Steven Baird ❤
I cannot fly but your words whip the wind under my arms. Just a smile and wink, just a poke in the ribs and a kick in the shins, and I am no ones. We stare at the dead brown leaves stuck to my shoes as we kick through the dead drifts, and I wait for something profound. You are too busy staring at the end of a bottle, pointed towards the sky, as a telescope for the stars.
I get it. You aren’t scared by thunder anymore it makes you feel alive. You’re strapped to a table, waiting for the electricity to hit. I made sure the knots were tight around your wrists and ankles, as I tied you to the bed and opened the window to the storm, but you still insisted on more. More! I Want More!! I am no weatherman. I am no God. So I filled pint glasses with water as you screamed up at a disappointing belt of nondescript cloud, threw them across your writhing torso, and wondered when I might see the calm eye of this storm.
I remember when you pushed a sewing needle between the webs of my fingers and you told me; we can’t be calm and safe…we are the autumn leaves that cling to the branches and turn green again. I have no idea what this means.
Probably it doesn’t matter; but it does. I am directionless and you offer me a path…the wrong one, but a path nonetheless.
© Jimmi Campkin
For you Rowena – Kindra M. Austin
Review by Candice Louisa Daquin
I’ll begin by saying, it’s not easy to write a review of a book that you don’t want anyone to know the twists and turns of, because then what do you write about? With this novel I feel almost possessive, usually when you read a novel you really want others to read, you share what you most liked about it, but with a suspenseful and taut thriller that’s incredibly hard to achieve without giving key ingredients away. The reason this would be so devastating is that this novel builds brick by brick and so to read it out of sequence or know anything of what is to come, would spoil the crescendo.
Instead let’s talk about what I can make mention of without any spoilers. If you haven’t read a novel or poem by Kindra Austin then you may not know she’s a woman who absolutely doesn’t hold her punches. Think back 100 years, women couldn’t and wouldn’t do that, but even now, sometimes there is an apologetic politeness or restraint in how women describe the world. When you read someone who is willing to just BE on the page, then you know you have found the truth.
What is truth in fiction? Truth is reading the novel breathlessly and then when you put it down finished, you have emptiness, a feeling of wanting to go back, find the characters again, and inhabit them once more. Truth is relating so deeply to the carved souls of those people written on a page, that they become hyperreal to you. Just like Cathy and Heathcliff were to their generation of readers, we’ve moved on and we can use profanity and be honest about our frustrations as women; we can talk about sex and anger and rage and emotion and do so at a deeper level than we could when we were censored.
Women writers were really censored? You bet they were. And those who did speak truths did so through oblique metaphor rather than carnage on a page. Male writers however had many years of spilling it before women could join the fray and as such, they established themselves as the first of their generation to really ‘tell it like it is’ and women were usually not even part of the conversation. I’m not men-bashing by stating this, but women labored under a longer societal pressure to conform and behave and when they were freed, well fiction like this was born.
Are we talking Capote wearing a dress? By no means. A woman’s truth may be as visceral but it’s entirely different. The emotional landscape is vivid in an intensely feminine way, positively reflective, it goes deeper. The smut and sordidness of life may be equally explained but where a woman can be often two dimensional in male authors work, a woman can explode and show all her layers when a woman writes her.
Lately I’ve been fortunate enough to read some excellent male authors who did sterling jobs of creating female characters that I as a woman could relate to, but this is the first novel I’ve read in some time where I literally crawled beneath the skin of the two female lead characters. If I look up now, I may see them sitting at the table with me, I will smell them as I leave the room, and hear them laughing. They are so uncannily present I believe, it would be challenging for a man to write them with that much alacrity. Just as I could not write a man as well as some of the male writers I know. Does that limit the female and male author to their respective genders? Absolutely not. It simply gives a woman an opportunity to present female characters so fleshed out and present that its astonishing, in a world where male authors are still the dominant force (especially in the thriller genre).
