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The Blue Light Project

by Timothy Taylor

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literary
list price: $22.00
edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover
category: Fiction
published: 2012
ISBN:9780307399311
publisher: Knopf Canada
imprint: Vintage Canada
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Description

From one of Canada’s finest writers comes a masterful novel about the clash of art and advertising, the cultish grip of celebrity and the intense connections that can form in times of crisis.
 
An unidentified man storms a television studio where KiddieFame, a controversial children’s talent show wherein kids who are too talented are “killed off,” is being filmed. He is armed with an explosive device, and issues only a single demand: an interview with journalist Thom Pegg. It’s a strange request, everyone agrees. A disgraced former investigative journalist, caught fabricating sources, Pegg is down on his luck and working for a lowly tabloid. The demand surprises everyone – Pegg most of all, and he is reluctant to play a role. But pressure from federal authorities leaves little choice, and so it is that Thom Pegg finds himself the envy of all the high-level journalists on hand as he makes his way into the darkened studio to uncover the truth.
Outside, as the hostage taking heads into its third day, enthralled and horrified onlookers watch the drama unfold through a constant stream of media speculation and rumours that race through the crowd. In the throes of this crisis two characters – one running from former glory and the other from corporate burnout – meet and instinctively connect. Eve is an Olympic gold medalist and much-loved local daughter who jogs the city’s streets at night and searches for her long-lost brother, Ali, in its shadowy corners. Rabbit is a secretive street artist who is just completing a massive project involving strange installations on the rooftops of hundreds of buildings throughout the city. Both carry the scars of their pasts, and seem to be searching for a way to become whole.
 
It’s a fearful time, when people have serious doubts about the future and about each other, yet are compelled to come together to vent their anxiety and make themselves heard. Outside the studio, chaos reigns, and Eve and Rabbit must navigate police checkpoints as they skirt the unruly masses in pursuit of the truth of what happened to Ali. Inside the studio, however, it’s all about control, as Pegg listens to the hostage taker’s story and begins to realize the terrible, violent truth about what he has planned.
 
When the crisis comes to a head, events collide and riots grip the streets. Prospects seem bleak as the tension of the hostage taking is unleashed upon the city. But when Rabbit’s secret installation is finally activated, people are shocked into seeing the power beauty still has in this world, and into recognizing the real possibility of hope. The Blue Light Project is a hard-hitting and emotionally wrought commentary on the forces that attract and repel us, and the faith that enables us to continue, even in our darkest hours.

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Excerpt

She’s beautiful. Let me just say that at the outset. A person could pretend they didn’t notice, but that person would probably be lying. I’ve lied before. I’ve lied notably, some might even say infamously. But this is the truth: she’s a classic willowy, green-eyed beauty. And she carries it in a way that might surprise if you’ve based your impression on the ads and the television spots. In person, there is nothing endorsement, nothing podium about her. No flashing of the winning smile. No casual glancing around for the nearest camera. In person, it’s all about health and natural athleticism, straw-blond hair and a perfect dusting of freckles over tanned cheekbones. I’ve heard her described as having “Midwestern” looks, but that doesn’t quite get to the essence of it either. The essence is that she seems beyond regions and sources. As if she came from everywhere and so belonged to everyone. As if, and this is related, she came from nowhere and belonged to no one.

I know how this sounds coming from a person like me, who has worked for years too long inside the machinery of fame, leaned in close against the grind and squelch of it. The fan is always the mark. Celebrity is a con. Who wrote that, years ago, as if it were a great insight? Me, of course. I wrote that years ago as if it were a great insight. Still, when I first saw her, I was hit by the whole suite of symptoms: the adrenal spike, the sense of brightening, of possibilities opening wide. And like the strike of a crystal bell in my inner ear, like a breath whispering through my body at the cellular level, I heard her name: Eve Latour.

Of course, everybody up in the Heights that morning seemed to be slightly lost. I’d been wandering the city myself since first light, a dread chill in the air, flinty breeze off the river, the skies above me all smoky and heaving. The pale October sun leaked only briefly through bruised and purple clouds before slouching away. I stood just a few blocks from the plaza, which had been the epicenter of the troubles, and evidence was still everywhere. Broken glass glittering in the street. Sirens scoring the air. Smoke rising. I saw the remains of a car that rioters had burned earlier, the interior gutted and blackened, soaked by fire hoses and steaming in the watery light. Police and troops wandering around. The recent events continuing to dominate every news broadcast. The Meme Media Hostage Crisis, as we were all calling it. On the hour and the half hour, they laid it out again and again, from inception to climax, and made no further sense of anything. You could see it in the anchors’ faces. Incomprehension in the furrows between plucked eyebrows even as they tried to explain how events unfolded. The Meme studio theater stormed in ghostly silence. A strange pulse of energy felt on the skin by everyone in a six-block radius. And then the strange agitations of a stricken crowd: a vigil turned riot in the predawn blue.

