Lands and Forests

By (author): Andrew Forbes

A story collection by award-nominated writer Andrew Forbes that rifles through the domestic and wild moments that make us human.

Escaping government-sanctioned flooding, obsessing over camera-equipped drones, violently mourning a lost brother, discovering a new passion in fencing, watching a wildfire consume a whole town: the stories in Lands and Forests survey the emotional landscapes of women and men whose lives, though rooted deeply in the land and their small communities, are still rocked by great cultural change. These are raw, honest character studies reminiscent of the work of Alexander MacLeod and Lisa Moore, but with a style and energy all their own.

“A gift to short fiction lovers—a spare, smart, thoughtful collection.”—Open Book

“These stories are elemental, wise, and beautiful.”—Alexander MacLeod, Scotiabank Giller Prize-nominated author of Light Lifting


Andrew Forbes

Andrew Forbes is the author of the story collections Lands and Forests (Invisible Publishing, 2019) and What You Need (2015), which was shortlisted for the Danuta Gleed Literary Award, and named a finalist for the Trillium Book Prize. He is also the author of The Utility of Boredom: Baseball Essays (2016). Forbes lives in Peterborough, Ontario.


“Forbes works hard to track the landscapes of the human heart in this eclectic album of stories.”Quill & Quire

“A gift to short fiction lovers—a spare, smart, thoughtful collection.”—Open Book

“Beautifully flawed characters negotiate tension-fuelled relationships in strangely familiar scenarios… Beyond the emotional resonance of the characters and their situations, the real draw-in is Forbes’s soft, poetic prose, which intertwines crisp imagery with creative, delicate use of language.”—Broken Pencil

“Full of quiet tension and a cast of fully-realized characters that feel like they could step off the page, Andrew Forbes’s Lands and Forests shows us what the short story was made to do: delight us, surprise us, and prompt us to more fully recognize ourselves.”—Johanna Skibsrud, Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning author of The Sentimentalists, Quartet for the End of Time, and Tiger, Tiger

“This is a breath-taking collection—in that it is literally hard to breathe while you read these stories, such is their power, insight, and ability to expertly mine the secret vein of sorrow that runs below every ordinary, extraordinary life. Forbes’ stories manage to be gritty and elegant at the same time, rendered with Munro-esque mastery and restraint.”—Grace O’Connell, author of Be Ready for the Lightning and Magnified World

“Forbes puts these dysfunctional, sad, thoughtful characters in the natural world. A lot of it feels like it takes place in Peterborough; there are kayak trips, forest fires, deserts, etc. We see the settings reflected in the characters. The settings often change the characters. It’s a really powerful book.”—Michelle Berry, Hunter Street Books

“Warning: There are floods and fires in here. And life and death struggles. And long journeys. And near misses. The weather, like love, is always uncertain. But there is no need to fear. Andrew Forbes will get us through. He knows the way. These stories are elemental, wise, and beautiful.”—Alexander MacLeod, Scotiabank Giller Prize-nominated author of Light Lifting

“In this superbly stark, brooding collection, disillusioned men and women struggle along, the potential for grandeur in their futures long since faded. And yet there is still awe amid their resignation—for the beauty in the world, and sometimes for each other. With Lands and Forests, Andrew Forbes digs beneath stunning, wild landscapes to find all of the unhappiness buried there, unearthing life’s cruel disappointments and splaying them out on the dirt one by one. These are bleak, sharp, ruthless stories, and I loved them.”—Jessica Westhead, author of Things Not to Do and And Also Sharks


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Excerpts & Samples ×

Inundation Day

They began moving the houses in 1954. Those too large to be moved they would set alight, as the families and their neighbours gathered to watch.

Believe me when I say that it was a burdensome thing to live in a condemned town, a place soon to cease its existence. That every casual act carries an urgency, a fire, when your home’s destruction is a foreordained event.

“They’re doing it for electricity, Holland,” my employer, Lester Smart, said to me one lunch hour as I stood outside the dairy’s garage. “Electricity and cars. The Americans are after all that Labrador iron. Ford and GM, I mean. And where they’re concerned, you can bet Ottawa will bend over backwards to accommodate.”

“It stinks pretty bad,” said Robert Lacey, who was having a cigarette. Lacey was a bit of a drunk, but he held himself together well enough to be a decent worker. We had known each other in school and spoke from time to time, increasingly about the changes to our home, which was all anyone seemed able to talk about for months.

“I’m told they call it progress, Robert, and it’s only the fool and sentimentalist who oppose it,” said Smart. “I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what it brings us.”

