The Pump

By Sydney Hegele

The Pump
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Winner of the 2022 ReLit Awards
Finalist for the 2022 Trillium Book Award

A Gothic collection of stories featuring carnivorous beavers, art-eaters, and family intrigue, for fans of Alice Munro and Shirley Jackson

The small southern Ontario town known as The Pump lies at the crossroads ... Read more


Overview

Winner of the 2022 ReLit Awards
Finalist for the 2022 Trillium Book Award

A Gothic collection of stories featuring carnivorous beavers, art-eaters, and family intrigue, for fans of Alice Munro and Shirley Jackson

The small southern Ontario town known as The Pump lies at the crossroads of this world’s violence—a tainted water supply, an apathetic municipal government, the Gothic decay of rural domesticity—and another’s.

In Hegele's interconnected stories, no one is immune to The Pump’s sacrificial games. Lighthouse dwellers, Boy Scouts, queer church camp leaders, love-sick and sick-sick writers, nine-year-old hunters, art-eaters—each must navigate the swamp of their own morality while living on land that is always slowly (and sometimes very quickly) killing them.

"An inescapable, ferocious dream of a book. Good luck getting out. ”—John Elizabeth Stintzi, author of Vanishing Monuments

"[The] writing is beautiful. .. Nightmarish and yet somehow fantastical. "This Magazine

Sydney Hegele

Sydney Hegele (nee Brooman) (they/them) was raised in Grimsby, Ontario. They attended Western University in London, Ontario, and currently live in Toronto. The Pump is their debut short fiction collection. Their story The Bottom" was shortlisted for The Malahat Review's 2020 Open Season Awards, and they have recent work in American Chordata, Thorn Literary Magazine, and other literary journals.
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Excerpt

Prologue

Your mother does not want to move to The Pump. Her father’s shoe store chain is based in the city, but when he knocks up his college sophomore cashier, the two of them sell the stores and take all the money with them to the States, to picnic with their kid and let him climb up the back of Confederate statues and ride them like ponies. Your grandfather leaves your mother and uncle nothing but two thousand dollars and an old fur hat.

Your mother and her brother play house in their apartment downtown. Thick walls muffle his screaming at her that she’s not the Queen of Sheba and that she can reorder his National Geographic hardcover books correctly or they’re gonna get shoved up her ass. She says she doesn’t know the order because she can’t fucking read minds, and she rips the books apart, sheet by sheet, crimson-faced and frothing at the mouth, until a pile of hardback shells covers the mouldy carpet like a deck of playing cards.

Your uncle gets tired of playing house. He plays doctor with your mother while she sleeps. Her nails dig deep into the bed frame. She prays to a God that she does not know while the doctor cures her.

In the freezing rain of a March night, your pregnant mother packs her brother’s Mercury Villager and drives south. The car reeks of stale apple juice. She leaves the fur hat.

She enters the Greenbelt. The words JENNY IS A HOTTIE DANNY IS GAY are spray-painted in bright blue on the rock walls that sandwich the highway.

The first thing she notices about The Pump is the water. It gushes thick out of bathroom taps darker than dirt. It fills lemonade glasses and kiddie pools and toilet bowls and rec centre fountains. It sits full and dirty in the stomachs and lungs of stillborn bodies buried beneath the ground. The town’s water filtration system is in a perpetual state of disrepair. There is an empty pumphouse at the edge of an old soccer field, used for summer camps and Scouts.

Sewage seeps through the mud up into the grass. Moon-crater sores run up your mother’s arms and legs until she turns off the plumbing altogether.

Three months later, you are born in The Pump. Your first breath drips with the scent of the lake. The nurse washes you with bottled water. Your mother takes a drag from a hand-rolled cigarette and blows the smoke out like a geyser.

To the nurse’s surprise, you are born alive. The other babies are born blue, mouths open in shock.

Condensation streaks the windows of the hospital room. You are named after your late grandmother Joanne. Your mother does not give you a middle name. She thinks that middle names are for princes and pedophiles.

Outside, the beavers cry like wolves.

