The $25,000 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, the last of Canada’s major literary fiction awards to choose its 2013 winner, will do so on Nov. 20. Up for the prize are Lynn Coady, for Hellgoing, which has already won the Scotiabank Giller prize; Lisa Moore’s Caught; A Bird’s Eye by Cary Fagan; A Beautiful Truth by Colin McAdam; and Krista Bridge’s The Eliot Girls. In the lead-up to the awards ceremony, Maclean’s is sharing excerpts from all five shortlisted works, introduced by the writers’ thoughts on their literary influences:
Read comments and excerpts from fellow nominees:
“The question of influence is a difficult one to address. To compare yourself to a writer you greatly admire, one who has stood the test of time, seems a kind of arrogance. That said, the British writer Elizabeth Taylor is a writer I often return to, and each time, I experience her novels as freshly as if I were reading them for the first time. I’m still a long distance away from being able to create social worlds as perfectly formed as hers, but her elegant wit and light satirical touch are characteristics I find myself increasingly aspiring to in my own writing. I’m more drawn to misanthropy, to a probing of my characters’ faults, than she is, but if I could write books like hers, I would. But no one can do quite what she does—that’s the magic of it.”
An excerpt from Krista Bridge’s The Eliot Girls:
Audrey stood at the top of the driveway, delaying her move forward into the throng. Madness lay before her. Shiny Volvos and minivans swished past, and advancing on Devon Hall was a swarm of students, each girl’s distinctiveness devoured by the multitude. The crowd travelled as one happy, undulating beast, and hovering above it, as if in protection, was a cloud of laughter that seemed its own entity. Audrey braced herself and moved forward, trying to look indifferent and distracted—unpersuasively, she repeated to herself that her solitude was not a liability—but she was sinking into terrible regret. Ruth had insisted that they part ways at the gates. She was, after all, a teacher and feared her position made her a social handicap for Audrey. Audrey knew her mother was right. She wasn’t a child. But to be so quickly—indeed, callously—abandoned left her floundering.
It was a day when everything was apt to look pretty, and Audrey couldn’t fail to be mesmerized by the radiant swirl of Eliot girls. The beauty came from their cumulative power—not one girl in her navy blue kilt and white shirt, but at least a hundred, milling on the pristine grass under the expansive shade of the towering trees, streaming towards Devon Hall, as poised in its place as if it had risen up from the grassy field through the sheer magnitude of its will and ambition.
For as long as she could remember, Audrey had imagined her own form in the shadow of those Georgian-style buildings, in the sunlight on the pristine lawns. But now the loveliness of the vista only made it more impenetrable.
The scene inside was no better. The front door swung closed behind Audrey with a mute heaviness that shut out the sunny day with the humourless authority of a chastising librarian. Standing to the side of the roomy octagonal foyer, she had only a second to contemplate her approach before another wave of girls propelled her forward. She had been in this hallway many times before, but she had never seen it from just this perspective, the change in her own status having in turn changed all her views. The maelstrom of voices echoed off the paneled walls and high ceilings. Outdoors, the open spaces and wind had diffused the volume, but enclosed in the broad corridor, the noise became a commotion, a deafening flurry out of which burst the occasional squeal. Groups of girls cluttered every foot of space. There were the predictable conversations about summer activities, the shrieked greetings, the theatrical hugs. Near the door huddled a group of prefects making half-hearted efforts to corral the incoming students into some kind of order. (Hey guys, you know that? Guys, if you could just…) Beyond them, the groups broke down more imprecisely: a squat, sporty brunette chattered aggressively upwards into the Nordic landscape of her friend’s face (And would you believe he had the nerve to be like, “Sorry, I think we were always better as friends.” As if I invited myself…); four nearly identical blondes resuming an argument apparently left unsolved before the summer months (No, because you told her before exams, no, don’t give me that look, no, I’m totally sick of you lying about it, Jen told me…). Crouching by a shiny ficus was a girl as overwhelmed as Audrey, searching for something in her knapsack, on her face the terrified alarm of a cornered dog.
An edited excerpt from the book The Eliot Girls, ©2013, by Krista Bridge. Published by Douglas & McIntyre. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher.