Martin Sloaneby Michael Redhill
The story of a relationship across two decades, of Jolene's search for Martin Sloane when one day he disappears from their home without warning or explanation, is told in a novel that brilliantly and movingly explores the vagaries of love and friendship, the burdens of personal history, and the enigmatic power of art.
“A complex and…satisfying novel. Redhill is a very good writer, with a wide-ranging mind and an elegant turn of phrase. He has a keen eye for physical and emotional detail, and he’s housed his mystery in an engaging narrative structure…This is an engaging read, and a polished first time out for this poet turned novelist.” —Bill Richardson, Quill & Quire
“Redhill’s language is masterful; imagery and metaphor rise organically out of each event and picture…The pacing of his writing is marvellous, and conscious of the heaviness of history…Mild and beautiful on the surface, Martin Sloane has explosives buried quietly in its emotional landscape…Martin Sloane is a subtle and intimate novel that warns us how grey and empty life becomes when we settle for bad copies, for unsatisfying imitations of real things.” —Globe and Mail
“Michael Redhill has laboured on a novel…since 1991 — some 12 complete drafts. Virtue is rewarded with the appearance of Redhill’s Martin Sloane.” —Toronto Star
“I read a superb novel yesterday, the kind that makes you lousy company for hours afterwards — because you want to mull over its details rather than be social, because you prefer its world to the one that, at dinner, you suddenly find yourself contending with. The novel is Martin Sloane…[I]f you care about voice, if you want to read a good novel more than about its author, then you’ll want to read this book…The work that resulted from all [Redhill’s] toil fills me with respect. This is an adult book — one that shows the maturity of proper incubation. It is accomplished, considered, polished — a novel of depth and many aspects. Martin Sloane makes you realize just how thin and fleeting most of what passes for good fiction is. Bravo, then, to Michael Redhill, the man who waited — and who set his own high standards.” —Noah Richler, National Post
“For a first novel…Martin Sloane is remarkably assured…Redhill’s years of effort are apparent in more than his seamless prose. That craftsmanship, together with his understanding of his basoc human nature, allowed him to pull off a character like Jolene…What the book is about is a truth human beings are loath to admit, that in the end we are alone” —Brian Bethune, Maclean’s
“This is the talent of the artist, to make us see what exists around the obvious. Escher did it with ink; Michael Redhill, Toronto writer, does too, in his way…[a] careful, accomplished novel.” —Georgia Straight
“The prose is balanced and graceful. In a book about the creation and appreciation of simple, idiosyncratic and fragile art, the reader expects no less…A love for words and an editorial eye make for a story with all the riddles and unspoken intensity of a carefully designed poem. Or a wooden box with a doll inside…Martin Sloane is delicate and artful. Handle with care.” —Todd Babiak, Edmonton Journal
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Read an Excerpt
By Michael Redhill
Back Bay Books
Copyright © 2001
All right reserved.
THE SWAN, 1950. 6" X 14" COLLAGE. PAPER, SEQUINS, FOUND IMAGES.
PRIVATE COLLECTION. DEEP IN A FOREST THE SNOW IS FALLING. BEHIND THE
BARE TREES, A SWAN DRIFTS ACROSS A FROZEN POND.
SOME PEOPLE BELIEVE IN A CONNECTED WORLD IN which every one thing is
cognate with every other thing, the bell tolling for you, for me. In
this kind of world, orders are revealed within our own order, our
beginnings woven with other beginnings, endings with endings. In
this way, life is seen to rhyme with itself. For a long time this
was my own religion.
But now, if I go all the way back to my own birth, I find only
disconnected memories. A dusty shag carpet, a writing pad by a
phone, an orange wall. I think I can recall an early dream: bedroom
curtains opening on a carousel? Later, my mother in gardening
gloves, smelling like soil, or my father undoing her shoes for her
when my brother was in her stomach. A bananaseat bicycle, a bumpy
road between two towns, jackdaws creaking in the air over
gravestones. Some time later, a piano brought down from Syracuse,
the one my mother played as a girl.
