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by Susan Musgrave

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contemporary women
list price: $11.95
also available: Hardcover
category: Fiction
published: 2012
publisher: Thistledown Press
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The characters from Susan Musgrave’s A Cargo of Orchids are back in this brilliantly engaging novel. Rainy, the Mexican-American woman, and Frenchy, the African-American, along with Musgrave’s narrator X have returned and convincingly insist their story is not done. Once inmates on death row, now reunited and hanging out at an old house in a BC outport, they create a grand new afterlife adventure because death was just too weak to contain them. As we are shuttled along an energetic storyline in an old hearse, through gated communities in Vancouver to BC’s First Nations island outposts, we witness the transformation of lives on the slopes of purgatory. The passageways are rife with wild rides, social satire and visually hilarious encounters. Musgrave’s trademark undercurrents of lurking peril and unexpected havoc play out against murder, drug encounters, and sexual tension but Given is a novel with its own rules of engagement. Musgrave’s comic gifts and ability to transcend this earthly plane create a ghost story that becomes a masterful allegory for personal loss and the potency of love.Of A Cargo of Orchids:“Musgrave’s virtuoso lyricism invariably packs a sting within its lushness – a mordant irony, a bruised darkness.” — Maureen Garvie, — Quill & Quire“Her prose is lucid, eloquent and poetic. The tone of the piece is alternately despairing, ironic, erotic and fearful; the pacing of the narrative is perfectly tuned to the tension of the subject matter.” —Calgary Straight“A vivacious . . . compelling mélange of slapstick, dark humour and outlandish incident . . . Perhaps the novel's greatest pleasures are aesthetic.” — Globe & Mail“Susan Musgrave's third novel alternates between brutal emotion and raw, dark humour . . . It's a beautiful, poetic book with a well-constructed plot and a conclusion with enough twists for a crime fiction novel.” — January Magazine “A Cargo of Orchids is wonderful fun; terrifying, unforgettable and sui generis.” — Bookworld

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Shoelaces are the most popular weapon in prison. With no elasticity and a high breakage point they can be used to hang yourself or strangle other people.My shoelaces had been taken away from me when I was moved to the Condemned Row — the State didn’t want me turning myself into a wind chime before the governor had signed the warrant. I had grown accustomed to walking around with my shoes loose, flopping open, but now, standing beside the prison transfer van, I felt, in a strange way, naked. “What’s the first thing you plan on doing, you get yourself freed?” Earl, my driver asked, as he unlocked my waist chains and manacles and helped me into the back. There were, I saw, no door handles, which was why he’d felt secure enough to remove my shackles. I told Earl I’d always figured the first thing I’d do if I were ever released would be to return to South America to find my son. “Right after I get finished buying shoelaces.”Earl, a big man with grey hair mussed up as if he’d been tossed out of bed, and everything he felt hidden behind chrome mirrors, hefted my prison-issue duffel bag marked “Property of Heaven Valley Correctional Facility” onto the seat beside me. “That’s a long way to go to look for somebody,” he said, giving me an opening, but I wasn’t about to tell him I’d had to look in a lot more farther away places since I’d left my son’s body behind on Tranquilandia; I’d had to begin the search in the shrunken rooms of my heart, to find myself first, the hard way. “As long as you keep moving you can get anywhere you want,” Earl said, looking up at the sky. His view was that most people went from being alive one minute to being dead the next, without knowing the difference. “Half the people walking around, they don’t even know they’re already dead. The rest of them die before they ever learn to live.”He turned on the radio, volunteering, over the static, that he had some knowledge of my case. In his opinion “women of the female gender” didn’t belong behind bars; being locked up didn’t make them any easier to get along with. He said he believed prisoners of all genders should be set free and given jobs, so they could make themselves useful. In his country, for instance, during the ethnic cleansing, they had enlisted men serving life sentences for rape and murder, because they made the best soldiers. “There are men who like to see blood. Lots of it.”Officer Jodie Lootine, the guard everyone called the Latrine because of her potty-mouth, slid in next to Earl; it was her job to make sure I reached my destination without making a jackrabbit parole, the reason my destination remained a secret, surrounded by a bodyguard of lies. All I’d been told was that I was being transferred to a remand centre where I would be held pending a new trial.Years before, when I was first admitted to the Facility, I had been given a pamphlet called the Inmate Information Handbook. One of the first rules, right after “If you are a new inmate only recently sentenced by the courts, this will probably be an entirely new experience for you,” was “Don’t ask where you are going, or why, they will only lie to you anyway.” We had our rules, too, the rules of engagement with prison guards, wardens, classification officers, or even the all-denominations chaplain who came to wish you sayonara in the Health Alteration Unit, a.k.a. the death chamber. Don’t ask questions. It spares you the grief.Something else I’d learned from the Inmate Information Handbook. “You will feel completely alone, because you are.” I checked my Snoopy wristwatch — bequeathed to me by Rainy the night before she took her trip to the stars: it was still ticking. “Within a week you will forget you ever had friends.” Months had gone by since I’d lost Rainy and Frenchy, the two best friends I could never hope to find; (a Rainyism) but though they’d been executed they had never stopped being with me, carrying on the same way they did when they were alive. Sometimes it seemed they hadn’t really died so much as I myself had become a ghost.

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