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Bolters

By 49thShelf
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tagged: motherhood
I first learned of "bolters" through Nancy Mitford's The Pursuit of Love, whose narrator lives with her cousins because her mother ("the bolster") has abandoned her. Bolters remain fascinating and complicated characters in literature, both fictional and non. Here are some memorable bolters in CanLit.
Jesus on the Dashboard

Jesus on the Dashboard

edition:Paperback

Teenage years can be complicated, even when you haven't been abandoned by your mother at age ten. It is the 1980s and teenage Gemma lives with her well-meaning father, Nathaniel, goes to 'art therapy' once a week and tries to come to terms with growing up motherless. She collects facts about her long lost mother, Angie (height, weight, eye-colour, mint lip-gloss) and develops a rare syndrome she calls PMMSM, People-Make-Me-Stupid-Mad. Then comes the strange, almost unthinkable news: Angie is bac …

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A Complicated Kindness

A Complicated Kindness

tagged : beautiful, tragic

Sixteen-year-old Nomi Nickel longs to hang out with Lou Reed and Marianne Faithfull in New York City’s East Village. Instead she’s trapped in East Village, Manitoba, a small town whose population is Mennonite: “the most embarrassing sub-sect of people to belong to if you’re a teenager.” East Village is a town with no train and no bar whose job prospects consist of slaughtering chickens at the Happy Family Farms abattoir or churning butter for tourists at the pioneer village. Ministered …

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Excerpt

One

I live with my father, Ray Nickel, in that low brick bungalow out on highway number twelve. Blue shutters, brown door, one shattered window. Nothing great. The furniture keeps disappearing, though. That keeps things interesting.

Half of our family, the better-looking half, is missing. Ray and I get up in the morning and move through our various activities until it’s time to go to bed. Every single night around ten o’clock Ray tells me that he’s hitting the hay. Along the way to his bedroom he’ll stop in the front hallway and place notes on top of his shoes to remind him of the things he has to do the next day. We enjoy staring at the Northern Lights together. I told him, verbatim, what Mr. Quiring told us in class. About how those lights work. He thought Mr. Quiring had some interesting points. He’s always been mildly interested in Mr. Quiring’s opinions, probably because he’s also a teacher.

I have assignments to complete. That’s the word, complete. I’ve got a problem with endings. Mr. Quiring has told me that essays and stories generally come, organically, to a preordained ending that is quite out of the writer’s control. He says we will know it when it happens, the ending. I don’t know about that. I feel that there are so many to choose from. I’m already anticipating failure. That much I’ve learned to do. But then what the hell will it matter to me while I’m snapping tiny necks and chucking feathery corpses onto a conveyor belt in a dimly lit cinder-block slaughterhouse on the edge of a town not of this world. Most of the kids from around here will end up working at Happy Family Farms, where local chickens go to meet their maker. I’m sixteen now, young to be on the verge of graduating from high school, and only months away from taking my place on the assembly line of death.

One of my recurring memories of my mother, Trudie Nickel, has to do with the killing of fowl. She and I were standing in this farmyard watching Carson and his dad chop heads off chickens. You’d know Carson if you saw him. Carson Enns. Arm-farter in the back row. President of the Pervert Club. Says he’s got a kid in Pansy, a small town south of here. Troubled boy, but that’s no wonder considering he used to be The Snowmobile Suit Killer. I was eight and Trudie was about thirty-five. She was wearing a red wool coat and moon boots. The ends of her hair were frozen because she hadn’t been able to find the blow-dryer that morning. Look, she’d said. She grabbed a strand of hair and bent it like a straw. She’d given me her paisley scarf to tie around my ears. I don’t know exactly what we were doing at Carson’s place in the midst of all that carnage, it hadn’t started out that way I’m pretty sure, but I guess carnage has a way of creeping up on you. Carson was my age and every time he swung the axe he’d yell things at the chicken. He wanted it to escape. Run, you stupid chicken! Carson, his dad would say. Just his name and a slight anal shake of the head. He was doing his best to nurture the killer in his son. It was around 4:30 in the afternoon on a winter day and the light was fading into blue and it was snowing horizontally and we were all standing under a huge yellow yard light. Well, some of us were dying. And Carson was doing this awful botch job on a chicken, hacking away at its neck, not doing it right at all, whispering instructions on how to escape. Fly away, idiot. Don’t make me do this. Poor kid. By this time he’d unzipped the top half of his snowmobile suit so it kind of flapped around his waist like a skirt, slowing him down, and his dad saw him and came over and grabbed the semi-mutilated chicken out of Carson’s little mittened hand and slapped it onto this wooden altar thing he used to do the killing and brought his axe down with incredible speed and accuracy and in less than a second had created a splattery painting in the snow and I was blown away by how the blood could land so fast and without a single sound and my mom gasped and said look, Nomi, it’s a Jackson Pollock. Oh, it’s beautiful. Oh, she said, cloths of heaven. That was something she said a lot. And Carson and I stood there staring at the blood on the snow and my mom said: Just like that. Who knew it could be so easy.

