Fifty-five-year-old Charles Howard has lost his long-time journalism job and has been swindled out of his life savings. Standing by the edge of Halifax Harbour on a foggy morning, contemplating his dismal future, his ritual of self-pity is interrupted with the appearance of the mysterious and beguiling Ramona Danforth. And so begins a most interesting relationship.
On a whim, Charles asks Ramona to drive him to his childhood home, Stewart Harbour, a fishing village populated by rugged individualists far down Nova Scotia’s remote Eastern Shore. Charles left the Harbour immediately after graduating from high school and never looked back. And now that he's returned, the past starts catching up with him in ways he could never have imagined.
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||3 MB|
About the Author
Lesley Choyce is the author of over ninety books. He has won the Dartmouth Book Award, the Atlantic Poetry Prize, and the Ann Connor Brimer Award, and has been shortlisted for the Governor General's Award. He lives in East Lawrencetown, Nova Scotia.
Read an Excerpt
She never really told me why she was there at 6 a.m. on that damp Halifax morning in April. I can’t even rightly explain what I was doing there either, standing at the end of a dilapidated pier, staring into the dark waters of the harbour, lost in thought.
I suppose it had something to do with the fact that my life had gone to shit, that I no longer had a job, that I’d lost my life savings and was reduced to living in a “bachelor” apartment in the North End. Yeah, it might have had something to do with that. But I think that a guy like me, fifty-five years from being born, just finds himself eventually at a moment like this, staring into the water. Contemplating.
Even now, I like to think of it as a literary moment. I was a writer, after all. Not like a real writer. Not a Hemingway or Fitzgerald, not one of the greats. Not even one of the lesser greats. A pipsqueak of a writer. After playing at reporter for a number of years, the Tribune let me write features about anything I wanted. But, alas, the Tribune was no more. How could I know when I set about embarking on my so-called career that newspapers were going to slowly begin to vanish? I was a dodo bird. A dinosaur. Pick any extinct species and I was just that.
But if any of this is going to add up to anything, I should go back to the beginning. The whole convoluted tale will come out in due time. So let’s get back to April, the pier, the fog, the lone man standing by the edge of the water where once, long ago, the bodies from the ill-fated and legendary Titanic were landed ashore. This was a literary moment, remember. Ill-fated ship, April the cruelest month, my life a modern Shakespearean tragedy, man fallen from great heights (modest heights, really) through his own hubris (a word I had just recently added to my vocabulary). Man alone, alienated in a hostile universe. No, an uncaring universe. A universe that didn’t give a Monday-morning shit about him or most probably anything else.
And then she walked up to me.
I didn’t notice her at first, didn’t hear footsteps or anything. It was like she dropped out of the sleepy grey clouds hovering above. I was deep in reverie — yes, a grandiose, dark, endless, self-pitying reverie. A man feeling bad. Just plain bad. With no particular shred of hope for things to get better. Must have been painted all over my face.
“I get it,” she said with no other words of introduction. “Broken man.”
At first I thought it was just one of those many voices in my head. But then I looked in the direction from which the voice had come. It was a woman. A good-looking woman at that. All alone. On the pier at 6 a.m. by the misty misbegotten harbour.
“Get what?” I asked.
“Get you. ‘Broken man on a Halifax pier,’” she said. And her mouth went up on one corner. Not a smile exactly. An indication of a game.
“Oh,” I said. “Stan Rogers. ‘Barrett’s Privateers.’”
“Very good,” she said. “ Can I take your picture?”
“Sure,” I said. “But why would you want to take my picture?”
Instead of answering, she lifted a cellphone out of her purse, walked a step closer to me and clicked.
“Gonna post it on Facebook?” I asked. “You got your caption.”
“No. Nothing like that.” She walked another step closer, stared down at the water and then directly at me. For a second, I thought I knew her. Or at least that I had seen her somewhere before. Something about her was familiar.
“It looks cold and uninviting,” she said, nodding at the swirling foam in the harbour water below.
“I wasn’t going for a swim if that is what you were thinking.”
“No stones in your pockets? Did you forget them?”
“I’m not good at planning ahead,” I said. “Besides, I’m more of a bridge man. A leaper, if it ever comes to that. Unfortunately, they have the bridge walkways all caged in now. Always someone trying to take the fun out of everything. The bastards.”
Now she just stood there, not talking. Then she lifted her phone and took another photo. Closer up. Mug shot.
“You want me to take my clothes off?” I asked.
“It’s too cold. All I’d get is a picture of goosebumps.”
“True,” I said. I suddenly realized I was in the middle of a conversation with a rather attractive and mysterious woman. “Do I know you?” I asked.
“You’ve seen me. At least I’m guessing you have. If you haven’t, I’ll be pissed.”
I looked her over again. Inspecting. She noticed, did a little slow twirl. Front and back. I didn’t have a clue who she was.
