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Silent Cruise

by Timothy Taylor

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list price: $25
category: Fiction
published: 2002
publisher: Knopf Canada
imprint: Vintage Canada
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  • , Danuta Gleed Literary Award
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From the author of the bestselling novel, Stanley Park, a dazzling collection of short fiction to debut in our new Vintage Tales series. Taylor, whose writing possesses an astonishing range and depth, first came to national attention with his short story writing. This collection includes, among others, his Journey Prize-winning story, “Doves of Townsend,” for which he also won a Silver National Magazine Award, and two other stories from the fall 2000 Journey Prize Anthology.

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“Doves of Townsend, good morning.”

This is me, answering the phone at the shop. After which I frequently end up explaining the inherited family name. Sometimes (I admit) tired of telling the real story, I’ll make something up. “There’s a flock of doves found in Townsend, my Dad’s hometown,” I’ll start. Then I finish the story by saying the birds hunt as a pack and kill cats, or that they bring good luck if you catch one and pull out a tail feather. The mood of the story rides up and down on the sine wave of my menstrual cycle.

The truth is plain. My father came from Townsend and he was a fanatical collector. Knives, as it happens, but it could have been anything. Magpie, hoarder, packrat, whatever you want to call him, I had long understood him to be obsessive-compulsive within certain categories. His suicide note read: I fear I have covered the full length of this blade. But at auctions, where he lived the happy parts of his life, he held up his wooden paddle and said his last name so the auctioneer would know who was bidding. “Dove,” he’d say, eyes never leaving whatever dagger, cleaver, oiseau or machete had captivated him. And then -- in case there was another Dove in the room -- he’d say it again, louder: “Doves of Townsend.”

So, here I am: “Doves of Townsend?”

It was two months ago, Alexander Galbraithe calling. He wanted a set of chrome 1940s ashtrays, the ones with the DC-3 doing the flypast over the cigar butts. I’ve known Mr Galbraithe since I was a child. When my father started Doves of Townsend as an extension of his own collecting (a very bad idea I came to think), Mr Galbraithe was one of his first steady buyers. I assume he stayed with me out of allegiance or sympathy, since after Dad’s death I sold off the knife collection quickly and resolved never to replace it.

“Clare?” he said. “Are you familiar with the airplane ones?”

I knew he was talking about the famous deco ashtray since none of the other things he collects – coach clocks, cigar cutters, Iranian block-print textiles, even knives as far as I know – come in an aeroplane model.

“Pedestal or tabletop?” I asked him. “Illuminated?”

We began to work out the specs.

“Real?” I asked, breathing a little into the phone. “Or fake?”

Mr Galbraithe didn’t laugh often, although he found many things funny. What he did, instead, was roll his massive balding head back an inch or two, squint slightly and crinkle his cheeks. When he was done, he’d roll his head back to its normal position and resume where he left off.

This is what he did now. I could tell over the phone. And when he had returned he said, “Clare. My dear. Really.”

It pays to be straight on this real-fake question. There’s no point looking for something real, something authentic and old and possibly rare, if the client has no preference. My former-sometimes-boyfriend Tiko used to send art directors my way from time to time, and all they cared about was that an object look good on camera. Some collectors, on the other hand, collect fakes. So go figure.

What’s bad, clearly, is to get fake when you’re after real. Most dealers will learn this the hard way even if they resist being obsessive collectors themselves. Me, for example. I was just starting out. Dad had been gone a year, and I overcame all the good sense I had and bought a set of les Freres locking steak knifes. I literally saw them in a shop window, stopped on the sidewalk – reconsidering everything I had resolved after my father slipped somewhere beyond reach, after he did what he did – then went in and bought them. Of course, I knew the famous French maker produced knives that were rare and beautiful, knives with a four-inch hand-forged blade folding into black pear-wood handle with silver inlay and locking in place with a tiny gold clasp in the shape of a dove. I knew the les Freres dove had meant something special to my father, among all his knives. These were the first I had seen since his death and, for that instant, I was host to a perfectly synchronous collector’s impulse.

What this lapse taught me was never to buy a thing merely because it is rare and beautiful and you are able to construe some tangled family significance. What I didn’t know then was the number of les Freres reproduction steak knives that had been made over the years by Spanish, Korean and other manufacturers. When I learned this, which was soon enough, I sold my Taiwanese fakes for about one-twentieth what I paid for them. To Mr Galbraithe, in fact, who rescued me. Tried to pay much more than they were worth, but I wouldn’t let him.

“You see the clasp here, Clare?” he explained very kindly. “The reproduction clasps are stamped flat from stainless steel, then gold-plated. A real les Freres has a hammered dove figurine, sculpted in three dimensions, in 18-karat gold.”

“Fake,” I said, shaking my head. “I should have known.”

