This year, on Nov. 4, the Rogers Writers’ Trust will be the first of Canada’s Big Three fiction prizes to announce its winner. Maclean’s asked each of the five nominees vying for the $25,000 award to comment on a past author “whose influence you feel in your own work, and how.” Their answers, and excerpts from their shortlisted books:
K.D. Miller, 63, was nominated for All Saints, her collection of short stories linked, sometimes tenuously, by a connection to a fictional Anglican church in Toronto.
There are many, but the one that comes most often to mind is Flannery O’Connor. One reason has to do with her subject matter. O’Connor captures the bedrock emotion of the deep South — a strange combination of disappointment and hope. But it is her vision and her rendering of that vision that I admire most. Her ability, as a religious person, to see beyond the borders of her faith and at times stare straight into the eyes of evil. The story “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is one I treat myself to every couple of years. I have no idea how she did it. But she did, and I am grateful.
From All Saints:
But I digress. Let me get back to what I know you are in fact asking. And let me address your question by turning it around and posing it to you: If you were given a choice between killing someone else and killing yourself, which would you do? I think I know you too well to assume that, even as a man of God, you would automatically reply, “I would kill myself.” Because it’s not that easy, is it, Simon? We love our life, don’t we? And though you might look at someone like me and ask yourself what I have to live for, let me assure you that I love my life as much as you do yours.
And in that vein, I am going to confess to you something that I have held back all these years from the clipboard-wielders. I know you will respect my confidence.
Once I was taken into custody, much weight was attached, by those who were to judge me, to what I did once I had finished singing The October Song. Once the last child had died, in other words. The official story is that I sat and waited for someone to discover what I had done, and to summon the authorities. This sitting and waiting was cause for much debate, as it seemed to some to indicate a sense of responsibility, hence sanity. To others, my doing nothing, when I still had every opportunity to run away and hide, indicated the opposite. And it was those others who won. As a result, I was sent to this kind of place instead of another kind of place. One where I very likely would not have survived.
But what was I really doing while I sat there, apparently waiting to have my crime discovered? For I was not at all concerned with others’ assessments of my sanity or lack thereof. No, I was too busy revelling. Rejoicing. In the fact of my being. My sheer existence. You see, I WAS what I had just done. I still AM what I did, all these years later. For the first time, I knew myself. I can still feel the sensation of my dry lips moving, saying, This is you, Alice. This is you.
Everything that came later—the publicity, the notoriety—had nothing to do with what I was feeling then. I didn’t need for the world to know who Alice Vipond was. I needed for Alice Vipond to know.
And with that, I’m going to sign off, Simon, since I feel I’ve left you with more than enough to think about. Looking forward to your next letter, as always.
(Miss) Alice Vipond
Excerpted from All Saints. Copyright © 2014 by K.D. Miller. Published by Biblioasis. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.