Speaking of genres, I expected this novel to be a thriller of sorts, a psychological mystery. But it really defies any labeling in part because it is wickedly original and flies in the face of being nailed down as one thing or another. I read some female written gothic fiction once that almost reminded me a little, but still didn’t have its edge. At once disturbing, and familiar, you are not sure whether you want to run or continue to read, but you end up reading because of course you do, that’s inevitable. You’re a thing possessed.
I start a lot of novels and put them down, by the first fifty pages I am bored and don’t care what happens to the characters. So often that heady MFA format and predictable collection of characters (the genius who is dysfunctional, the bad-ass girl who happens to be gorgeous) are too routine. When reviewing a book you obviously can’t put it down even if it bores you so it’s always a fear reading a book that it may end up to be insufferable. This wouldn’t be the case here; if I had every novel ever published to read, I’d still want to read For you Rowena. Maybe the simplest way of reviewing this book is to tell you why.
For you Rowena is among other things, a love story, the kind you won’t be expecting and haven’t yet experienced. It has elements that all of us who have ever been caught emotionally in more than one allegiance will understand. In that, it is a very classic tale like Anna Karenina because we, all of us are suckers for love stories with tragic and painful experiences that we can relate to our own love histories, and those that go beyond anything we have experienced we live vicariously with, because ultimately, would anyone be as interested in reading a love story that has no tribulation and only happiness? Alas we are creatures of disturbance and as such, we demand emotional upheaval and not just calm waters. I’m not sure why that is, but an author worth her salt will need to ‘bring it’ and Austin brings it plenty. Hell, she sets it on fire and then invites you to dine on the embers.
Aside that beckoning lure, For you Rowena is also a masterful psychological expose of what makes us humans tick, emotionally. Something few of us really understand without referencing other experiences and looking back in hindsight. Austin gets the emotional jungle we live in, what we crave and we destroy and how we hurt those we love and we do things that make no sense but at the time they are what sustain us. Austin presents us with people we can peer into and discover things about ourselves, sometimes disquietingly. Her characters are shockingly realistic, at the same time there is a fantasy overlaying that and a mystical beauty to Austin’s descriptions of the world about her, which creates a deft juxtaposition between narration, description and dialogue.
Immediately after finishing, my first thought was how visual For you Rowena was. I could literally SEE the scenes and the characters as if they existed on film. It takes a lot to paint so vividly the entirety of a story, not just a realistic dialogue but the full fleshing of person’s you’ve created and then manipulate those creations into coaxing the reader into a sympathetic lasting relationship. Often times you can walk away from a character, you can say ‘I really don’t care what happens’ but that’s impossible here. It is equally impossible NOT to relate to their respective trajectories and the arc the story takes, you are sucked in and kept there, holding your breath until the end.
It would do no good to quote from For you Rowena because everything is within a context and doesn’t survive on its own. That is the intensity of the write, and to say this is simply about love or relationships or murder or desperation or frustration would in no way reveal the heart of this novel. As with any well written novel that stands the test of time, it is the relationship formed with the central characters, our sympathies, anger, and emotional investment that define our impression of the novel as a whole. Does it stand out in a literary sense? I believe it does, because Austin knows the nuance of novel writing requires that fine balance of character versus scene versus dialogue and she gracefully navigates the reader through a very intense hate/love storyline without once losing us.
On a personal note, any of us who have loved passionately and been unsure of our decisions can really sink our teeth into this tale, as Austin presents the quixotic ficklety of human nature, its treacheries, its alliances, and ultimately, its surfaces and depths. I wrote four pages of notes as I read, but I used nothing of them in my review, because they were more my impressions formed from the gut-punch of this book than something I could usefully employ. The ruin and recovery of people is written in the same intoxicating quality as I would expect to find in any memorable novel, adding only a modern flourish. Indeed there is even symbolism, redolent in the significance of broken things, and small observations that speak of loss.
