Novel novel

I am thinking of the novel and how to write one that you might like to read. The only reason to bother, it seems to me, is to do something original — to write a novel novel. A novelist, if one believes in etymology, is ‘one who innovates.’ How do I presume to innovate within a form that is over 200 years old in name, and much older in origin? You know what to expect in a novel, more or less. And this expectation creates my most tangible and frustrating constraint, for how am I to innovate the very thing to which you bring your expectations? It’s impossible. An impossible dilemma. And yet.

There are ways. I can give you just enough of the thing you expect. As I imagine it: I can give narrative arc, I can give characters with central and agonizing problems, I can give suitable reversals and love affairs — all that old stuff. And then set about to disrupt elsewhere. Like James Joyce, or Gertrude Stein, I can revel in the sentence and dance upon its syntax. Like Carson McCullers or Flannery O’Connor, I can transgress decorum and play with societal expectations. My trick is to keep the puppets moving just as you think they ought to and meanwhile pull the carpet out from under you, pull it out so expertly that you don’t notice until the last word is imbibed.

The novel is one of the greatest magic tricks ever invented simply because in its convention, its construction, and its general convivial inliveableness, it can still saw you in half, and make you look again and again. It might not be innovative as much as it might be renovative.

— Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer, novelist and professor, Continuing Studies

 

1

 

spoila

in the viaduct’s mouth where a nun slipped

into sky and misplaced herself, i watched

concrete ebb at her feet and then rise.

 

i think of a buttress procession,

of historic ballerinas arching their painterly

arms across their navels, held in time.

 

in the dark, we navigate through erratically spaced

columns holding up the bridge base and count

fluted shafts harrowing the momentary gaps.

 

crouching beneath your arm as the wind

thickly leaps adagio, i recall the nun and kiss

mouths with old phenomena as apologies.

 

how the top of our heads coil from above, charting

patterns like rivers on a globe repeated and repeating;

we carve epistolary reliefs on stone as a future map

 

and cast our monochrome myth sitting under

the monster of night, where if he had hands he would pinch

pockets of sky and we would all watch blue drop.

— Melina Mehr, fourth-year, literature and cinema studies

 

2

 

“The universe is made up of stories, not of atoms” — Muriel Rukeyser

Rusted ruinations

on a

spattered old

police box

filled with misspent

pennies

that wish away

the witching hour.

— Victoria Kuketz, master’s, literature

 

3

 

already February

My broken-in skin is winter pale

and exposed beneath the naked lightbulb

that’s suspended by electric wires.

I got the spins so bad that the sharp

bulb’s light is sweeping up the white

ceiling into colours. Pretty,

like rainbows in spilled oil

beside a gas station pump.

 

I run my tongue over my cracked lips,

while my fingertips count out the months

it has been. The spit makes them

kissable and soft, but soon

they’ll be dry and red.

I tap the hard, calloused

caps of pink flesh: 1-2-3-4-

5 months and five fingers fan out.

I feel the folds of the sheets in the space

where you sleep and the fabric

fills the gaps of my fingers.

Orange, like the glow of your lighter

between flesh when you block nighttime

breeze with your heavy palm.

 

Standing by the window, you see my hand

stretching out along your bed,

tight bars of fingernails sink in,

and you think, she wants me to

come over, so you do.

But first, you pause to choose

the right song. It’s sad and slow,

and it reminds us of people

we don’t talk to anymore.

 

I make room for you, and as I do,

beer caps dig into

my bare back and leave circles

of pale red. I sweep them away,

edging them between the bed

and the wall. Then I look at you,

lying in the space where my hand

used to be, and I still

can’t believe

it’s already February.

— Elizabeth Andrews, U of T graduate

 

4

 

Harbour Grace

Amelia stands at the foot of the street, next to an airplane that isn’t hers. Her hair is always longer than I remember, and she is taller than I think she’s going to be. Her boots reach up to her knees, the laces criss-crossing like X’s: horizontal kisses up her shins. I always expect her to have put on a bit of weight, but her cheekbones are as sharp as always.

“Hannah, get over here,” a mother yells to her pig-tailed kid who has just run away from the picnic table holding a bag of chips. “I said get over here. I’m counting to five!”

Amelia’s hands are cold, they’re always cold.

The mother counts and Amelia stands so patiently even as the fog rolls in from the other side of the highway. The buttons on her coat are the size of quarters.

“She’s a pilot, you know,” the kid says, stopping at the base of the statue.

I nod.

“She’s dead now.”

“Disappeared,” I say.

“Dead.”

“Sorry,” the mother yells. “Hannah, let’s go.”

She swings around Amelia’s legs, making faces up at me and I leave Amelia and her coat, looping around the city to a gravel road where the ditches are filled with crumpled Tim Hortons cups and Labatt Ice cans.

Eventually, I get to an airfield, her airfield. It’s a strip of grass now, not gravel, and it’s recently been mowed.

I stand near the plaque and try to imagine her Vega lifting off from the far end, but it smells so much like rotten fish, I get back in the car and roll up the windows.

— Lindsay Zier-Vogel, master’s, literature, writer