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Every Minute Is a Suicide

Stories

by Bruce McDougall

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short stories (single author), literary
list price: $22.95
edition:Paperback
category: Fiction
published: 2014
ISBN:9780889843776
publisher: Porcupine's Quill
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Awards
  • Short-listed, Independent Publisher (IPPY) awards
  • Winner, eLit Awards
  • Short-listed, ForeWord IndieFab Book of the Year Award
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Description

A collection of short stories centred on a father's disappearance and his son's decades-long journey toward answers.

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Excerpt

A Dangerous Man

Our mother told us years later that she'd moved us away from our father because he'd hit her, and she'd begun to fear that he might start hitting us too. "I wasn't afraid of what he might do to me," she explained. "But I was awfully worried that he might hurt you."

At first, it felt exciting to ask our mother to tell us this story. My sister and I listened as if she was describing a close encounter with a train wreck. We felt lucky to have survived unscathed. But our mother never changed her story, and her one-note explanation of why she'd abandoned our father became a bit boring. Eventually, the excitement wore off, and we let the subject drop.

I never dared to challenge her story or ask her to elaborate on the details. I never asked her to explain why she'd married our father in the first place, what led him to become such a brutal man, or how she could have had children with such an oaf. I didn't ask such questions, because I knew that the answer had something to do with me, and I didn't want to remind our mother that she could have had a better life without me. With one of my parents gone, only she remained standing between me and the world. I wasn't about to give her the chance to abandon me the way she'd abandoned my dad. So I kept my questions to myself and made up the answers as I went along.

My sister and I thought our mother was a brittle woman. She let us know that she was doing her best to provide for us, but she also made us feel that, if we asked for too much, she might break down under the strain. If she broke down, my sister and I would have no one but each other to look after us, and by then neither my sister nor I really trusted each other to come through in a pinch. After all, my sister at the age of eleven had known for months that we would move away from my dad. Our mother had sworn her to secrecy, and she had said nothing about it to me. Who would keep such a secret from someone she loved and trusted? My sister was not my ally. She was my mother's daughter.

My sister and I both knew it was too much to ask our mother to explain in detail her reasons for abandoning our father. It wasn't her job to satisfy our curiosity, and we didn't press the issue. We just did as we were told. He was a dangerous man, and neither my sister nor I wanted any more danger in our lives. It took our dad more than a year to find us.

We'd moved in August to a house in the new suburbs west of the city. There was an empty field across from our house and a shopping mall at the end of our street with a drugstore and a grocery store, and a highway beyond that. On the other side of the highway, there were apple orchards and dairy farms and a creek where my friends and I went fishing for chub with hooks fastened to string tied around branches; we sat under trees and ate beans out of tin cans that we later crushed and buried under a rock.

At night I would lie on my sister's bed while she did her homework, listening to John Sprague, the disc jockey on CHUM. I liked songs like "Wolverton Mountain" and "The Battle of New Orleans" and "All American Boy", especially when Bobby Bare sang about sitting with the girls in the back seat of a Cadillac. My sister would tell me ghost stories, and sometimes we'd sneak out the side door of our house and creep around in the dark like commandos through our neighbours' backyards. It was a pretty good life, and I didn't think I missed my father.

(Continue reading in Every Minute Is a Suicide...)

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Editorial Reviews

This book reads like memory itself, a mixture of obviously key moments and seemingly innocuous ones that take on meaning later.

With Every Minute is a Suicide, Bruce McDougall succeeds in the difficult task of putting together a series of stories that track how a man's life was influenced by his parents splitting up when he was young. McDougall adeptly changes perspective, using different narrators and reflections from different times, all while maintaining his evocative prose and making the characters' journeys relatable but not predictable.

McDougall tells his story using a clever and effective structure. The first and longest story in the collection, "Mom Takes a Husband," ushers readers through the life cycle of an unsuccessful relationship?introducing the backstories of both partners, describing their courtship and marriage, and detailing how the husband's vices and violence toward his wife cause her to take the kids and move away. A few of the pivotal scenes in that story, such as the father's last attempt to see his children before committing suicide, are told again in future sections, but from the perspective of different narrators who flesh out the details.

The vast majority of the stories are told from the perspective of the couple's younger child, a son who was close with his father and still a boy when they were separated, but who is also very aware of the problems between his parents. As the book goes along, the son becomes more aware of how his whole life story was influenced by his mother's decision and his father's flaws. In one memorable story, he describes his mother and uncle arguing about which childhood neighbors lived on which streets and reflects on how the fight was really about the uncle having introduced the former couple.

By jumping in time, McDougall is able to make some interesting narrative choices. The narrator's two marriages are discussed, but only after their demises. He ascribes meaning to childhood experiences in retrospect. Combined with McDougall's strong description and honest dialogue, this approach makes Every Minute is a Suicide a worthy collection and a compelling read.

— Foreword Reviews

'Every Minute is a Suicide by Bruce McDougall layers its stories one atop the other like transparencies, finding its form by accretion. Its prose is comfortable and confident as it takes up the voice and the posture of a storyteller, and it is patient also, growing with its themes and characters. It is the work of a skilled and capable writer.'

— Jeremy Luke Hill
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About the Author

Bruce McDougall

Bruce McDougall saw his first NHL game at Maple Leaf Gardens between the Canadiens and the Leafs in 1955. He is the author of sixteen books of non-fiction, including biographies of Ted Rogers and Edgar Bronfman Jr. His debut story collection, Every Minute is a Suicide was released in the fall of 2014.
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