Will it be a novel for everyone? I’m sure some will find the ugly nature of passion disquieting, but more likely there is something missing in all of us that we can discover in For you Rowena. If you have ever had a terrible ache, or shame, and not known how to articulate it, or understood yourself, what led up to its creation, this novel will explain those attachments, as it will bring you right to the edge of understanding how someone can kill. The horror of that and its shocking banality is vividly captured by a writer who can wield a psychological intuitiveness within her characters that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
Perhaps when you have read this you will see why I cannot speak at length about those characters and that story, just as we cannot casually open Pandora’s box. A novel that bewitches us will invariably defy breaking into its composite pieces, it works as if by magic, though the skill required to make those pieces harmonize and fit together is invisibly sewn into every page.
Plainly put, I loved reading this novel. It created in me such an admiration for its authoress and a real fired up passion to find more books that gave me that bequeathed thrill. I found nothing predictable about it, and everything original. For you Rowenaliterally grabbed me by the throat and held me until the reckoning, and what a reckoning it was.
Infrequently, you’ll find a novel that possesses a mythology, a universe that you want to know more about, and you’re either left wishing the author wrote a second book with the same characters or you become invested in a series for that very reason. Ottawa native Nicholas Gagnier has the requisite skills as a writer to envelop the reader deep into his characters. and each book of his I have read holds the same addictive quality.
Founding Fathers was inspired by Charlottesville, Ferguson and other events occurring in recent times that have set the world aflame with questions of equality and prejudice. Gagnier tackles one of the hardest subjects today, and does so boldly, which is no small feat considering how easy it is to say or do something that will further inflame the rhetoric.
How does an author who is outraged at the Trump White House and the many…
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I am out.
This little game Vic and Syd have concocted, in which we terrorize people and weaponize pigmentation, is not something I’m willing to partake in any longer.
At least, that’s what I assure myself approaching the turn from the Boulevard onto Lord Street, my car groaning every step of the way.
Come on baby, you got this, I tell her, praying I won’t need a tow truck in the next 24 hours. Or a casket.
The lights are on in the glass windows that run around the building beneath the roof’s trim, but the air is quieter, and detrimentally so.
I am out, I remind myself, consequences be damned. If they can’t accept that fact without putting a bullet in me, I’ll be dead. If they can, I get to walk away.
Inside the warehouse, the stage has been replaced with a set of long folding tables and hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of computer equipment. Several men of varying roughness, age and size talk amongst themselves in groups. A short, balding man in a checkered shirt with wiry spectacles and a bad limp floats between groups, asking questions in a hushed voice, getting his answer.
In a far corner, I recognize my friends Larry and Barney from the night before, playing a game of cards and looking bored and resentful.
In the middle of it all, naturally, is Vic. His back to me, calm still radiates from him, as he observes his operation for signs of weakness. The man in the checkered shirt limps over to him and whispers something in Vic’s ear.
The man sees me, and we lock eyes over Vic’s shoulder. He is gaunt and wiry, his lips pale and teeth behind them stunted and stained. He squints, piercing my whole existence with his stare. He talks fast but too low for me to hear. I can only tell when his expression changes that he’s alerted his boss to my intrusion.
Vic turns to face me. Back in his suit, he has become a different person from the one that had me deliver drugs only yesterday afternoon.
“Peter!” he exclaims, approaching me with a huge grin on his face. He enthusiastically shakes my hand. “So glad you made it.”
He wraps his arm around my shoulder and guides me toward the tables and his new friends. Larry and I share a gaze. He nods like we’ve known each other for years. Barney and I share a similar moment.
“Gentlemen,” Vic says to the others, “I’d like you to meet a friend of mine. This is Peter York, and he will be working with us indefinitely.”
Don’t speak for me yet, Viktor Quinn.
“My friends,” he says, “the future is bright. For years, we have heard about recessions being the reasons we can’t progress. Failed bipartisanship is the logic behind all the moral larceny we endure, apparently. We know what it really is, don’t we?” He pauses, but knows we won’t steal the revelation from him.
Except for Larry, who does.
“Women!” he guffaws, looking at Barney who vigorously shakes his head in return, trying to escape immediate association with the joke.
Vic’s cheery disposition vanishes. All eyes are on Larry, the poor bastard with a big mouth, finally realizing what poor timing the comedic gods gave him.