We stumbled. We reeled. We looked into each other’s faces for clues. Eve Latour stood holding a newspaper in one hand. A fingernail of her other hand traced across her cheek as she read. Mill-town sky, the clouds sagging low behind her. She stood against this backdrop, tall and lean, with an easy grace and natural strength. While reflected in the broken front window of a dog grooming salon, I saw myself: addled, disarranged. My expression confused, smudged with lack of sleep.

I looked as creased and untucked as my clothes. As lost as the one shirt collar point popping free of my jacket.
Police cars and fire trucks crisscrossed the hillside. Helicopters hovered watchfully, dipping down out of sight behind rooflines, or pivoting in place and angling off to other quadrants of the city. I could hear the city’s landmark waterfall down at the river, the never-ending white keen of it. Eve stood calmly in the midst of this, reading, thinking.
I’d walked from the north side, from my hotel downtown across the river where the streets were almost untouched by what had happened here. I’d crossed one of the bridges and made my way through the inner-city area of Stofton, then on up into the gentrified Slopes. I knew these neighborhoods, having been born and raised here, long ago. Yet as I covered the ground, I’d slowly become aware of my own uncertainty about where I was exactly or where I was going as I pushed on, going block by block, turning down a street or cutting through a park. And everywhere I saw people who looked to be in a similar condition, heads turning, faces slack, drifting through the strange familiar.
There were no birds anywhere. No pigeons, crows, no geese or grebes. When I crossed the boulevard that marked the boundary of the Heights, a man stopped his car and rolled down the window to tell me that hundreds of people had been arrested and were being held in temporary detention centers down by the east side rail yards. I judged from his face—from his suit jacket, his car, his wristwatch with many dials—that he wasn’t the sort of person who believed rumors easily, but that something had changed. Belief was now very close. Belief that some hidden badness had been flushed into the open and exposed. A hidden badness in us. A plague of ourselves upon ourselves.

I climbed up the streets and into the Heights. Traffic clotted and broke out of its patterns. The main routes up into the plaza were cordoned off, yellow tape shimmering in the light and wind. Armored cars were parked next to the fountains, between the park benches, in front of cafés. Troops wore gray-mottled city camo fatigues with black knee pads and throat mikes, helmet-mounted cameras. I took a random turn into a narrow avenue lined with high-end clothiers and boutique law firms, a cosmetic surgeon. Broken glass in the street. The air smelled of rubber, burnt sugar, nylon. Eve Latour didn’t belong in the scene at all, I thought. She lived in my memory as a heroic figure on alpine landscapes with crisp air and wide sight lines. Yet as I stood staring, I felt that our arrival there had somehow been planned: place and persons, trembling moment. She sensed me standing there. People who spend their lives in the public eye develop a kind of radar. They feel the eyes, the longing, the volatile desire. Some love it, thrive on it. Others are smartly wary. Eve Latour was wary, I think, but also kind. So she didn’t ignore me or pretend to be distracted with something else. She looked up instead and inventoried me in a single glance. The clothes. That shirt collar point sticking up. Shoes, hands, face. History and disappointments. The fear and the fatigue.

Then she closed the distance. She stepped towards me and extended her hand.

Strange thing, that. They don’t normally touch you, in my experience. I mean the really big stars. The name brands. The people of iconic wealth and wellness. The people who could surely envy only God. It’s less a germ issue than it is a matter of observing the sacred separation between you and them. But Eve was going to surprise me in various ways, and the handshake was only the first instance. She took my hand, applied the faintest pressure. The nod, the rounded eyebrows to signal that we both understood at least one part of what the other was feeling. And then we had the same conversation that thousands of strangers were having that morning. We worked our way back in time together to where we’d been when the crisis began.

I told her that I’d been on the West Coast, where I lived. That I’d been on a date, at dinner. I told her about the unexpected phone call, the shock, the terrible dawning, the rush to the airport to fly here. But past that point, past liftoff—I remembered a cream leather cabin—my memory frayed and sputtered. My forehead twitching, my cheeks flushing with effort as the details jammed. She said: Journalist. You’re a journalist. We’ve met. Which sounded familiar, so I told her: Yes, I remember. Although I wasn’t at all sure that I did.

And here she nodded and turned away, not coming back with her own story immediately, but waiting in silence for several seconds instead, the air textured all around us with radio squelch, rotor wash, the sound of the falls, all those uncountable sirens. I recognized in her pause the long habit of self concealment around journalists. Forget about all those interviews and profiles after her gold-medal win in Geneva eight years before. The tide of curiosity as her athletic fame so quickly morphed into something bigger. The celebrity engagement to the French film director. The paparazzi outside her Paris hotel after he left her for the tennis player. Her high profile term as a UNICEF Global Ambassador. She’d faced them all squarely, the photographers and the networks. She’d accommodated the local press on her return home from Europe, their loved daughter. Always gracious, never minding that they called her Evey like she wasn’t thirty-two years old but still a kid. It was true that she had lived in the media, lived in our gaze. But none of it would have prepared her for this occasion, as we stood together in the post-normal. This lean, unwavering beauty. The slumped and damaged hack opposite.

