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A World Elsewhere [Deckle Edge] [Hardcover]

Wayne Johnston
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Praise for A World Elsewhere
A Globe and Mail Best Book
LONGLISTED 2013 – IMPAC Dublin Literary Award

“Johnston’s facility for inventing characters we worry about, and one we even loathe, along with a gift for word play that’s at once witty and poignant make A World Elsewhere a world well worth inhabiting.”
The Gazette
A World Elsewhere marks perhaps his greatest achievement in conveying the emotional state and psychology of tackling one’s past and culture.”
“Trust Annie Dillard’s judgment: Read it and revel in one of the funniest books that will move you to a deeper sense of the poignancy of human experience.”
The Globe and Mail
“I’ve said many times that Canadian novelists are too obsessed with the past and ought to get with the urban present, but I’m fine if Wayne Johnston sticks to his period pieces. His fictionalized stories . . . are gripping portrayals of ambition.”
—NOW (Toronto) (Buy the Book feature)
Praise for Wayne Johnston
“His books are beautifully written, among the funniest I’ve ever read, yet somehow at the same time among the most poignant and moving.”
—Annie Dillard

"A wondrous writer--of rich, irresistibly readable prose. He possesses a deft intelligence and a rare sense of what's truly interesting to tell about life."
—Richard Ford

"Why I love reading Wayne Johnston: The reader goes skittering through Wayne Johnston's novels, driven inexorably forward on the force of his characters, on the power of his wit.... Wayne's stories have characters who move in and take up permanent residence."
—Mary Walsh

