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Authors: Camilla Gibb

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Psychological, #Sagas

The Petty Details of So-And-So's Life

BOOK: The Petty Details of So-And-So's Life
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Praise for

THE PETTY DETAILS

OF SO-AND-SO'S LIFE

“Tragedy and comedy meet in a family saga that speaks to the misfit in us all. Camilla Gibb matches the monstrous with the poignant, enlivening an upside-down world with smarts and verve.”

—Catherine Bush, author of
Minus Time
and
Rules of Engagement

“Camilla Gibb's second novel plunges us into the midst of a brokenhearted family, revealing its strange scars to us in a story that is both harrowing and quite funny. No sophomore curse this,
Petty Details
makes more than good on the promise of Gibb's first novel. This is a humane and moving work.”

—Michael Redhill, author of
Martin Sloane
and
Fidelity

“The power of Gibb's fiction … is such that one assumes nothing. Gibb is too intelligent an author to take the easy path.”

—
The National Post

“Gibb tells the tale of Emma and Blue, a pair of damaged siblings struggling valiantly to rise above their twisted family background … It's not a pretty picture. But thanks to Gibb's darkly comic pen, it's a fascinating one.… tart, biting prose … 
Petty Details
does not disappoint. Catchy title, gripping read.”

—
The Gazette
(Montreal)

“Gibb has crafted another absorbing case study of a family in disrepair.… Gibb has an impressive gift for tart description.… Her depictions are seductive: each is so sordid you can't help but be fascinated.… bursting with ideas and insight.”

—
Vancouver Sun


The Petty Details of So-and-so's Life
burrows beneath the bruised and grotesqueries of family life in a style that is frank, funny and often haunting.”

—
Elle Canada

“Gibb's literary masterpiece inspires us to reflect on our own lives.”

—
Hamilton Spectator

“Wry humour and Gibb's simple, fluid style ensure that the book is effortlessly readable.”

—
Time Out
(London)

“The strength [of Gibb's novel] comes from her psychological observations, especially her explorations of the sibling bond, which takes us into thoughtful, less-travelled terrain.”

—
Eye Weekly

“Told with compassion and vigour.”

—
The Daily Mail (UK)

“Sharp, vivid vignettes … Gibb uses words like knives … Expect success for this accomplished second outing.”

—
NOW

“Gibb is a naturally sparky, engaging voice.”

—
The Observer

“Gibb's fiction is fresh and funny.”

—
Maclean's

“An excellent writer … 
Petty Details
may even give you empathy for the person you just crossed the street to avoid.”

—
Ottawa Citizen

“It's cool and quirky. Luminous, in fact.”

—
Elle UK

 

Also by Camilla Gibb

Mouthing the Words
Sweetness in the Belly

Copyright © Camilla Gibb 2002
Anchor Canada paperback edition 2003

All rights reserved. The use of any part of this publication, reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system without the prior written consent of the publisher—or, in the case of photocopying or other reprographic copying, a license from the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency—is an infringement of the copyright law.

Anchor Canada and colophon are trademarks.

N
ATIONAL
L
IBRARY OF
C
ANADA
C
ATALOGUING IN
P
UBLICATION

Gibb, Camilla, 1968–
     The petty details of So-and-so's life / Camilla Gibb.

eISBN: 978-0-307-37492-9

     I. Title.

PS8563.I2437P48 2003     C813′.54     C2003-900633-6
PR9199.4.G53P48 2003

Parts of earlier drafts of this novel first appeared as the short stories “On All Fours in Brooklyn,” in
Carnal Nation: Brave New Sex Fictions
, and “ID Me,” in
Canadian Forum
.

Quotes from Rimbaud are taken from
Arthur Rimbaud: Seasons in Hell
, translated by Wallace Fowlie, Phoenix Books (University of Chicago Press), 1966.

The author wishes to thank the Toronto Arts Council for support.

Published in Canada by
Anchor Canada, a division of
Random House of Canada Limited

Visit Random House of Canada Limited's website:
www.randomhouse.ca

v3.1

Contents

“I will make gashes on my entire body and tattoo it.
I want to be as hideous as a Mongol.
You will see, I will howl in the streets.”