Something blinked to life in my memory. Eve Latour had given an interview to a men’s magazine several years before. One of those cleavage and six-pack catalogs. Eve Latour sitting in an old Ukrainian deli, a famous place in this city. In the Heights, I thought. Not too far from where we were standing. In the photograph, she was wearing an impressively ugly cable knit sweater, her head cracked back laughing, mid-conversation with the old guy who ran the place. She told the interviewer that she planned never to leave the city again. She didn’t want to. More importantly, she didn’t need to. She’d seen the world and seen what it had to give. She knew now that everything required in life was right there close at hand, at home. And if it wasn’t—whatever thing or experience—then she could certainly learn to live without it.

I loved that detail, then and now. That Eve Latour was the kind of person who didn’t let herself be tormented by those desires that could not be satisfied.

Eve Latour continued to think of something else, a long loop of thought that took her away from me, her eyes drifting to the buildings opposite, to the sky, to a jet passing overhead. Military. Heading east. It made a sound like a God-scale fabric being torn down the length of its seam.

Then she surprised me again. She motioned we should walk. She took my arm. Again, the physical contact. Again the willing, familiar touch. This time with a new authority. So it was that I crossed the broken Heights, over to the shoulder of the hill, walking arm in arm with Eve Latour. And right at the crest—where the whole downtown delta was revealed, those high and magical spires, each one shimmering in its individual haze of sorrow and money, poised to carry on—right there, she started talking.

She’d been at home, she said. As for so many others, the first images of the Meme Media Hostage Crisis had flickered to consciousness in the upholstered safety of a living room. She remembered the fire, the first gunshots. All of which had been terrible, but not nearly as terrible as what followed. That spilling of events from the inside to the outside, that sense of contagion, violence spreading from one to so many and with such seeming ease. She wondered if it had happened that way, if people had lost themselves in these events, because so many of the hostages had been children.

I didn’t say anything. I just kept walking as she steered us into the street, dead intersection lights overhead, swaying in the breeze off the river. Her foot crunched broken glass and pieces of brick. We crossed to the opposite sidewalk and she asked my name. And when I told her she repeated it quickly, as if it had been there, right on the tip of her tongue.

Thom Pegg, she said. And she turned to look at me, her eyebrows raised. She seemed, incredibly, to be finding some upside in the moment, to be tapping some secret source of hope. But she didn’t tell me what it was, just then. She only nodded again and tightened her grip on my arm, pulling me along. Towards something. That much seemed clear. But what was it? Where was it? I didn’t ask, and she offered no answers. And while I might have pressed on another day, in another frame of mind, on that day, in that frame of mind—shifting gaps in my memory and a pervasive sense of being lost—I let myself be pulled down the street by this famous and mysterious person, this angel. I let her lead me, walking briskly now, dropping down the hill towards the river, the sound of the falls growing and growing. The wind unseasonably high.
 