And that was it: the waiting. Waiting and watching and being unable to see beyond that fixed date. Trying to picture tens of thousands of acres of flooded land—to imagine cemeteries, where your family has lain for generations, lost under thirty feet of moving water. In your dreams maybe you could picture the park you played in as a child suddenly being at the bottom of a river, the church you attended being skimmed over by a massive freighter, but likely you couldn’t. I certainly could not. The human imagination, it seems to me, cannot easily conjure such things. And so we could only wait to see just what our world would look like.

I thought I might leave this place altogether. I had a brother in Ottawa. My uncle Roger was in Toronto, a shop supervisor for the Transit Commission.

Something would come along, I felt, some new direction would come into or be granted to my life, though I’d no concrete notion of what that might be. I would hope people would see me as capable of a good many things. That would be a word I would like to hear applied to me: capable. Not mediocre, not average, but capable, in the best sense. That I could do several things, and teach myself to do what I did not already know. I flatter myself, perhaps, but it is not true to say that all men possess capability. My father, as an example, had patience and sense, but lacked ability. Whereas I had all three, enough to run a small engine repair business on the side.

Anyway, there were possibilities.


Poppy Sturges’s husband, Alex, was known to be a good man. Before he died, he was liked in all corners of Loucksville, trusted in all dealings. It was generally held that he ran a good farm. Calamity struck, though, when he’d gotten his arm caught in a thresher during the harvest, and by the time they got him to Cornwall, he’d lost too much blood and there was nothing to do but call Poppy.

Poppy came to work in the office several months later. Smart had been a friend of Alex’s, and he told Poppy, shortly after the funeral, that he’d be happy to help her out any way he could. So she filed, answered the telephone, followed up on accounts. She was an excellent worker, I was told, beavering away in the thin-walled office with the slat blinds always closed, per Lester Smart’s preference.

I would see her there in the office, a quiet presence, slipping in the door, sitting behind a hulking metal desk, or moving toward a bank of green file cabinets, her arms full of papers. She seldom spoke, at least in my company. Though I did my best to be polite, I will admit that I did not fully conceive of her as an individual in those days. It would be more correct to say that I saw her as a fixture: an aspect of the place, of Mr. Smart’s office, and the business conducted there.


It was a Tuesday in September, 1957. I’d just finished my early-morning run around Loucksville and the surrounding towns, and was once again checking the truck’s oil. That was a habit of mine, almost a dictum: keep it ready. Meaning the truck, but also other things. Be ready. Think ahead.

Smart approached me as I stood wiping my hands with a rag. A great round man whose nose whistled when he breathed, he said, “Holland, I wonder if you wouldn’t mind doing something for me.”

“Of course, Mr. Smart,” I said, “what is it?”

“I’m sending Poppy Sturges into the bank with a deposit, and I don’t think she ought to be alone with so much cash. I wonder if you’d drive her. You can take my car, if you wish.”

Minutes later, Poppy and I were in Smart’s gleaming black Chevrolet Bel Air, exchanging pleasantries on the two-lane toward town.

I sat at the wheel, in uniform. Smart didn’t ask me to wear a uniform, but I did anyway. It gave me a straighter back. The cash box sat in the middle of the sedan’s front bench seat, a way station along the great distance of runnelled blue vinyl between us. And on the other side was the woman, I was sure, with whom I would soon be in love.

I mean you to know that: I knew right away.

She was luminous in a way I don’t think you would understand if you were not there next to her on the wide bench, with the sun streaming through her hair. Her widowhood had worked to make her more tangible, made it appear that she had lived more in this world, been present for more of the things that mattered. I felt a charge that I hoped she felt, too. In her bones, in the skin of her face. The wind buffeted the car and the sun glinted off its hood and into my eyes, and I felt it all, saw us both crystallized inside the moment, preserved within a great, hard clarity.

I had nowhere to put these feelings.

She was, I thought it right to assume, committed to being a widowed mother, to doing what she could to provide a life for her little girl. That she was done with romantic love and all the rituals. But I felt what I felt. You may rightly call it love. And like a rising tide or a wall of water, there seemed little point in trying to stop it.


Like most of us, Poppy was scared and anxious about the completion of the seaway. But in the main, she was hopeful. She was hopeful that such progress, writ so large—heavy machines literally altering geography—would necessarily impose some small bit of the modern world on this place. Most others in the doomed towns and villages feared that very thing, but Poppy knew the world she wanted to leave behind. That world chewed the arms off good men and left women and their children alone. She hoped the modern world would be a little different.

Her home, which stood on high ground, would be spared. But most of the town, and the other towns along the river, too, would soon be moved. Buildings would be lifted and relocated or razed, their replacements built on a piece of land selected by the government’s engineers, and then suddenly, Loucksville would be to the north and east of the old farm and the Sturges house. We had trouble fathoming it, though the work was well underway.

An entire town, moved. How could it be the same place?

Reader Reviews



224 Pages
8.0in * 5.0in * 0.5in


May 01, 2019



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FICTION / Small Town & Rural

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