She looked a little miffed. I figured I should say something. “Well, you’re not the queen of England, I know that. Too young, too beautiful.” I was trying to pull it out of the trash can. She wasn’t young — forty something, fifty maybe — and not exactly classically beautiful, but she was truly pretty and absolutely most interesting. And I much preferred looking at her to staring down at the water.
She snapped another photo of me. I think I had a funny look on my face — man just thrown a lifeline, man shifting back from the brink from some abyss, man wandering alone in a wet world just given a blanket over his shoulders.
“What do you call that look? The one you just gave me.”
“I call it my happy look,” I said.
“You call that happy?”
“Relatively speaking. Happiness is relative, right?”
“Ah. April is the cruelest month, right?”
“That’s exactly what I was thinking when you came along with Stan Rogers.”
“‘How I wish I was in Sherbrooke now.’”
“Sherbrooke. Nova Scotia or Quebec? I could never quite figure it out.”
I wondered if we’d stand there and trade Stan Rogers lyrics for the rest of the morning. It would have been fine by me. I had nothing better to do. Take her through the Northwest Passage, tracing one warm line, through a land so wild and savage.
“What comes next?” she asked.
“In ‘Barrett’s Privateers’?”
“Idiot. No. Right now.”
It had been a while since anyone had flirted with me. I was way out of practice.
“Um,” I must have said.
“Um. That’s all you got?” she asked with a sharp edge in her voice. “You, an English major. Can’t come up with a line from James fucking Joyce or John fucking Milton?”
For a split second I thought she was actually angry with me. I didn’t know then that she was an actor, that she’d been in movies. I was beginning to think she was deranged. I was curious to see if there were weapons involved.
The weapon was the phone — lifted, pointed, snapped. “That’s a real crowd-pleaser. ‘Man Befuddled by Woman’ reads the headline.”
“Headline, why headline?” I was wondering if she knew who I was.
“Just a phrase. Why does it matter?”
“It doesn’t,” I said. And I tried smiling. It had been a while. It hurt. I guess it showed.
“Ouch,” she said. “That looked painful.”
I wanted to explain my lack of happy moments in my recent tenure on the planet but clammed up, shrugged instead.
She must have liked the shrug. “Buy me breakfast?” she asked.
“I’m broke,” I said. Paused. “Well, I think I have five bucks and a couple of quarters. But I’m waiting for the banks to open.”
“Never heard of ATMs?”
“They don’t like me. I don’t know what it is. They just don’t seem to want to deal with a guy like me.”
“A guy like you?”
“Down on his luck.”
“Okay, you want to play that card? I’ll buy you breakfast.”
“Now you’re talking,” I said.
And so began a new chapter in my life. If I can stretch out the cinematic moment, I would say the sun came out, or it began to pour rain, or there were birds and flowers, quotes from Shakespeare or unison singing of “Fogarty’s Cove.” But there was none of that.
She touched my arm once. And we walked in silence to the Bluenose Restaurant on Hollis Street. She ordered poached eggs and toast. I ordered scrambled eggs and bacon. And then all the waiters and waitresses and morning-weary breakfast patrons broke into song.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Told in first person perspective of Charles, a now fifty-five year old man, feeling as if he has wasted his life and is simply wandering in Halifax, contemplating his next move. He’s in the midst of a massive pity-party, unemployed and now penniless, and isn’t sure where things went so horribly wrong. In the midst of it all, he meets Ramona: a woman who has had some ‘limited’ success in acting, but is also mostly trying to find amusement and where she should go next. Charlies intrigues her – perhaps she has a soft spot for broken and lost things, and you can’t get much lower than Charles at the moment – penniless and jobless, with no real fixed plan to remedy his situation. But, Charles has a niggling idea – what if he was to return to the coastal fishing village he left after high school, and perhaps see if answers he is seeking to where it all went wrong are there. He asks Ramona to drive him, and the journey brings them closer as it answers more questions and brings up more problems and history for Charles. The two are surprisingly similar: unable to form and keep lasting relationships, both able to stand up after repeated times being knocked down, both are lonely and have found lives full of great losses: their common ground despite being in rather different places growing up also bring a sort of bond between them. The narrative voice of Charles doesn’t allow readers to get too embroiled in the thoughts and feelings of Ramona – perhaps being filtered through Charles has some sort of muting effect – but the prose is lovely and the loneliness and isolation that both feel and deal with differently is palpable. From little moments of grief and hope, intermixed with memories, self-recrimination and insecurity – the story feels very much like a reader’s second hand view of a life revisited, allowing only time and revisited memories to affect the present. Cleverly presented with only Charles’ viewpoint, both people and the scenery is depicted with varying levels of care and interest, much seeming to correlate to Charles and his own emotional state at the time. Unlike anything else I’ve read in a ‘similar’ sort of vein, the story is one that is hard to put down, and provides plenty of imagery and food for thought. I received an eArc copy of the title from the publisher via Edelweiss for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
I received a free electronic copy of this novel from Netgalley, Leslie Choyce, and Dundurn publishers. Thank you all for sharing your hard work with me. I have read this novel of my own volition, and this review reflects my personal opinion of this work. Broken Man on a Halifax Pier is an exceptional read. I am pleased to recommend it to friends and family. I love books set on the rugged eastern coast of Nova Scotia. Lesley Choyce shares with us his intimate knowledge of this landscape, these people in a novel that keeps you reading far into the night. This is a special book. It qualifies as a romance - but our protagonists are 50 and 55 respectively, both have lived full lives and bring to the table a storied past, with pains and joys and baggage you would expect if you thought about it. Add in Hurricane Greta, the fragile coastline of the Eastern Coast of Nova Scotia, a few old fishermen and a couple of young adults and you have an excellent mix-up of angst, fear and rampant nature that will have you burning the midnight oil.