—Arthur Rimbaud,
Seasons in Hell

The Extinction of the Question Mark

A photograph. A single photograph. White borders blackened with the grease of family fingers groping at the only remaining evidence of themselves: a picture of a man kneeling on all fours in the dirt. He is drunk, he is thin, he is tired. He is Oliver Taylor, a man gazing at a camera like a bewildered animal caught in headlights, looking feral and fetal and altogether strange. It's the middle of winter, but he seems to have adapted to the bitter cold. A white shirt hangs off his otherwise naked frame like a vestigial remnant of some earlier evolutionary stage; a time when business meant business and men wore suits.

They
know he came from elsewhere—emerged, devolved, transmuted from some earlier incarnation of himself—because they remember when he lived in a house with a wife, two children, and a cat, and ate roast beef on Sundays and rice pudding for dessert. His wife was called Elaine, the cat called Frosted Flake, and they were those children—Emma and Llewellyn—Em and Blue for short.

They liked their roast beef bloody and dripping, and Elaine made the rice pudding with rich, flesh-toned condensed milk because that's
what Oliver's mother had done during the war. Which war, Elaine never told them, even though they always asked. “The war during which your granny”—that mysterious entity who lived on the other side of the ocean—“used condensed milk,” she'd answer obtusely.

Emma and Blue grew up feeling as muddled about the history of the world as they did about their own ancestry. Having learned the futility of asking questions at such a young age, it's a wonder the question mark didn't become extinct. They fabricated answers to unasked questions in the rank and damp of the basement where they played “I'll show you mine if you show me yours.” They shared secrets and understanding as they crouched by the furnace with a face like a monster in the bowels of their house in Niagara Falls.

It was there that nine-year-old Blue pulled up his sleeve to show Emma the initials he'd carved into his arm with a homemade tattoo gun made from the broken needles of Elaine's old Singer. Emma had turned away when he'd started to pull the needles downward through his skin the day before. She'd wanted to cry out but she didn't dare because they were already in trouble. They often were. It was the middle of a Tuesday afternoon and they were hiding in a place infinitely superior to that space between a Formica-topped desk and a doll's chair one was supposed to occupy in grades three and four.

Blue preferred wearing graffiti to scribbling it on bathroom walls. Emma preferred darkness to daylight. They both preferred being in the basement to most places above-ground, but it was there, on that day, that Emma stared at Blue's baby-boy biceps and realized for the first time that she and her brother didn't wear the same skin.

She'd thought they were identical. She'd thought they were both gap-toothed and lonely and saw all the same things, even though her eyes were grey and his green. She had no idea that while she was staring at
the horizon like it was icing on a cake at the edge of the world, Blue was squinting in order to avoid staring directly at all that he saw.

But they had always been different. Emma was a round little pudgeball with the type of cheeks peculiar mothers fantasized about biting. She did somersaults on sticky sidewalks, pale limbs over paler skin; she was a tangled, translucent mass, a “Holy Christ, here she comes.” Her brother, on the other hand, was long and lean and getting longer every day, emerging from baby fat into boy-body with alarming speed. He had muscles as tough as straw, and was unconsciously troubled by his limitless potential for physical growth. He was cautious, doubly so, enough for both of them, his posture hunched and timid, his movements measured and deliberate against the clumsy backdrop of his sister tumbling head, belly, then knees over heels.

“It's my first tattoo,” he declared proudly, speaking as if he'd just adopted the first strange animal in a bestiary he was planning on housing. Because theirs was a world without questions, Emma didn't ask the obvious. She simply nodded and put her hand to his forehead to see if he had a temperature. She spent that night, and many nights that followed though, wondering if her little brother was afraid of forgetting his name. She wished she could forget hers. She was, after all, named after her mother's childhood pet—not a movie star or a war hero or a favourite aunt, but a bouvier—a four-legged furry thing with a tail like a sawed-off carrot.

In secret defiance Emma had actually changed her name. She was Tabatha—daughter of the good witch Samantha—a pretty little blonde girl who lived in a happy suburban home where mischievous witches and warlocks turned up unannounced for tea and inadvertently distressed her poor mortal father with trickery designed to embarrass him in front of curtain-twitching neighbours.

She sensed Blue's motivation to identify himself was different. Perhaps he was afraid of getting lost in the street. She pictured some kind stranger, a Jimmy Stewart look-alike in a suit and a white hat, approaching her brother and saying in a voice out of a black-and-white movie: “Why, you look lost, son. What's your name, boy?” Blue would pull up his sleeve to consult his bicep then and the Jimmy Stewart look-alike would exclaim, “What the dickens?”

BOOK: The Petty Details of So-And-So's Life
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