Carousel

By April Ford

Carousel
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Winner of the 2020 International Book Award for LGBTQ Fiction.

Margot Wright has led a deliberate life. At 18, she left her unusual and abusive family situation and never looked back, and then two years later she devoted herself wholly to Estelle Coté, her first and only love. ... Read more


Overview

Winner of the 2020 International Book Award for LGBTQ Fiction.

Margot Wright has led a deliberate life. At 18, she left her unusual and abusive family situation and never looked back, and then two years later she devoted herself wholly to Estelle Coté, her first and only love. But now, at 45, freshly retired from a career in antique firearms dealing, and settling into a new home with her wife, Margot finds herself feeling restless. Bored. She admits this to herself on the day she visits Le Galopant, a historic carousel that has become bafflingly meaningful to Estelle; and, as with anyone wishing to dodge a midlife crisis, Margot sets her feelings aside, intending to ignore them for as long as possible.

At La Ronde, the amusement park where Le Galopant is showcased, Margot is accosted by a 17-year-old girl named Katherine de Wilde. Katy is hyper and unrefined, "rural," everything Margot cannot stand, yet she finds herself thinking more and more about the lisping girl in the Converse sneakers and "Meat is Murder" T-shirt as the days tread on. Even after Estelle discovers a massive secret she's been keeping for a decade, forces her into couples counseling and then on a road trip to confront this secret, Margot is unable to stop Katy from seeping into her thoughts. So when Katy phones her one morning with bad news, "They're taking down Le Galopant for good. It's broken!" Margot yields to impulse and pursues her interest in the girl.

Set between Montreal, Quebec and various American cities, Carousel is a story about secrets--secret yearnings, lives, and losses--and the measures we take to protect our loved ones from the monsters we see ourselves to be.

April Ford

April Ford's story collection, The Poor Children, published in 2015, was shortlisted for the international Scott Prize for a debut short story collection, and their story "Project Fumarase" was among the winning pieces featured in the 2016 Pushcart Prize anthology. April received their B.A. in Creative Writing and Professional Writing from Concordia University (Montreal, Quebec), and their M.F.A. in Fiction from Queens University of Charlotte (Charlotte, North Carolina). They spent time at Virginia Center for the Creative Arts as a Robert Johnson Fellow, and at Ucross Foundation as a Writer in Residence. From 2010-2017, they taught French and creative writing at State University of New York at Oneonta. Their writing has appeared in numerous print and online journals, including Grain, New Madrid, Ploughshares, Beecher's, Atticus Review, SAND, Santa Fe Literary Review, and Gargoyle. They live in Montreal.

Excerpt

"Echidna," I said.

"What?"

"Pierrot's print reminds me of Echidna, the Greek she-dragon. "

Estelle lit up. "Mais oui. Why didn't I think of that?"

"I'm impressed I just did. "

"And you operated a digital camera. It's been a big day for my GoGo. "

I reached above the sink, where the medicine cabinet yielded acetaminophen and Estelle's prescription bottle of Lorazepam. I shook out two pills of the former, one of the latter, and filled her empty glass with water.

"Take your bath so we can look at the carousel pictures together in bed. " This would give me time to study the one of Katy, for it had been nagging at my consciousness more than anything else since my arrival home.

Estelle hadn't made any progress in our bedroom. It was as I had left it that afternoon, her chest of novelty cameras still open, my men's lightweight flannel nightshirt slouched over the lamp. The room gave the impression of a suspended departure rather than a celebrated arrival. I closed the chest and dragged it beside the Queen Anne burl walnut highboy I had gifted to Estelle our fourth year together, which she cunningly re-gifted to me the following year, on our "wood" anniversary, confessing that the dresser was too impractical for her everyday use. As a demonstration of her rue, she had filled each drawer with silly bric-a-brac she knew I enjoyed but was too proud to acquire on my own: Bazooka Joe bubble gum, miniature green army men, a Lego medieval village set, t-rex-patterned handkerchiefs

