling hatchery. And I loved swimming to your touch. Lay on the lining for your strokes for you secret pressed hello’s. Show my red foot. Look. Look there. Baby when you’re born I pick your name. See you and me were busy with each other long before I came.
She was careful of you. Saying let’s take it slow. Mind your head dear heart. And her guts said Thank God. For her gasp of air. For this grant of Nurse I will. Learning you Our Fathers art. And when you slept I lulled in joyful mysteries glorious until I kingdom come. Mucus stogging up my nose. Scream to rupture day. Fatty snorting like a creature. A vinegar world I smelled. There now a girleen isn’t she great. Bawling. Oh Ho. Now you’re safe. But I saw less with these flesh eyes. Outside almost without sight. She, asking after and I’m all fine. Hand on my head. Her hand on my back. Dividing from the sweet of mother flesh that could not take me in again. I curled there learning limb from limb. Curdled under hot lamps. Sorrow lapped. I’m so glad your brother’s lived. That he’ll see you. It’ll all be. But. Something’s coming. Wiping off my be- gans. Wiping all my every time. I struggle up to. I struggle from. The smell of milk now. Going dim. Going blank. Going white.