I don’t know if she meant it’s so easy to make art or it’s so easy to kill a chicken or it’s so easy to die. Every single one of those things strikes me as being difficult to do. I imagine that if she were here right now and I was asking her what she meant, she’d say what are you talking about and I’d say nothing and that would be the end of it.

It’s only because she’s gone that all those trivial little things from the past echo on and on and on. At dinner that night, after the slaughter at Carson’s place, she asked us how we would feel if for some reason we were all in comas and had slept right through the summer months and had woken up around the middle of November, would we be angry that we had missed the warmth and beauty of the summer or happy that we had survived. Ray, who hates choosing, had asked her if we couldn’t be both and she’d said no, she didn’t think so.

Trudie doesn’t live here any more. She left shortly after Tash, my older sister, left. Ray and I don’t know where either one of them is. We do know that Tash left with Ian, who is Mr. Quiring’s nephew. He’s double-jointed and has a red Ford Econoline van. Trudie seems to have left alone.

Now my dad, you know what he says in the middle of those long evenings sitting in our house on the highway? He says: Say, Nomi, how about spinning a platter. Yeah, he uses those exact butt-clenching words. Which means he wants to listen to Anne Murray singing “Snowbird,” again. Or my old Terry Jacks forty-five of “Seasons in the Sun.” I used to play that song over and over in the dark when I was nine, the year I really became aware of my existence. What a riot. We have a ball. Recently, Ray’s been using the word stomach as a verb a lot. And also the word rally. We rally and we stomach. Ray denied it when I pointed it out to him. He says we’re having a good time and getting by. Why shouldn’t he amend? He tells me that life is filled with promise but I think he means the promise of an ending because so far I haven’t been able to put my finger on any other. If we could get out of this town things might be better but we can’t because we’re waiting for Trudie and Tash to come back. It’s been three years so far. My period started the day after Trudie left which means I’ve bled thirty-six times since they’ve been gone.

From the Hardcover edition.

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The Romantic

The Romantic

edition:eBook
tagged : literary

Not long after Louise Kirk's mother vanishes, the Richters and their adopted son, Abel, move in across the street, and Louise falls furiously in love. Skillfully interweaving the stories of Abel and Louise at different ages, The Romantic is a powerful exploration of the many incarnations of love and loss.

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Projection

Projection

Encounters with My Runaway Mother
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback

2013 Governor General’s Literary Award — Shortlisted, Non-Fiction
2013 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust — Shortlisted, Non-Fiction

Projection is the story of this mother-daughter meeting in Brazil, of how two strangers, connected by little more than blood, spent ten days together trying to build a relationship.

In 1977, Priscila Uppal’s father drank contaminated water in Antigua and within 48 hours was a quadriplegic. Priscila was two years old. Five years later, her mother, Theresa, drain …

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Changing My Mind

Changing My Mind

A Memoir
edition:eBook
also available: Hardcover Audiobook Paperback

Canadians fell in love with Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s beautiful and high-spirited bride when he brought her to the world stage as the youngest First Lady in the history of the country.

But the situation wasn’t as rosy as it seemed. Plagued by mood swings and unprepared for public life, Margaret became increasingly isolated at 24 Sussex as her depression alternated with bouts of mania. As her behaviour became more puzzling—even to Margaret herself—she did her best to mother her three young …

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Modern Classics Who Do You Think You Are

Modern Classics Who Do You Think You Are

edition:Paperback
tagged :

Rose and her stepmother, Flo, live in Hanratty-across the bridge from the "good" part of town. Rose, alternately fascinated and appalled by the rude energy of the people around her, grows up nursing her hope of outgrowing her humble beginnings and plotting an escape to university.

Rose makes her escape and thinks herself free. But Hanratty's question-Who Do You Think You Are?-rings in her ears during her days in Vancouver, mocks her attempts to make her marriage successful, and haunts her new ca …

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Based on a True Story

Based on a True Story

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook

A delectable satirical novel about celebrity culture, journalism, truth, lies, consequences — about the fictions we tell ourselves and the fictions we tell others.

Augusta Price (not her real name) is famous in England for playing a slatternly barmaid on a nighttime soap opera and for falling down drunk in public. Now, she has no job, no relationship with her long-lost son, and a sad shortage of tranquilizers — but she has had an improbable hit with her memoir (which is based on a true story, …

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Glory

Glory

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook

In a boom town dominated by a man-eating lake, Renee and Danny Chance start a new life in his grandfather’s cabin. Renee struggles to keep her head above water until she is drawn into the orbit of two beautifully notorious bar-singer cousins, and all three women are called to test the bonds of blood and loyalty. A polyphonic fable riddled with tall tales, Glory explores what it means to be a woman in north-central BC by flooding the shores of the human heart.

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