Saturday, September 06, 2014

French Doors

Later this month we will be launching, first in Brooklyn and then in Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg and many places thereafter, Kathleen Winter's new collection of short stories, The Freedom in American Songs.  But as readers of Thirsty and friends and fans of Biblioasis know, this is not the first book of Kathleen's we've published.  Kathleen's first collection, boYs, came out with us seven years ago next week, launching at Eden Mills.  What I remember most about that occasion, the first time I'd met her, was that she'd come to the festival having crocheted a range of bookmarks, which she gave away to anyone who bought a book (and likely quite a few who did not).  It was a small thing, but a telling one, which shows I think the care she has for her readers and her work, and helps to explain why so many people, here in Canada and elsewhere, have responded so warmly to her work.  We're thrilled, really, that we've been given the chance to work with her again at Biblioasis, and look forward to sharing her wonderful new book with you in a matter of weeks.  But being in a rather nostalgic frame of mind this morning, it got me thinking about her first book, which I love deeply.

Over at The New Quarterly website, a magazine Biblioasis has a certain strong affinity for, they have just published a short story from boYs that they originally published many, many years ago, back in issue 104.  'French Doors' is a fine story, and one of suite from that earlier collection which introduced Kathleen's literary alter-ego Marianne to readers.  Marianne makes a return in three new stories in Freedom, so I thought it might be nice to reintroduce Thirsty readers to her in anticipation of that book's launch.

French Doors:

The taste of partridgeberry jam has bogs and marshes in it behind the sharp taste of fruit. It has the same taste as Newfoundland air that has collected scents from its travels; caribou moss, red blueberry leaves,
black ponds, trout and peat moss. Moose and ducks, boulders and juniper. You get that taste in the fall.
There were meadows and thick trees near the shore in Aspel Harbour, but close behind the trees lay the wild barren land where sticks cracked underfoot and fireweed petals lay fallen in the rock crevices, their perfume smelled by no one. Marianne had to wear her red lumbershirt if she wanted to walk to Spur Cove Pond, because all the men were in the woods hunting partridge and moose. The decaying leaves smelled sweet and thick, and the red maple leaves battled the blue sky, the scarlet and yellow-blue grating against each other. Marianne loved the wild smell of the woods and marshes, but she hated it as well, especially the marshes. Once the trees thinned you were in an unfriendly place. You had to know how to be at home there, and Marianne did not. A desire in her soul rebelled against the barrens. She could understand the desert better than this. Here the dry, grey sticks scraped her ankles. White scrapes with blood showing through some of them. The sky blared down a merciless blue with smug puffballs of white cloud in it, and the Indian tea plant with its clothy white blooms and its evil orange furze on the leaves’ pointy undersides gave off a sharp, medicinal odour that shrouded every pond.
Women didn’t go in the barrens, except to pick a few berries. Mrs. Halloran had told her that at one time the women would be in to the ponds every evening with their bamboos for trout. She said all one summer she had gone in with Mary and Martha and they’d been pregnant, and Mrs. Halloran had had to keep climbing up in the trees to untangle their hooks. But the women of Marianne’s generation did not go outdoors. They stayed in, looking after their babies and watching the soap operas, or some of them got in their cars and went to work in the Fox Cove drugstore, the fish plant, or the new communications centre that took signals from aircraft and big vessels far offshore.
Only men went in the wild places now, and they were no company for Marianne. They had no interest in a woman from town who walked in the woods, looking at reflections in the ponds and picking bunches of leaves. They went in with their guns and rabbit dogs, their packs of Export A, and their half-dozens of Dominion. They never directed the slightest sexual energy at her either, so she figured they thought she was good for nothing, or crazy. Marianne thought something had dulled their fire. They should have been full of that fire you could taste in the partridgeberries because they came from the same earth. But they weren’t. She didn’t know why, unless it was the beer, and the cigarettes, the ten months of unemployment insurance every year, and the fish getting smaller and scarcer the other two months as the years passed. Then there was Three’s Company and The Price is Right, and the soaps. She knew that big unmarried men watched the soaps in their mothers’ houses. TV was always on in every saltbox house, eroding the big soul in each inhabitant of the shore. All the days long the big wild soul of the earth called out through the voices of the trees speaking in the hills, while the peat-and-needles-scented breath of the earth stole through the woods. The sea, with the islands in it and the stars over it in the night, was more of the big soul that the people had lost. Everyone was timid under the majesty of creation here, Marianne thought. It was as if they had been created by a wizened, meaner god than the god of whom the psalmist had proclaimed, “in his hand are all the corners of the earth: and the strength of the hills is his also. The sea is his, and he made it: and his hands prepared the dry land.”

To read the entire story, why not head over to the TNQ website.

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