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Contributor notes

Now recognized by both reviewers and readers as one of Canada’s prose masters, Timothy Taylor took a somewhat unexpected route in establishing his writing career. After completing an economics degree at the University of Alberta and an MBA at the Queen’s School of Business, Taylor worked for four years in commercial banking, during which time he arranged to transfer from Toronto to his childhood home of Vancouver, where he still lives. However, Taylor had long known that he wanted to write, so he made the decision to leave his job and try to make a go of it, establishing his own Pacific fisheries consulting practice in order to give his new freelance writing career some stability.
As Taylor mentioned in one interview, it was all part of the slow process of developing himself as an author: “It’s difficult to have serious writing ambitions and run your own business at the same time. Both pursuits deserve your full attention, but writing won’t return a living wage at the beginning, so there are some hard realities.” Yet Taylor also feels that his writing has benefited immensely from his work in other areas: “I needed exposure to people in different fields with problems and issues and objectives outside the world of writing. If I had tried to start a novel in my mid-twenties after studying creative writing, I can’t imagine what I would have written about. I admire people who succeed this way and, recently, I’ve met quite a few.”
During this time, Taylor began writing his first novel, Stanley Park, and also worked on his short fiction, which began to be accepted by literary magazines. This turned out to be a valuable step for Taylor, as he began to feel a part of the literary community. As he said in one interview, “For me, literary magazines were really important to how I ended up making contact with anybody whatsoever. Because, I think, for beginning writers the only dialogue you have going on about your writing – where anybody will actually talk to you – is the letter exchange you have with lit mags…. And that conversation – you writing and submitting, and them writing you back this letter – represents this small dialogue, and it’s the only one you’re having.” The time spent perfecting his short stories came to fruition when Taylor’s “Doves of Townsend” was awarded the Journey Prize (Canada’s equivalent to the O. Henry Award) in 2000. Remarkably, he had two other stories on the competition’s final shortlist that year, and was the first Canadian writer ever to have three short stories up for the prize and included in the Journey Prize Anthology.
The following year, Stanley Park was published as part of Knopf Canada’s New Face of Fiction program, to outstanding reviews. (It was at this point that Taylor was finally able to wrap up his consultancy business and write full time.) The novel follows a food artiste named Jeremy Papier into the inner sanctums of Vancouver’s culinary scene, and Jeremy’s father, an anthropologist who camps out in Stanley Park to study homelessness, into the city’s underbelly. Stanley Park was shortlisted for the Giller Prize, the City of Vancouver Book Award, the Ethel Wilson Award and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize.
That novel was followed by Silent Cruise, a collection of short fiction, in 2002, and Story House, a novel, in 2006. Both books received broad critical acclaim. The Blue Light Project followed in 2011, and has been lauded for not only its thriller-like intensity but the important questions it raises about how we live in our world, and what our future might hold. Taylor has also been widely published and recognized for his non-fiction magazine work, and has been a finalist for or winner of a dozen separate magazine awards. Today, Timothy Taylor continues to publish stories in Canada’s leading literary magazines, in addition to writing travel, humour, arts and business pieces for various periodicals, and writing for film.

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Editorial Review

“It’s tempting to race through The Blue Light Project. It has the compelling narrative momentum and intricate plotting of a thriller. Resist the temptation, because…[it’s] as much a novel of ideas as it is a page-turner. It’s a crucible of topical issues…. By turns hopeful and alarming, The Blue Light Project is a thought-provoking take on what one character calls ‘our toxic times.’” —Toronto Star
“Taylor is an intelligent writer, and one whose novels suggest that he has strong political convictions. Some of the best and most unsettling moments come when the grim ironies of the plot illustrate how governments…are quietly dismantling long-taken-for-granted rights and privileges and replacing them with libertarian pseudo-freedoms.… Taylor will one day be a Canadian icon.” —J.C. Sutcliffe, The Globe and Mail
 
“Beautifully written and brimming with important ideas.… His themes are absolutely of the moment, and his characters are consistently fascinating.” —NOW (Toronto)
“Part politico-thriller, part urban romance, part cautionary tale, The Blue Light Project offers up an unforgettable portrait of the city as living being. Taylor’s unnamed heartland metropolis is wounded and wild with fear, yet it fairly hums with life force, its darkened rooftops and laneways the scene of redemptive chance meetings and seemingly random creative acts. An exhilarating, at-times alarming, read – not a call to arms so much as a call to the regenerative power of art.” —Alissa York, author of Fauna and Effigy
“I read this novel straight through from cover to cover, and the next day I started it again. I don’t think I’ve ever done that before. The Blue Light Project is a triumph of a novel. It will engross and engage you, make your heart beat faster and your mind slow down. Timothy Taylor is without a doubt one of Canada’s finest writers.” —Steven Galloway, author of The Cellist of Sarajevo
 
“Delightfully engrossing.… Holding The Blue Light Project together is Taylor’s prose style, which jumps across the page like a joyful, risk-loving parkour artist.” —Winnipeg Free Press
“An ambitious novel, one that challenges its readers to pay attention or get left behind, but it is definitely worth the necessary concentration.… It is about the power of art to heal in the aftermath of tragedy. And from a literary standpoint, it works extremely well.… A wonderful novel – a thought-provoking and challenging story that will lead to debate and discussion among readers and might even change the way you look at our celebrity-driven culture.” —The Vancouver Sun
The Blue Light Project slows down today’s accelerated world in order to sympathetically probe the constraints of celebrity, public art and biopolitics in the context of contemporary terrorism. At the core of this suspenseful novel is a hostage crisis that is terrifyingly real. Taylor forces us to consider probabilities. What might happen at the confluence of fear, love, and hope?... Just as Taylor’s first novel, Stanley Park, concludes with one of the most memorable meals in contemporary literature, the final illumination in The Blue Light Project will haunt readers for decades to come. Writing at times with the incisive vision of Margaret Atwood, the broken lyricism of Michael Ondaatje, the social realism of Rohinton Mistry, and the brutal honesty of Douglas Coupland, Timothy Taylor now firmly ranks among Canada’s finest authors. The Blue Light Project is an important book. Pay attention.” —Laura Moss, associate professor, Department of English, UBC, and associate editor of Canadian Literature

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