“The fuck did you say, Ronald?”
I liked my name for him better.
“Uh, nothing, boss.”
Vic reaches for the inside of his blazer and unholsters a silver pistol. He waves it in the air as he speaks.
“Did you come from a woman, Ronald? Do you not have a mother?”
“Sure do, boss.”
“And sisters? Do you have them? Daughter too, if I recall correctly?”
“All of the above, boss,” Larry replies.
“What about you, Andre?” Vic asks Barney. Come to think of it, he does look like an Andre. “Got kids?”
“No, sir,” Barney concedes, “Live with my old lady. She’s old, and well, I don’t get out a lot.”
“Well,” Vic says, “then I guess that decides it.” He raises his pistol and fires three rounds into Barney. One in the stomach, one in the chest, a final one in the head.
The sounds happen in quick succession. No one blinks but me, eardrums ringing. Larry, instead, screams as Barney convulses against the bullets buried in his organs, but the man dies too quick to understand. His full weight collapses to the floor where the rest of him crumples like a paper ball.
“Now,” Vic tells a sobbing Larry, “I hope that will teach you to respect women more, Ronald. Set a good example for your children going forward, or Andre here died for fuck all. Now- get this piece of shit out of here. And someone call his mother. Send her flowers, too. Poor woman has nobody left.”
My eyes can’t tear themselves from Barney’s broken form, bleeding out on the floor of a Lord Street warehouse. Television always made shootings seem so much cleaner.
“You okay?” Vic asks me. “Peter, you look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
I am rage, but have no more strength than a whisper.
“You killed him.”
He shares a look with his colleagues, who give us the room, shuffling out the red metal door in single file.
Larry drags Barney’s corpse across the floor, leaving a trail of blood in his wake. The dude is adrenaline at the moment, grunting and heaving to get as far away from here as possible, maybe to run home to his girl and hold onto her for dear life.
When the door closes behind him, Vic and I are alone. He stands with hands in his suit’s pockets, as I try to avoid meeting his dead eyes.
“I can’t do this, Viktor,” I say. The image of Barney’s life leaving him, followed by Vic holding the gun at eye level (pop, pop, pop) play in my head on an infinite loop. “This is not my fight.”
Vic smiles, as if he has both heard me and the same argument from people all his life. It all rolls off him.
“I want to show you something, Peter.” He drifts to the farthest table, where a black laptop is hooked up to a projector. “Get the lights, would you? Back wall.”
I oblige him, wishing I had traded places with Larry. Burying an overweight bodyguard in the middle of fucking nowhere seems much more bearable than this.
The projector whirs to life, lighting up a square block of light on the darkened wall. A map of the United States, devoid of state lines, drenches our faces in blue glare.
“The Internet is an amazing thing. To think that sixty years ago, the fastest way to relay information across great distances was Morse code. It took minutes to transmit a full sentence to the other side of the planet. Telephones existed, sure, but they weren’t what they are now.
“That this smorgasbord of ideas and free speech exists is an act of God, Peter. A wonder of science. That it has passed to us peasants is the seed of revolution.
“Jihad embraced it. Russia embraced it. Meanwhile, our own government seeks to curtail it at every turn. But that’s because every revolution requires a spark.”
“So if I’m reading this right, you’re going to kill people?”
Viktor laughs. “Nothing so extreme. If heads roll, it will only be because the greater good compels it. We act merely as an intermediary, Peter.”
“I still don’t understand, then.”
“Put it this way. In 1955, if someone had killed your whole family, this guy’s family and maybe some other dude’s clan- enough to force people to care about a serial killer, that is- and the government did, I don’t know, fuck all about it? That seems to be the standard reaction they have to anything, so why not?
“Let’s say…this was happening everywhere, in little towns across our great nation. Just for the sake of argument, how long do you think it would take to mobilize nationwide in 1955?”
I shrug. “Days?”
“Fucking weeks, Pete. Weeks. Communication was still in the Stone Age. It’s a wonder anything got done at all, unless you were Uncle Sam himself.”