But this childhood narration doesn't rhyme with anything. Not even
with itself, for what could a dusty carpet haveto do with gardening
gloves, or a piano with gravestones? So many times in thirty-five
years, I've known the feeling of that little girl I once was being
erased. The girl followed by the young woman who was then given the
hook for another, later, woman. I feel only a rough kinship with
them, like they are co-conspirators in what has become of me. A
lifetime of versions. But the little girl? She's gone. I don't have
her. It's only when you're old enough to understand that the past is
gone forever that you begin to store your own life, and like most
children, at least as I recall, I thought I would be eight forever.
Or eight and taller, eight with hips, eight with boyfriends. Never
anything but eight.
I probably didn't start keeping track of my own life until I left my
childhood home. Then I'd lie awake in my dorm bed testing to see if
I could remember how all the doors in the house I no longer lived in
opened. Which ones swung easily on their hinges, which had a
sticking point you had to tug it through. Which doorknobs were
loose, which stiff. The folding closet door in my bedroom that slid
open on a track and then came off the track and swung free. I
thought to myself, once I'd forgotten the doors of my childhood
home, my childhood would truly be over.
Martin Sloane was fifty-four when I started writing to him,
fifty-six when we became lovers, now that's the thing that seems
shocking, the raw fact of that. Before then, I had a clear vision,
so I thought, of the kind of person I would eventually love. It
would be someone a little like me. Like me, but with improvements.
Someone more open, someone a little smarter, a little stronger
emotionally. But someone who'd fit in back at home, should I have
ever wanted to return. After meeting Martin, I went down my list. He
seemed more open, but I couldn't really tell. He was smarter, but
emotionally stronger? Did I really want that tested? Did I want to
lose that test?
The problem of what other people would think was more serious (I
dreaded the gossip) but in the end it was more easy to deal with. By
the time I couldn't live without Martin, it didn't matter what
The first time we met in person his face surprised me. Although he
was thirty-five years my senior, his face was smooth, his short
mussed hair jet black with only flecks of silver. (I was to have
more grey in my hair by the time I turned thirty.) His nose was too
big for his face, and his eyes were as dark as his hair. His face
made me think of the busts of dead men, the illusion of living eyes
made by holes in the stone. So that from one angle, they would seem
pitiless, and from another, they'd spring to life.
He'd just walked off the bus in Annandale, where Bard College was. I
was waiting with a car I'd gotten from Rent-a- Duck, a rusted-out VW
bug with a pipe for a gearshift and a steel plate over a hole in the
floor. He was lugging his artworks in a plain old garbage bag, and I
rushed over to him and forced him to put the bag down and let me
stack the artworks, so they could be carried, tower-like.
Just dump them in the back, he said. Let me be in charge of them.
You're a guest now. If anything breaks, I'll fix it. We'd gotten to
the bug. This is a great little car, he said.
They were out of Jaguars. I put down the boxes gingerly to unlock
the trunk. The lid had to be propped up with a stick. Then he began
plunking them in, like they were groceries. He put the last one in
and took the stick out, and the lid slammed shut. I'd watched him
with paralyzed wonder.
You can't treat them like they're permanent. He went around to the
passenger side. They'll get ideas. He tried to put the seatbelt on,
but the business end of it had been melted into a glob in some
previous disaster. This is going to be an adventure, he said
I started down the country road that wound between towns, one side a
river, the other a forest. Can I work the shift? he asked. What do
you mean? You say shift, I change gears. Do you know how to drive?
No. But when I was just a kid, my dad had a Saloon car and once we
drove it from Dublin to Galway and part of the way I sat on his lap
and shifted the car. So I have that part down good. Did you travel a
lot with your family? Just that once. So, you tell me when, all
right? You're not sitting on my lap. I can do it from over here.
Shift, I said. And so we drove the eight miles back to Bard, me
calling the shifts over the labouring engine, and Martin trying to
get the gear into the right position, until we were on campus and he
jammed it in reverse as I was trying to get him to gear down. I
heard something big and metallic drop down and smack the road and
the car leap-frogged over it and we both flew out of our seats and
hit our heads on the roof. The car came to rest in some grass. We
sat there panting as people I knew gathered around.
