2001 short list:
by Tessa McWatt
Published by The Riverbank Press
A flood of memories swirls about Tessa McWatt's haunting, multi-layered novel about family, love and forgiveness. Following the burial of his older brother David, Simon and his partner Faye struggle to reconcile their pasts, their loves and losses through the prism of the brother who brought them together, but who also fractured their relationship.
Over the years, Faye has desperately tried to have a child. Simon, who from his childhood grew up in the shadow of his forceful older brother, has tried to come to terms with his work, his family and his life in Canada after a childhood in Guyana and Barbados.
Sifting through their personal histories, Simon and Faye trace how youthful dreams modulate into the realities of maturity. Lyrical and richly patterned with motifs from music and geology, Dragons Cry exquisitely explores family dynamics, the immigrant experience and the shifting nature of love and belonging.
Tessa McWatt was born in Georgetown, Guyana and grew in Toronto. She has worked as an editor and teacher before turning to writing full-time. Her first novel, Out of My Skin was published in 1998 to admiring reviews. She currently splits her time between Toronto and London, England, where she teaches creative writing and post colonial literature at The City Literary Institute. She is working on her third novel, Victoria. Macmillan Caribbean has commissioned a young adult novella, titled There's No Place Like... McWatt is also producer and script editor on a feature film project based on John Berger's novel To the Wedding.
Dragons Cry - excerpt
"I'm used to these parties now. Or at least I should be. Sorry if I sounded gruff." He raised his right hand and gestured over his shoulder in a backward wave indicating the past, and Faye noticed the tiny bones of his hands, the delicate knuckles and long fingers. Unusual for a man. She realised what was different about him. It was a trace of old-world manners and breeding even at three in the morning. Breathe, breathe. He wasn't as tall as David, but had his build, the curve of muscular shoulders balancing rolling, hairless pectorals. His legs were firm, calves slightly bowed, athletic. His eyes resembled David's, curiously slanted just at the edges of his face, but he was fairer than David, coffee not chocolate, his hair not kinky, but tightly curled. He had a large flat nose and the most perfectly curved and voluptuous lips. She passed her tongue over her own.
"You've been here before, haven't you?" he asked her. She shook her head and looked down at the hands in her lap, and then, quickly, back up at his. He caught her staring and folded his arms across his bare chest, suddenly uncomfortable.
"Excuse me," he said, politely, and walked out of the room with an uneven gait. Faye and Mary exchanged a guilty look.
He returned buttoning a white cotton shirt and introduced himself as Simon, David's younger brother.
"You live here too?" Mary asked through a wide yawn. Faye's eyes followed Simon's fingers up the button line of his shirt.
"Just for now. I was working in Alberta, and I had a very stupid accident." He looked down at his foot. "Stepped in an animal trap, broke it."
The limp. He told them that several months before, after the accident, he had returned to Barbados to see if he could remake his life there. Now he was working in a meat-packing plant in the west end. He rambled through these details as if reporting for duty. Faye's eyes flicked between his hands and the broken foot, while his eyes shyly darted about the room. When they shot her way, Faye inspected his long, curved lashes enviously. Her first pang for David was being drowned by Simon's depth.
"David has a lot of friends," he said timidly as he pulled out a chair to sit down.
"No, not really. I don't make them that fast." His voice was soft and lilting, not brash like his brother's, his accent consciously curbed.
Faye waited for a resonance. Simon was a solid bronze bell. She knew that when he was rung the air would surge and vibrate down to bedrock, a deep tolling she wanted to hear. Her lungs were expanding.
"Why didn't you stay in Barbados?"
His eyebrows came closer together as he considered his answer. Oops, had her question cut too close?