This book started off like slipping into a comfy chair after a long workday. It was familiar and easy to get in to. But as the story developed, it felt more like a soap opera. Things happened and then more things happened and I felt like I was watching a never ending drama. I struggled to care about the characters in this book. In the end I would say this would be a good book to take to the beach or on a vacation. Thanks to NetGalley and publisher for ARC.
Rating: 5 shipwrecked stars I so enjoyed reading this book! It’s not what I was envisioning when I started it, but it was a wonderful read. Lesley Choyce has written a clear-eyed story about what it means to get older when the plans you had laid out for yourself fail to materialize. In the opening pages, we meet Charles Howard on a pier in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Ramona Danforth approaches him out on the pier. She is concerned that he may be about to jump off the pier. That is not the case, but Charles freely explains to Ramona how at 55 years old he ended up a penniless unemployed journalist. They decide to spend the day together. Charles drives Ramona down to Stewart Harbor, the small fishing village where he grew up. He has not returned to it since he left for college. From there the adventures and misadventures start. People in the village recognize him. Some are happy to see him, some are not so happy. Some are downright angry. There are many scenes in his dad’s abandoned fishing shack, and old fishing boat. Ramona has her own story and secrets that she slowly reveals, as they grow closer together. The author so clearly shows the challenges of finding a new love when you both have so many experiences from your past to overcome. What a wonderful story this was. It was not a gushily romantic tale of young love. This was a fair-minded tale about how two people struggle to stand with each other despite all that has gone on in their separate pasts and all could happen in the future. Both Charles and Ramona were shipwrecked in their own way before meeting each other. They managed to stay kind, civil and understanding of each other’s past while they started to move forward together. There is a good portion of time spent on the water, or on the Eastern Nova Scotia seashore. This locale added to the depth of the story for me. I would recommend this book for anyone looking a wonderful work of literary fiction. ‘Thank-You’ to NetGalley; the publisher, Dundurn; and the author, Lesley Choyce for providing a free e-ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Many thanks to NetGalley and Dundurn Press for this wonderful ARC, which kept me enthralled throughout. Novels of romance, strained relationships and family dysfunction seldom interest me. This was a pleasant surprise! I neglected everything else and was riveted to the book which I read in a single day. The places were vividly described. It is set in Halifax and a remote fishing village on the east coast of Nova Scotia. I am from Nova Scotia, but think the story would appeal to readers anywhere. The characters have some flaws, but even those who seem unsympathetic at first, show traits of kindness as we get to know them. The people spring to life on the pages and the dialogue was witty, heartfelt and realistic. The book deals with two people finding love while in their 50s. Charles stands early one morning alone on a Halifax pier. He feels he has wasted his life. He is in despair and broke. He lives alone in a dilapidated bachelor apartment, has lost his job as a reporter for a Halifax newspaper which ended when the paper closed down. He squandered his life savings mistakingly thinking he was helping the son of his former boss do charity work abroad. He has been unable to finish a novel he was writing. He has had short term relationships with women but always walked away fearing commitment. While contemplating his many failures, he meets a lovely woman about his age, and they start up a conversation. She had been an actress in Canadian films but did not make it in Hollywood, and now lives comfortably on a trust fund. On the spur of the moment, they decide on a road trip to the fishing village where he grew up. He left home decades before to study journalism and has never looked back. The trip is not without troubles but is the beginning of an intense love story. The story deals with the joy of finding love later in life, building new friendships and becoming part of a community. It also contains much heartache, loss, sadness, and bad luck, but also the possibility of new beginnings. Themes of commitment during tragedy and health issues, secrets, reconciliation and forgiveness are addressed. So much happened which I had not anticipated, and the pace never slowed down. A very enjoyable, emotional and memorable book.
Charles and Ramona meet by chance on a foggy rotten morning in Halifax and it changes their lives. This lovely tale of mid life renewal and redemption features two people would not normally be in the same room much less the same car; she's an actress and he's a journalist who has just lost his job. Regardless, their road trip to Stewart Harbor, the town where he grew up, is only the start. Once there, Charle finds so much about himself. He's got a weight on his shoulders that started in this small fishing town. Seeing his old high school girlfriend and others sparks something inside of him. It's told from Charles' perspective so Ramona remains more of a cipher but that's ok because it is really about him. Thanks to the publisher for the ARC. A good, atmospheric read with an excellent sense of place.