Well, this is Martin Sloane, I told them, getting out. He's going to
have a show at the Blithewood. Martin was still sitting in the
passenger seat, looking at his palms, dazed. My friends helped him
out, introduced themselves; some of them knew he was coming, knew
how hard I'd worked to get him to town. Then everyone took a box and
we all crossed the field to the gallery, the glass fronts catching
and reflecting the light at odd angles so the little crowd looked
like a broken mirror spreading across the green. Martin glanced back
at me and laughed.
You having fun now? I said. You think we'll see any of those again?
You obviously don't care. He made an Oliver Hardy face and shrugged,
then got in step with me and linked his arm in mine. I like your
friends, he said.
I tightened my arm, my heart whacking against my ribs, and I pulled
him against my side. I like you. But I crashed your car. That you
Bard College was close enough to my hometown of Ovid but far enough
away that no one from there could walk to it in half a day. The
campus was a pastoral green hidden in the woods. Grassy patches,
whitewashed buildings, a chapel in the trees. Towering maples
clenched in brilliant vermilion down the main drives. The big
athletic field with its unmown edges reeking of springtime through
the summer and fall.
I'd been assigned one of the smaller dorms at the edge of the
playing field, more a cabin than a dorm, with an angled rooftop and
a jumble of windows, called Obreshkove House. I was on the second
floor, with a window pointing out to the forest, where I sometimes
saw deer in the gloaming. Molly Hudson was my suitemate; she'd
arrived on the first day of school while I was out registering for
classes. She liked me, she later explained, on the evidence of my
bookshelf, and alphabetized her own books in with mine, a gesture
that touched me.
She was well prepared for college, and determined from the start to
run our social lives with ruthless efficiency. I've bought us a
little fridge, she announced on the day we met, in case we want to
have cocktails with the friends we're going to make. She opened the
door to the fridge to reveal four cocktail glasses frosting
underneath the ice-element, and beneath them a loaf of bread, a
small bottle of mayonnaise, and a single packet of corned beef. For
anyone who comes over peckish, she said.
I stood in the doorway, looking suspiciously on her good sheets and
her fabric-wrapped clothes hangers. How old are you, Molly?
Nineteen, she said. Today. Just squeaked into the class of '88. She
had no doubt that she was already the centre of a coterie that
didn't exist yet. Coming from a grief-darkened house (since the
death of my mother, almost ten years earlier, my father had remained
in a state of evergreen loss), I suddenly realized that a bright
room on the edge of a forest was the perfect coming-out for me - a
gradual emergence from sadness into a new life, fronted by one of
the daughters of Syracuse. Molly was enrolled in a general arts
program, but her father - an important attorney in that city - had
made her promise to declare law as her major by the end of her
sophomore year. They'd shaken on it, a "gentleperson's agreement,"
she put it, and one she was to keep.
I stood back in a kind of awe as I watched Molly adapt to the
rituals of freshman life. She joined clubs, started petitions, put
graffiti forward as an important grassroots expression of
discontent. (She reversed this position when she entered an
ecofeminist phase for three months in second year, declaring that
spraypaint was an ejaculatory rape of the environment.) Naturally,
she also began blazing sexual trails, ones I couldn't follow due to
an inborn shyness, and a rational bent of mind that was still
working over the mechanics of sex. While Molly was mapping
sensation, I worried where my eventual caring, expressive, gentle
partner would put his knees. A parade of paramours began tramping
through our suite as Molly (so I believed) methodically made love to
our freshman year in alphabetical order. The sounds of sex - quiet,
musical, desperate, or exquisite as they were - became the general
music of those rooms. She never seemed to settle on anyone, which I
took as a sign of incredible impartiality, but she surprised me late
one night with the sound of her weeping. Moments before, I'd heard
another of her lovers quietly close the door on his way out. I crept
into her room, my housecoat cinched around my waist.
What did he do? He left, she said.
I went to sit on the end of the bed. The air in her room smelled
bearish. They all leave, I said. I thought you didn't like them
I don't. She was holding a pillow tightly over her belly. But I want
them to come back. And with that, she lowered her face into the
pillow and started crying again. I waited, bewildered, unaccustomed
as I'd always been to giving comfort. I don't think I was a cold
person then, only that grief undid me. After a moment, she raised
her red-streaked face and gamely smiled. Men like to leave me, she
At least they like you. I can't get anyone to look at me. Looking's
the problem, said Molly. They don't care about anything they can't
I moved closer, tentative, and put my hand on hers. Then they're
really blind, I said.