Awards

  • Trillium Book Award 2022, Short-listed
  • ReLit Awards 2022, Winner

Reviews

"What a strange surprising delight this collection was… at once untenable and grotesquely beautiful. "– Heather O'Neill, author of When We Lost Our Heads

Sydney Hegele’s (aka Sydney Warner Brooman) short fiction collection The Pump just won the ReLit Award. I read The Pump months ago, but I keep returning to that hair-raising town haunted by colonial industry and its various insidious poisons. The Pump is like a gothic small town on acid. This affirmed me, scared the crap out of me, and made me wondered how the author did it. The Pump is an assured and daring debut book about class, gender, desire, and the natural world in revolt against our abuse of it: astonishing for a first collection. — Tanis MacDonald, The Fiddlehead

“Canadian author Sydney Warner Brooman’s debut collection of short fiction instantly cements the non-binary writer as a name to watch. Their gothic tales of fantastical creatures and forged family is magical realism at its best. Drawn from Brooman’s upbringing in Grimsby, Ont. , the stories feel rooted in both the mythic and the modern, touching on parenthood, loss and transitions. ”Chatelaine, Best Buzzy Books

"The Pump opens the door to a haunted world that is not easily forgettable. But proceed with caution: this collection will undoubtedly get under your skin. "Quill & Quire

"In foregrounding the queer aspects of their stories and literalizing the horror that traditionally remains metaphorical, Brooman has created a collection that doesn’t tug at the edges of our literary pieties so much as tear them to shreds. By contorting beloved symbols of Canada’s national literature and character into bizarre and unfamiliar shapes, Brooman simultaneously locates their stories within a tradition and explodes that tradition for future practitioners. "Toronto Star

"Hegele’s work has been compared to that of Alice Munro, and, for once, this comparison is accurate: Hegele is Munro through the looking-glass, and this collection is Southern Ontario Gothic queered and rabid. ”—Erin Della Mattia, Prairie Fire

"Brooman's writing is beautiful. .. Nightmarish and yet somehow fantastical, [The Pump] explores the question of morality in a town that represents the world at its most baldly violent. "This Magazine

"A strange and satisfying debut which, despite its nightmarish magic, manages to capture something terrifyingly real. "The Miramichi Reader

"If you left your small hometown because you were “different” – gay or trans in particular – you will see yourself in this smart, authentic and beautifully written book. If you didn’t, you will be spellbound nonetheless. "—Andrew Dobson

"The Pump follows the Southwestern Ontario Gothic tradition of Alice Munro, exposing the warped underside of small-town Ontario through a series of interconnected short stories. .. The Pump is strange, no doubt, but it is delicious in its strangeness. "—Erica McKeen, The Temz Review

"Brooman’s remarkably self-assured voice remains singular, authentic and wry. The Pump will stay with you, leaving its taste in your mouth: dread and mossy yellow water. "Broken Pencil

“This is the Southern Ontario that we don't openly acknowledge but that scrapes at the back of our memories. The Pump shows us the surreal violence of living in the 401's sprawl and the staggering beauty of the nature that surrounds it. Don't be fooled by the nightmarish quality of these stories: they are as real as the Mercury Villager that Sydney Warner Brooman drives us in on. This is horror in broad daylight. These are the living ghosts that haunt so many of us who grew up here. ”—Jia Qing Wilson-Yang, Lambda Award-winning author of Small Beauty

The Pump is populated with the kind of tough, awkward, dark, and tender characters you often find trapped in small town, no-place Canada. You’ll also find beavers, salt domes, a lighthouse, marshes, more beavers, a Mercury Villager, mosquitoes, and the rest of the beavers. Brooman has woven an inescapable, ferocious dream of a book. Good luck getting out. ”—John Elizabeth Stintzi, author of Vanishing Monuments

“Bristling with magic, horror, and romance, Sydney Warner Brooman’s The Pump transforms small-town Southern Ontario into a place of violence and sacrifice — or maybe presents it as it truly is. Like nothing I’ve ever read before, these killer beavers, strange diseases, and infectious waters wouldn't leave my head and drew me back to their world again and again. If only I blurbed delightfully weird books like this for the rest of my life, I'd be happy. ”—Jess Taylor, author of Pauls and Just Pervs

“This is what small-town Ontario looks like when David Attenborough is a distant memory, when social structures are as polluted as the water, when myth has returned—big time—in mounting waves, sweeping our smaller stories out to sea. I don’t what is more terrifying: that The Pump exists, or that here, in this wretched, sinking place, you can find something that you desperately love, something that you want to survive. The Pump is an astonishing debut collection from a writer who is just warming up. ”—Tom Cull, author of Bad Animals

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