Parallel Rivers

By (author): Michael Kenyon

Parallel Rivers is a collection of stories that were coaxed into existence from Kenyon’s interest in seeing what fiction might learn from film, particularly the German, French, Italian, and Japanese cinema of the 70s. While Kenyon’s fictions are often immersed in postmodern sensibilities, adding the rituals and techniques and experiments of film to the process changes some of the ground rules.

The collection has two sections that run stylistically parallel to each other. The first section consists of short, often surreal or uncomfortable fictions; the second contains longer stories of larger, more realistic worlds. In the shorter fictions, each story creates its own world order, and presents hyper-utilizations of point of view, time shifts, and disconnected physical detail. Here you will find stories about construction buddies who are violently transformed by their marriages; a cold war incident that causes a Canadian circus in Russia to fragment and disintegrate; a political runner at a Ravi Shankar concert who must cope with death and detachment; and a surreal train that derails the purpose of a man dying.

In the longer pieces considerably more tradition and familiarity are used. There’s the story “Jane Hart’s Airband” where the Tom Waitsian energy sweeps the reader along in a tale of music, quirky adventure, and character conjecture. Or in the memory lament “That Time in Palm Springs”, that closes out the collection. Gone is the anarchy and randomness that purpose the earlier shorter pieces. Here the speaker, a man caring for his ancient father, efficiently gathers his memories around him and recounts in a controlled reliability those moments that may have shaped him. In Kenyon’s fictions, the concept of memory as in our narrator’s case may not be reliable nor may his life have been lived as he suggests, and his immersion in movies and television might create enough distrust that the reader can easily be left unsure. These fictions exist as dreams exist, yet within this framework truth is revealed and the full play of language exercised.


Michael Kenyon

Michael Kenyon is the author of four books of poetry, seven of fiction, and four chapbooks. The Beautiful Children won the 2010 ReLit Award for best novel. Other work has been shortlisted for the ReLit Award, the Commonwealth Writers Prize, the SmithBooks/Books in Canada First Novel Award, the Baxter Hathaway Prize (Cornell) in fiction, The Malahat Review Novella Prize, Prism international’s fiction contest (won twice), the Journey Prize, and the National and Western Magazine Awards. His work is concerned with form and style, but always strives to get in touch with the deepest human moments. Kenyon lives in Victoria, BC.


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Excerpts & Samples ×

Through the only lit window on the ground floor of a dun-coloured building – the only lit window in the whole block – Jake sees an empty cupboard and a cot.

On the side of the room farthest from the window, the boy lies on the worn ticking of the mattress, reading a book. Half an hour ago the girl, astonished by the resonances between this night and the novel she’s reading, made a surprised noise in her throat and handed the book to the boy. Now she leans against the cupboard, looking into the street. Overhead wires divide the dark sky from the pools of light cast by lamps hanging from every other pole. The dim buildings across the way seem malevolent presences. The well-manicured boulevard in front of the old warehouse gleams: a green plane belonging to another universe. This scene, too, reminds the girl of one of the scenes from the novel.

The boy skims through to the main action of the story, which takes place at night in a desolate area of small businesses just like this district. A tramp is struck down by a pale blue TransAm driven by some girl who, directed by her date, is going to – But the boy, hardly able to keep his eyes open after such a hectic day and less impressed by the coincidences than the girl, reads no further before falling asleep.

What is that sound? She presses her fingers against her eyes and the view before her is imprinted on her lids, the TransAm drifting out of sight, leaving the clear image of the tramp slumped in the gutter on a pile of new mown grass. An engine running, a car idling.