“But now you have seen it,” he said, putting a large hand weightlessly on my shoulder. “I am quite sure you won’t miss it again.”

He was a huge presence, six-and-a-half feet tall; God knows how many pounds. In his other hand, the knife looked like an antique folding toothpick I’d once seen at auction. Mr Galbraithe always leaned a little forward when we spoke, canted just so, careful to hear and understand everything that I said. He wore dark, heavy double-breasted suits and two-tone black and white shoes. Tiko met him once and referred to him thereafter as Sidney Greenstreet, although he looked nothing like that. He brought to mind the force of gravity, yes, but not the crushing pressure of it. Instead, he made me think of the way some large things elegantly defy it. I’ve looked at suspension bridges the way I looked at Mr Galbraithe.

He folded the fake les Freres into his palm, first popping the gold-plated clasp with his thumb, then clicking shut the blade with his fingers. Then he wrote me a cheque using a large black fountain pen. In the nineteenth century, I thought on occasion, with my father gone and no family remaining, I would have married the widowed Mr Galbraithe, friend of my father and life long presence. The thirty-year age difference would have seemed, I think, to be much less.

“You have an eye for the fine line,” Mr Galbraithe said to me another time, admiring a more successful purchase. I thought the words left unsaid were something like: but be careful, so did your father.

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Contributor notes

Timothy Taylor is the recent recipient of a National Magazine Award Gold Medal and the only writer ever to have three stories selected and published simultaneously in the Journey Prize Anthology. His short fiction has appeared in Canada’s leading literary magazines and has been anthologized in such publications as Best Canadian Stories, Coming Attractions and Islands West. His novel, Stanley Park, was a national bestseller and a finalist for The Giller Prize. He lives in Vancouver.

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Editorial Review

“The stories collected in Silent Cruise crackle with intellectual energy and symbols and feature an impressive range of characters in up-to-the-moment settings.” -- Quill & Quire, Best Books of 2002, February 2003

“Timothy Taylor exploded onto the literary scene in Canada last year with his novel, Stanley Park, but his real strengths lie in short fiction. Silent Cruise, a collection of eight previously published short stories and one new novella, demonstrates Taylor’s diversity of subject and ease with language…. If you’ve already read all eight stories in the various literary journals, then you may think it’s not worth buying the collection. Wrong. The book is worth it simply for the novella, “Newstart 2.0 ™”…. Silent Cruise is a chunky collection, packed with dense and complicated stories. Flaws are minimal, and they are the result of trying something big. The rarified narrative level that Taylor inhabits is a delight to explore in this collection.” -- Monday Magazine, May 2002

“An intriguing collection of short fiction [from] a master stylist…. Taylor’s use of language is exact. He has a gift for choosing exactly the right word to express an idea or an emotion, giving his writing a feeling of strength and precision. Each character rings true, enabling the reader to become engrossed in the stories. Silent Cruise is excellent writing and enjoyably hypnotic.” -- Hamilton Spectator, May 2002

“There can be little doubt that Taylor is one of Canada’s best short-story writers…. Taylor rises to the challenge Northrop Frye set for the poet: he shows us the world completely absorbed and possessed by the human mind.” -- Quill & Quire, March 2002

“Seeking solace, people turn to self-help gurus and superficial notions of God. Some of us, though, have discovered something akin to hope and meaning via art and intellect…. Silent Cruise. It’s a good thing for those of us who appreciate well-crafted, perfectly pitched, intellectually mature, quietly poetic, and frequently funny stories that Timothy Taylor … came to his sense and quit his day job to write…. Taylor writes with the wonder and joy of a kid who has had his nose pressed to the candy-store window and all of a sudden finds himself inside, with one cautious eye glancing back over his shoulder.” -- The Georgia Straight, May 2002

“Intelligen[t] and rich…. A work of baroque elegance and inventiveness … Timothy Taylor [is] a writer to seek and savour.” -- Annabel Lyon, National Post

" ... few demonstrate the density, intellectual range and originality that Timothy Taylor does in Silent Cruise.... sharply honed brilliance.... Overarching questions of consumption and pleasure, loss and hunger, marble these stories with intricate flavour.... Demanding and complex, the passions unveiled in these explorations are inescapable. Timothy Taylor is the only writer ever to have three stories published in The Journey Prize Anthology in one year. It is easy to understand why. This is a dazzling collection.” -- Aritha van Herk, The Ottawa Citizen, May 2002

“… Timothy Taylor is a gifted writer who successfully catches the neurotic (and creative) zeitgeist of our times…. both amusing and thought provoking…. In Silent Cruise, Taylor treads the subtle border territory separating outright parody from the strange truths and beauty of our time¯this is a fine collection, and Timothy Taylor is a major talent who continues to make his mark on the Canadaina literary scene.” -- Times Colonist, May 2002

“An eclectic collection….” The Edmonton Journal, June 2002

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