“Now you’re the one speaking Morse Code, Vic. Can we get to whatever fucking point you have?”
Vic is pacing back and forth now. His hands have grand gestures for every grandiose statement, a unique mask to terrify me for every ounce of conviction he carries.
“We live in an age where I can tell the Internet, ‘Hey, fuckwads. These poor saps are taking your livelihood, eating up your hard-earned tax dollars and living on your food stamps. Let’s get together and show this country we don’t tolerate it!’ How long do you think it would take to get angry people into the streets?”
Viktor answers his own question.
“Seconds. Minutes. A fucking hour at most.”
“So we’re protesting, then?” I ask, trying not to look at the trail of blood by the door.
“I prefer ‘asserting our position’, personally,” Vic replies, “People are weak. They spend so much time worrying about the consequences of acting, they forget to consider the ones where they don’t act in their own best interest. And that is the definition of fallacy, Peter. There are people who would let the rapists and murderers into your house, because they think these people can be saved.”
“You know they’re not all killers and rapists,” I tell him.
“Guilt by association, Pete.”
“Vic, that would be like saying the Westboro United Church speaks for all Christians. I mean,” I say, wishing my internal dialogue was less unhinged by witnessing murder. “Protest all you want, but you’re thirty-two. I’m twenty-eight. We’ve both lived in this country long enough to know the government doesn’t serve us.”
“See,” Vic says, continuing to pace back and forth between the grey folding tables, “this is where I know you’ve misunderstood. We’re not pussy-footing outside an abortion clinic, Peter. We are manufacturing change.”
There’s that phrase again.
“Here’s what I don’t get. What I’m struggling so hard to reconcile, Vic,” I say, “What in the fucking world are you getting out of this shit? You look like an Irishman trying to be made in the mob. You have more military-grade equipment here than my crazy cousin Kirk has guns in Utah, man. I don’t see you as a politician anytime soon. So what the hell are you getting out of this?”
Viktor stops pacing, looking around his feet and then back up at me. “Do you know why Adolf Hitler was so…accepted, Peter? We glorify him as some sort of monster, but he really was a simple man. He spoke to people like you and I, the feudal servants of society who had lost everything to dynasty. They started a war, people like us waged it on their behalf. And for that, they lost everything they had.
“National identity. Their money. Standard of living. Hitler fucking took that, that fire, and carved their anger into an instrument of vengeance.”
He also murdered six million people for their ethnicity. At least, I hope Viktor can acknowledge that.
“You ask me what I want, Peter?” Vic says, lighting a cigarette from the breast pocket of his stone-coloured suit. “I am no fucking prophet. But surely, this is not what our Founding Fathers had in mind for us. To be overrun with the vermin, see our ‘Promised Land” infected? America was supposed to be our gateway of opportunity, wasn’t it? A key to prosperity. Instead, it’s become a cesspool of shit-skinned equality.”
He resumes pacing. Inhaling. Exhaling, words spewed from his mouth like smoke.
“My father, his name was Harry. He was a good man, once. But the drink got into him, and he became something else entirely. A shroud of himself. Black, like the darkest night, and yet, with just enough light left to want to save him.”
Exhale, waxing monoxide.
“That man took every sense of purpose from me, except making sure he didn’t kill my mother. And when he died, ironically, I felt more lost than ever. In and out of prison, stealing anything that wasn’t nailed down.
“My point is, Peter. I finally have a purpose. I speak the words that so many want to say themselves, but for whatever reason, haven’t. Because the other side? They want us all to have thin skin like them and bow before these third world peasants? You call them liberals. I call them insects; a swarm of nuisance that is ruining this beautiful nation.
“We are Americans,” he says. “When our home is threatened, it is upon us to protect it. And seeing how no one else in this God-forsaken country seems to be willing to lead the charge, I will. You and Syd are my lieutenants, and the people will be our army.
“Against that,” he smiles, “and the Internet in our hands, what chance does a government stand?”
© Nicholas Gagnier