Tap my right foot on the gas then my left foot on the high-beam button and chew slowly, let’s say thoughtfully, on a bitten-off fingernail, smoke creeping along the dash. Once I worked for a blacksmith. So that’s dishwasher, gandy dancer, automobile painter, blacksmith’s apprentice, cabdriver. Can’t picture me young, betcha. Ten years hard labour. But I never touched her, your Honour! You’re dirty, Lucy said, and I’ve had enough, me and the baby’re moving in with Mama. So she did. Flick the fag into the night, knuckles to my mouth and blow through them into my palms. Yeah, I saw the blonde climb out of the TransAm, the boy panting at her heels. And the dirty sod peeping at them through the window, ankle deep in fresh grass. Licking his lips. Wiping his hands on the back of his pants. Stinking pisspot. They’re only kids. None of my business. A fare’s a fare and he left a twenty when he told me to wait. Chew the skin behind each fingernail. Ah, thank God it’s spring. Things could be worse. In spring I’m never cold, though wet’s possible, a good soaking, a downpour when I’m limping between the cab and some apartment block. Quick, my kingdom for a change of clothes, a fresh pair of undershorts. What’s the sky doing? If it were to rain, I’d count my blessings. Once my dad gave me a rabbit called Ears. Ears came out sniffing when I called. O the pain of my back. I never get out of the taxicab if I can help it, never say boo to a passenger, not one word. Sure, they never greet me either. If one were to say howdy, then I’d say howdy back. Yeah, that’s what it takes. That’s a start. Anyway, I know my job – follow that car – it’s pure knee jerk. Sometimes, when I turn a corner, I’m a NASCAR dude, lips set and heart like a child’s. You’re a beautiful baby, Papa’s sunshine, that’s what. So that’s cab driver, peeping Tom, let’s see, doesn’t matter, not a tinker’s cuss. Tinker, tailor. Used to know that one. I saw the kid hide the girl’s keys on top of the closet, the young swine. The old fart. The sullen deadbeat. What a phony accent. What a stink! I wish- No. I have nothing to say, your Honour. Open the curtains wide, sweetheart. Let’s see you. Never happen, pal. But we’re mesmerized, old bastard and me. What will we do? Nothing. Where will we go? Nowhere. Count my blessings anyway. The rabbit, Lucy, our baby girl. I’m no bum. I own my own taxi, and it’s warm, the meter’s up to fifteen-fifteen. I could leave now and take a five-buck tip. Always ahead of myself. They wipe their little noses on the grass, rabbits, nip the blades with their teeth. Ah. She’s taking her clothes off. Good. The blonde’s taking off her clothes and me and the drifter and the boy watch her and soon we’ll know something. Spring will change to summer and that pile of grass will turn to hay, bleached by sun, burrowed in by mice night after night. Long days will pass and the hay spawn mouse and spider and fly in the heat from the hay, hotter and hotter, till the stack explodes. We’ll all know something. She leans so softly and sweetly into the room. And the boy will show her his lucky horseshoe.

Jake stares through the window at the leggy blonde he’s been following. He knows this girl, knows her house, knows her car. Feels the tense veins beneath her milky skin, the highways that taper for mile after cool mile. This boy seems a thin satellite, a wisp, in her presence. When the boy’s hand rises to stroke the girl’s breast, the book falls from her grasp.

The boy gets up on one elbow, licks the indentation of her right thigh, his free hand clutching at her wrist, pulling her down to lie beside him. Afterwards, he walks to the window.

Is she bored? He can’t tell. He watches her turn the pages, watches her eyes following the lines, left to right, top to bottom.

Keep driving. Now we’re accomplices. We don’t talk about it. He wants to make out. I’m so not into that. What kind of thing is hitting the old guy? I’ve seen him before. A creep, but he never does anything. I guess I’m okay but my neck hurts. After the dance, in the TransAm, we have nothing to say. But he gives me this look. Like we’re really going to do this. I’m like okay, all right, whatever. He’s shocked it’s my first time, and it hurts and really, I could be anything. Anyone. No one. It’s like a roll of loonies sliding in and out of me. I’m thinking wow. So strange the way it all seems to connect. This lonely business area, taxi idling across the street. He’s pretty cute, though not so tough, and he’s sweating like a mechanic even though the room’s cool. The old man just bounces off the windshield. We warm ourselves up, but the heat doesn’t last. A silhouette against the glass, is he facing me or facing outside? I can’t tell. It’s all right for him, he wasn’t the one driving.

With a sigh, the boy returns his attention to the window in time to see a figure slip from the cab across the road toward their building. The girl flicks on the light, takes up the novel. She is reading a description of the girl at the wheel of the TransAm – the tires’ screech as the car speeds round the corner. He regrets having given her the novel. This evening at the dance he felt sure he’d made the right move, but now he blames the book for the way the night’s turning out. She says she’s beginning to feel cold, but continues to read while he watches the fat red whiskery face outside the window. By shifting his focus he can see the girl reflected in the dirty glass just as the tramp must see her. Under a low-wattage bulb, she reclines on the bed, one hand supporting the book, the other behind her head. Her hair spills onto the floor. Her leg through the slash in the white fabric gleams. Her hair on the boards gleams.

The boy says, There’s something you should know.

She says, Let me finish the chapter, will you?

I’ve got it, the whole thing. Her breasts. Her nipples. My hands. When she got in the car her legs flashed to her crotch. She seems sad, no, nostalgic, sort of. Check. How am I doing? Do I know what to do next? No. I am ridiculous. I am the guy outside. Her TransAm shines, a bit of azure sky. The taxi is waiting. I should do something. I just wanted her to keep driving, driving. I want her body and her car. Could smash the window –

Reader Reviews



244 Pages
8.5in * 5.5in * .6in


October 01, 2014


Thistledown Press



Book Subjects:

FICTION / Short Stories

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