Rather than lose time making the bed and fluffing the pillows as I customarily did before we turned in, I sat on the edge and turned on the digital Polaroid. The images Katy had captured were, as she had promised, the work of a steady--and remarkably skilled--hand. Estelle would be pleased. There was a series of the horses from behind, the undersides of their lovely silver hooves flashing the lens; a series of the horses in profile that emphasized the precision of their sculpted muscles and manes; and a cheeky shot of Étienne brooding into the horizon, evidently unaware he was the subject of Katy's whim of the moment. Katy had photographed me, too, and the shot was so abysmal that in the morning, with fresh eyes and a fresh mind, I would have to figure out how to delete it. After a few more horses, I came to the photograph I had taken. I compared it with the printed version, and I was severely disappointed. Whatever magic I had believed existed in the shot had remained at the park. It was just a picture of a teenage girl who was all limbs, her smile too wide and luscious for her face, and an obnoxious sliver of a gap between her top front teeth like the sort admired in select famous actresses and models, but which, in common women, betrayed orthodontic negligence or inferior social class.

"What are you looking at?"

I jumped to find Estelle standing before me, wrapped in a plush lavender towel and smelling of cinnamon body wash.

She sat beside me and nipped my earlobe. "I'm sorry," she whispered. She slipped her fingers down the front of my towel as she worked her lips along my neck.

With the two versions of Katy looking up at me--a funhouse, mocking me--I couldn't allow things to go any further. Besides, the resurrected desire I had felt for my wife in the bathroom, had felt in twinges throughout the day, was once again dormant.

"I've had quite the day, Elle. "

Estelle pressed her teeth against my collarbone as she considered my statement. She wrapped her towel more tightly around herself and crawled to the top of the bed and then under the sheets. "Sure. I get it. "

I turned off the Polaroid and hid the print of Katy in a pocket inside the camera bag. "Tell me more about this Dr. Weinstock. And since when--no, why, I mean really, have you been seeing him?"

"Do you want the short version or the long version?"

"I have nowhere to be in the morning. "

A yogi's controlled exhalation, silence, and then: "What about our rule?"

"I didn't start this conversation. "

A pause. "But if we get into a fight. "

"We'll stop right away and wait until tomorrow. "

"Promise?"

"Yes. "

"Remember, you asked. " Estelle pulled the sheets up over her shoulders. "I thought there was something wrong with me, like a depression, because everything was upsetting me, so I went to the guy Marianne recommended. You have to believe me, Margot, everything under the sun was upsetting me, not just you. Sometimes I'd have to take emergency breaks at work to go sob in the washroom. Jean-Jacques's been the biggest jerk lately, and I can't take it, working with him day in day out and listening to his bitching every time we don't get an artist. I'm doing the best I can. I actually left one of our meetings in tears. So," another exhalation, less controlled this time, "I went to Dr. Weinstock, assuming after he heard me talk for five minutes he'd diagnose me with clinical depression and send me to a walk-in for a prescription of Paxil or something. But instead he told me to come back the next week. Sort of. He asked me to come back. "

"And you went back. "

"Yes. That was in March, right after you quit Le Canon. Right before we found this place. "

"Why?"

"Why, what?"

"Just, why, Estelle? You've been seeing a therapist for five months? What's so terrible that you need to see a therapist for five months?"

Though just that afternoon I had entertained notions of our relationship being in a perilous state, now I felt the searing panic of a person about to be ejected from even the unhappy securities of her life. My wife had been doing something significant and transformative behind my back. How else was I supposed to feel?

"Oh, fuck, I shouldn't have said anything tonight. "

"But you did, and I'm guessing it wasn't all the wine talking. "

I turned to her and good thing I did, for her face slick with tears quelled my anxiety enough for me to consider her explanation.

"Look, lately you've been, I want to say it nicely . .. brash? Angry? All the time. Your decision to quit Le Canon was your decision, remember. I complained a few times about missing you when I got home from work, and you imagined I was asking you to quit your job. That's a lot of pressure on me. And you've been on this bender about your parents--tu es obsédée. I get it, but I didn't appreciate you griping about it the one time this year my family was able to come visit. And I've stopped asking you to work functions, because I never know what you'll say to set someone off. Like you did with Marianne? When she asked what you'd like to do next and you said sell firearms to Al Qaeda? I mean, she was genuinely interested. "

At this last I laughed, which earned me a scowl, but not one entirely rooted in opposition.

"Come on, Elle, it's too tempting. She's so gullible. Remember that time she wired money to Micronesia based on some email claiming you were stranded there?"

