Rachel Cusk’s protagonist, Faye, narrator of the novels Outline
, and Kudos,
is a strangely silent, receptive character who acts as a blank page on which others unspool their stories. At times heart-wrenching, philosophical, and bleakly mundane, these stories slide off her seemingly without effect—or affect. Everyone else goes on about themselves at length, but Faye reveals almost nothing of herself. She is cold and withheld—for me, a distinctly unlikeable character.
“I’m not interested in character,” Cusk says, ” because I don’t think character exists anymore.”
September is my birthday month, but I would love it anyway, and not only for the crisp, apple-scented air. This time of year smacks of fresh starts, of new teachers and new shoes. The pantry is bulging with fall harvest and bookstore shelves are crammed with a fresh crop of stories. As Wallace Stegner writes in Angle of Repose
, “There was something of jubilee in that annual autumnal beginning, as if last year’s mistakes had been wiped clean by summer.” Read more
The pages are so swollen we have to pry the books from their shelves with a long screwdriver, levering against the after-effects of the flood. A few thin volumes at the outer edges seem almost dry. With his sleeve, Wayne wipes the mantle and lays them down flat. “I think these can be saved!” he says, his voice sharp with the kind of hope that knifes up from despair.
When Helen Keller was eleven, she wrote a story called “The Frost King.” The Perkins School for the Blind published it in their alumni magazine. Almost immediately, Helen was accused of stealing the idea from Birdie and his Fairy Friends,
a book she’d never heard of. Her teacher, Anne Sullivan, discovered that someone had, in fact, read the book to Helen when she was eight, finger-spelling the words for the blind, deaf child. Helen had no memory of this. For hours, the girl was grilled by a jury of teachers. She was absolved, narrowly, but the ordeal triggered a nervous breakdown. She never wrote fiction again.
Imagine listening to Maggie deVries’ Rabbit Ears
in Vancouver’s downtown east side, among the runaways, addicts, and women of the street she portrays. Or any David Adams Richards book while walking the shore of the broad Miramichi. Or canoeing north of Yellowknife in the company of Liz Hay’s Late Nights on Air.
Now imagine a story written to take you to a specific place, where what you see and hear and smell dives you deep, deep, deep into the words. That’s ambient literature.
Last seen: The Convict Lover
, at the Halifax International Airport, in the women’s washroom closest to the Clearwater lobster shop. Reported by Urban Kitten. Currently on the loose, travelling the world.
Yet again I forgot to move my knife to my checked luggage. “But it’s a paper knife. For cutting open the pages of a book,” I explained to the security officer bent over my carry-on.
“I don’t care what you cut with it, m’am; you aren’t taking that knife on this plane.”
Most of my day is spent in front of a computer screen. I read thousands of words between dawn and dusk. But when I say to my husband, “I’m going to read now,” he knows what I mean. I’m leaving him for a book.
Writing used to mean penmanship. Then it became a profession, a conveyor of stories and facts. It has always been a radical act.
2017 is the 40th anniversary of the personal computer and the 25th anniversary of the first ereader. A quarter century and millions of ebooks later, writers and readers, friends and pundits are still arguing over whether this is a good way to read books.