Madeleine Thien and Heather O’Neill are two of Canada’s most beloved authors of their generation. In a piece commissioned by carte blanche, the two award-winning writers discuss a wide range of topics, from being private people in a world that worships personality to backgrounds and the influences on their work. This email exchange spanned a number of weeks this fall.
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I. My first drink is an accident, one-note purple, too sweet to be dangerous. Cloying enough to make adults wince and draw children like hummingbirds to nectar. A tiny bitterness, [More…]
The wild strawberry flush across my chest, her cheeks. An illicit kiss in her basement suite.
Five years in, we start counting: two eggs bled away casually every month.
Then, six months of flirting, negotiations. Two hopeful women. A captivated man.
Cosmopolitans. Our red leather couch under mistletoe and holly berries. Jazzberry cartoon hearts radiate around all of us.
“Please don’t break our hearts,” I say.
“I won’t.” His scarlet cape promise. The last time we see him. Read more →
The first thing I saw when I woke up was the row of ancient bibles in a corner bookshelf. The flat light of an overcast dawn confused my sense of time, though. Hadn’t my friends and I just gone to bed? Then I saw a short, round-faced man standing over me, wearing a porkpie hat exactly like Gene Hackman would wear in The French Connection a few years later. The man pointed a short-barrelled revolver at the centre of my forehead. I remember noting how perfectly circular the muzzle was and that its bluing was very deep. I saw the soft grey domes of the bullets in the cylinder and noted the thickness of the front site. Then I looked away from the revolver to glance at the film can holding a jumble of foil-wrapped drugs on the floor beside my bed.
“Move,” the little man said, smiling. “I dare you.” Read more →
Oh Margaret, lost in the parking garage. She couldn’t remember where she’d left the car, though I bet she was putting on. With her, I couldn’t ever tell.
“I swear it was the second floor,” she said, walking through the aisle of cars. She held her hand high above her head, waved it back and forth, pressing the remote lock for her new Lexus. It looked like she was trying to hail an invisible cab. I was following her.
She’d driven down to Cincinnati from Columbus, arrived an hour late. She cursed and blamed the traffic as she landed on a barstool beside me at Arnold’s Downtown. She still looked great in a floral summer dress hanging right down her tall frame and that same platinum blonde hair, cut shorter than ever but refusing to show a single root. She had new knee-high vintage leather boots that she bragged about finding at some hole-in-the-wall secondhand store in Northside. But she looked older now too, as if moving to the Rust Belt had slowed her down, allowed her age to finally catch up. Read more →
One night I have what I can only describe as a dream, though it feels like an altered state somewhere between sleeping and waking. I’m in my room with the blue walls and someone is standing at the foot of my bed. I try to sit up, but my body is as heavy as a dead thing. When I finally struggle free and come to consciousness, the room is empty. I get up and check my door. It’s still locked. This becomes the first of many dreams like this. Read more →
I look at people. I see them looking back. I had always felt invisible but on the beach that morning I see that I am always seen. I don’t know what to do with it but I know it. I divide things into two categories. Things I like about myself, things that I am glad to have strangers’ eyes fall upon. And things that I hate, things that make me turn up inside out and want to hide. But these two things are all mixed up. The seen and the concealed. The beautiful and the shameful are all part of the one body so for the first time I feel the desire to rib myself up. To tear pieces out, or contort, fold over them. I want to collapse in some parts an expand in others, like and explosion, like gases destroying the air, breaking in and out, finding the weak points of the world, feeding on combustion, bright and violent and unavoidable. Read more →
My stomach tightened with the familiar jealousy, like a coiled snake inside me. For the thousandth time, I wished I’d been born a boy, and that I was athletic and confident, with Etienne’s dark skin and good looks. I wondered what else Daddy had told my brother, and why he hadn’t bothered to tell me. All those father-son fishing trips in Yellowknife still rankled. I wanted to be my father’s chosen companion, and the keeper of his secrets.
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But things weren’t equal. On our team, three fully-grown men, Jason, Jeff and Rich, changed everything. They smoked cigarettes only when they weren’t smoking other things. They reminisced about their history in Juvenile Hall. Their girlfriends brought them beer to drink after the games. Our coach never told them what to do. They enjoyed absolute freedom from the team, the coach, the rules of the game, their parents – basically every source of authority that I knew of. Read more →
This was before doughnuts were hip. Before college kids and yoga instructors and graphic designers were willing to shell out four bucks for a single hand-crafted, artisan-designed ring of deep-fried dough. I served coffee and mopped the floors, filled the sugar containers and napkin dispensers, and wiped the burnt-orange countertops, emptied the ashtrays. This was in the days when you could smoke in restaurants and the stale smell of cigarettes rose off the yellowed walls in tiny wafts like the whispers of decrepit, bitter men. Mostly, I was there to decorate the doughnuts.
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