I suppose that's the moment we became friends, rather than
roommates; the moment the future started to get written.
The first-year classes at Bard were like panning in a river: they
sifted people into groups, and before long it was easy to see the
aggregates forming: the athletics groups, the drama people (with
their little moustaches), the ghostly druggies, the frat boys. In
the ranks of the English majors, I wasn't sure where I fit in. I was
neither welcome nor spurned by my classmates, but this was only
because the rigours of reading left little time to develop social
graces, and many of us were lonely. Relationships of a kind sprang
up when you discovered someone in class held your opinion, although
you might only discover this in the form of a well-rehearsed answer
to one of the prof's questions in a room of two hundred other
English majors. "I liked what you said about The Faerie Queen" would
be a safe opening gambit, but on the whole, the first-year English
students were a raccoon- eyed, oily-haired group, whose interests
(at least through to December) were restricted to epic poems
declaiming the rewards of clean living. Without Molly at cocktail
ground-zero, I wouldn't have made any friends that first fall.
I took up racquet sports in the hope of meeting people on my own,
and learned that panting and sweating was not the way to do it. Then
Molly decided to sign us up for sculpture in our second semester.
Mrs. Borovin, our teacher, arranged for the class to see a sculpture
expo in Toronto that March. I'd never been to Toronto, even though
it was only five hours north of Ovid, and I'd hardly even had a
sense of it or Canada. The country above us always struck me as
storage space, like an attic, so the revelation that there was art
there was interesting, although odd. I have no memory of crossing
the border in our old school bus, nor of coming into the city. I
don't remember the March weather, nor the look of the people, or
even what the buildings looked like.
The art was boring. Blotchy clay sculptures of men in motion, or
women with breasts so heavy the statues had to be braced to the
gallery wall with strips of metal. Mrs. Borovin stood us in front of
one dull bronze or miasmic fabric draped over steel mesh after
another, and talked the class through the basics of three
dimensions. I drifted away, and eventually into the street. There
was another gallery beside, smaller, with only a couple of what
appeared to be display cases on the walls. I was surprised to find
that the cases themselves were the artworks. Wood-framed boxes with
glass fronts behind which some antic arrangement of things gave off
a feeling of intense nostalgia. I had never felt anything from art
(so I realized then): I was more interested in the brush stroke, the
way the canvas was stapled to the frame, or the evidence of a pencil
line erased. But here, I was distracted toward another place. The
boxes contained bereft little worlds - a sand-filled teacup, a
broken clay doll. One (it appeared empty) had a little drawer at the
bottom with a jewelled handle, which, when you opened it, revealed a
handwritten story pasted to the bottom. For the rest of time, it
said, it was as if the little place was getting smaller and smaller,
although they could still see it, a dot on the horizon. I closed the
drawer and looked again into the space above it, and finally saw,
against a backdrop of greyish blue, an almost infinitesimally small
pebble with an even smaller pine tree - carved out of the broad base
of a single pine needle - standing on it.
Excerpted from Martin Sloane
by Michael Redhill
Copyright © 2001 by Michael Redhill.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Michael Redhill is the author of four poetry collections, most recently Asphodel (1997) and Light-crossing (2001). As a playwright, his most recent works are Doubt and Building Jerusalem, winner of the 2000 Dora Award for Outstanding New Play. He is one of the editors of Brick, a literary magazine. Redhill lives and works in Toronto.
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This Canadian novel is based on the works of a real artist, Joseph Cornell, whose work is contained in boxes. Each chapter of this artistic suspense story is a separate box containing a piece of the mystery which is the artist's life. Two intelligent and agressive women pursue the mystery collaboratively in the midwest and in Ireland, ultimately resolving it with a satisfying surprise answer. Such agressive female characters are something of a rarity in current fiction. I loved it.
One of the finest novels I have read in years. Beautifully written, captures the angst of the artist and the exhilaration and torment of his lover, while exploring the weight of the past on the present; and friendship's trust.