"Tu vois? That's just it. You enjoy being cruel. What has any decent person in our lives ever done to you?"

"Is Marianne still your friend?"

"That's not the point. You always do this. " Estelle fought back a yawn.

"Let's continue this conversation tomorrow, baby girl. "

After a contemplative moment, she turned down the sheets on my side of the bed and beckoned sleepily to me. The Lorazepam hours were upon her. The sun had set behind the crystalline Saint Lawrence Seaway, caliche horses nickered as they passed one another along streets hugged narrow by nineteenth-century stone structures alight with nouveau bars and restaurants, a string quartet stationed at one of the Seaway's docks implored the night crowd with a hopeful, festive rendering of a Prince song. As I settled beside my wife and lay my head on her shoulder, I thought about our first time together as a married couple: it had given us an opportunity to redefine our relationship. Though we had been together for twenty-five years, in some ways I had come to think of the day of our sanctioned marriage, sixteen years after Estelle stopped me on rue Saint-Paul, as who we were in the world. People seemed most comfortable understanding relationships in terms of years legally married, so while Estelle and I were firm when we stated we had been married for nine years but together for twenty-five, some people, especially those who regarded our kind of marriage as a young concept, viewed us as a relatively new couple--a couple still figuring out that things could never fit exactly.

"Margot? Tell me about Le Galopant. Is it magnificent?"

"I wouldn't go that far. "

"Then I don't want to know. "

"Not according to the photographs I took, anyway. I guess my alter-ego led me to believe I'd done a better job. Maybe I've had one too many hazelnut wafers after all. I'll go back tomorrow and try again. Would you like to come?"

"I've got Pierrot all day. Why don't you keep going back until you take the perfect picture? I'd love that. "

Estelle kissed my forehead and tangled her legs with mine, the slipperiness of our bodies in our un-air-conditioned loft in the high of summer making it difficult for us to hold onto each other. Estelle endured, turning toward me on her side to secure an arm and a leg across me.

We are a unit, I imagined was the mantra in her mind. We are a unit, and you can't leave me just because I haven't told you everything. As I let the sounds of the quartet on the boardwalk lead me into sleep, I committed to beginning the next day with insoluble resolve to rescue my marriage. I planned out how I would start the day--making breakfast for Estelle and serving it to her bedside--and I pushed aside the troubling thought that doing for her now what I had lived to do for her in the early years of our relationship was somehow more antagonistic than restorative.

Awards

  • International Book Awards (LGBTQ Fiction) 2020, Winner

Reviews

. .."well-developed characters gallop through this poignant exploration of intergenerational trauma, skillfully offset with dark humour. .."
--The Montreal Review of Books

" Carousel is a marvel of intriguing detail, little observations that give added dimension to the narrative and insight into the roiling confusion that is Margot's state of mind. "
--The Ottawa Review of Books

"It's kind of an updated Jane Eyre, accelerated for the twenty-first century, with smartphones and texting. "
-- Jack Ruttan, Montreal writer and illustrator

'"Spellbinding and beautifully written--a galloping ride into love, relationships, and friendship,and the burdens of family history. "
--Cora Siré, author of Behold Things Beautiful

"Dear Reader: This novel contains evil Siamese cats, total disregard for Chekhov's gun theory, much French without translation, a madhouse in Cape Cod, several carousel horses named Napoleon, Bertrand the secret knitter, waffles, a merry-go-round, a marriage in crisis, a crazy mother, and references to Les Nessman. What more could you ask for in April Ford's debut?"
-- Colleen Curran, author of Out for Stars and the Lenore trilogy

"An arch and darkly comic look into obsession, marriage, and family trauma, Carousel takes us deep into the tilting, whirling world of Margot Soucy, its one-of-a-kind protagonist. Caught between three formidable women--intimidating Estelle, insouciant Katy, and unstable Marguerite--Margot must determine for herself the answer to the question that dogs modern life: Why do we want what we want, and what will we sacrifice to get it? Her journey will stay with you long after your head's stopped spinning. "
--Anna Leventhal, author of Sweet Affliction

"Carousel is an acerbic but open-hearted novel about break-ups and new beginnings that is as lovingly crafted as its central metaphor. And there is a depth of characterization here sadly lacking in so much contemporary fiction. An amazing debut novel. "--James Grainger, author of the bestselling novel Harmless

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