"A literary giant who has god-given talent."
—Will Ferguson

About the Author

WAYNE JOHNSTON was born and raised in the St. John's area of Newfoundland. His nationally bestselling novels include The Custodian of Paradise, The Navigator of New York and The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, which was an international bestseller and will be made into a film. Johnston is also the author of an award-winning and bestselling memoir, Baltimore's Mansion. He lives in Toronto.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Landish Druken lived in the two-room attic of a house near the end of Dark Marsh Road that was in no way remindful of any other place he’d ever lived. A mile away, in a twelve-room house, his father lived alone. Under the terms of what Landish called the Sartorial Charter, his father had let him keep his clothes but had otherwise disowned him. When he was too hungry and sober to sleep, he walked the edge of the marsh in the dark, smoking the last of his cigars, following the road to where it narrowed to a path that led into the woods.
He had gone to Princeton, where father-made men spent fathermade fortunes. Now they were back home, learning the modern form of alchemy, the transmutation of sums of money into greater sums of money. He’d told them that this was, at best, all they would ever accomplish.“Whereas,” he’d said, “I will write a book that will put in their places everyone who has ever lived. It may take me as long as a month, but I will not falter.”
It was five years since he’d made the boast and he’d yet to write a word that he could resist the urge to burn.
He’d had but one real friend at Princeton, Padgett Vanderluyden, who went by Van. They’d met while Landish was sitting on one of the benches that ran along both sides of the path that led from the centre of the quad to the steps of Nassau Hall, smoking a cigar under a gauntlet of oak trees from which a steady shower of leaves fell despite the lack of wind. Van had sat down beside him.
Landish’s first impressions had been vague ones—pale, thin, elegantly dressed. He turned and saw his benchmate in profile: a pale, unblemished face, the sort of vein-marbled temples Landish had always associated with fragility and even weakness in men. Removing a cigarette case from inside his coat, the young man opened it and offered it to Landish until he noticed his cigar. His hands shook so badly he almost dropped the case.
“You’ve chosen the only occupied bench on the quad,” Landish said. The fellow held his cigarette between his third and fourth fingers, pressing his whole palm against his face as he inhaled. His body shook and his lips trembled though the day was unseasonably warm. Landish wondered if he might be ill.
“I’m Padgett Vanderluyden,” he said as he looked away from Landish. “Van, I like to be called. And you are Landish Druken. I hope you don’t like to go by ‘Lan.’ That wouldn’t do. Van and Lan.” He attempted to laugh but wound up coughing smoke out through his nose and mouth. Landish, the back-of-beyonder who scored unaccountably high grades in all his courses but was not, and was never to be, affiliated with any of the clubs, had been sought out by a Vanderluyden. Vanderluyden. Landish felt like demanding that the fellow prove it by presenting his credentials.
But then Van made the first of several odd admissions: he had stayed up half the night rehearsing what he would say to Landish. “I didn’t want to come unarmed. But I’ve forgotten everything that I rehearsed.”
“You stayed up all night preparing to meet me?”
“Yes, I did.”
“It was smart of you to choose a battle of wits. If you’d used your hands, you might not be nearly so gracious, or conscious, in defeat.”
 “You see? How am I supposed to answer that?”
Van’s voice quavered so badly that Landish felt a tinge of regret for having spoken to him as he had. He extended his hand and Van shook it. Van next told him that his sister, Vivvie, had died just shy of the age of two. “I had a breakdown over it. I’m thought by everyone, including my father, to be inherently given to breaking down. My father once told me that I would be presumed guilty until I was pronounced dead. Here you are now conspicuously sharing a bench with me in front of witnesses.”
“Guilty of what? Witnesses to what?”
Van told him he was joking.
“Well, at least you acknowledge having parents. Most of the fellows here never speak of whatever predecess pool they crawled out of.”
“All night I tried and could not come up with one line as good as that. I am not only not quick-witted—I have no wit at all.”
“You’re very forthright,” Landish said. “Sometimes it takes more nerve to be forthright than to be wittily ironic. I keep people at a distance with my wit and wind up in solitude—that is not always as splendid as it seems.”
Van smiled and blushed.
Noticing his embarrassed expression, Landish was again about to amend his remark when he noticed a man sitting on a bench on the opposite side of the walkway, six benches along perhaps. He sat side on, smoking a cigarette, staring at them. Not even when Landish’s eyes met his did he look away. He wore an overcoat and gloves and his hat lay on the bench beside him. He seemed to squint appraisingly at Landish. Even now, on Dark Marsh Road, eighteen months since Princeton, Landish found himself looking over his shoulder, especially at night, to see if he was being followed by Van’s bodyguard, Mr. Trull. “I don’t need a bodyguard,” Van had said. “But my father wants people to think I do. Mr. Trull used to be a Pinkerton.”
Mr. Trull, who carried two pistols, stayed out of eavesdropping range but followed Van and Landish everywhere, unselfconsciously conspicuous, a cigarette-smoking sentinel, staring at the ground. Landish imagined him running towards them, a pistol in each hand.
Van had declared himself. How odd. I want us to be friends. Landish knew that he would have graduated Princeton without ever having made a friend if such a declaration had had to come from him. For most of his time at Princeton, he had thought he would remember their meeting as one of the great events of his life.
The closest thing to work Van had ever done was ride a horse. He said he was a good rider and asked what sort of rider Landish was. Landish said he would let him know as soon as he found out.
Landish sat alone, in silence, in the taverns of St. John’s, spending the hundred dollars in “compensation” that had recently arrived from Van. Other than that word typed on a piece of paper, there had been no note of explanation, nothing but the money. He had thought of— and then thought better of—sending it back.
He drank and considered the bargain he had made with his father: send me to Princeton for four years and I will return and give you the balance of my life. The real terms of the bargain were: send me to Princeton so that, for four years, I can pretend that I am not the son of a sealing captain, pretend the man who paid my way does not exist, and I will come back and follow in your footsteps, low though my opinion be of where they lead. Four years of hoping against hope that something will come up so that I don’t have to do for a living what the father I’m ashamed of did to pay my way through Princeton.
When Landish told his father that he wished to be a novelist instead of the skipper of a sealing ship, his father said that a novel was about people who never lived and all the things they never did.
Captain Druken had first taken his son with him to the hunt when Landish was twelve. Landish had sailed on the Gilbert many times by then. Short trips, mostly in the summer. His father began to teach him about the sea long before he stepped on a boat. Landish’s maiden voyage was in a dory that the boy rowed out to the Gilbert. He still remembered how it felt, an inch or two of wood between the water and his feet. It was like standing on a sea-surrounded seesaw.
He’d never been swimming. His father had forbidden it. He said that knowing how to swim would do him no good if he fell into what he called “real water.” It would only make him less afraid of it and someday that might lead to carelessness and mean his death.
“The water is your enemy,” he said. “It has things you want that you will have to take from it by force. It will give you nothing and no matter how little you take from it, it wants nothing in exchange except your life.”
When Landish finished high school, he had come to imagine for himself a life other than the one that he was born to.
“You were born with sea legs,” his father said. “You can’t go against your nature. You can walk the Gilbert in rough weather day or night as well as any sailor. And make your way across the ice as well as any sealer. I didn’t teach you that. It can’t be taught. I’ve seen you in a storm of freezing spray, your hands bare so that you could better feel the wheel, your knuckles blood red from the cold. And look at you. The size of you. You could stand eye to eye with any horse.
Hands and fists as big as mine. As broad across the shoulders as the doorway of a church. A head so big it should be on a statue. You need a chair for each half of your arse. And you think you were bred for writing books?”
Landish couldn’t help but like Van who, minutes after they met, had confessed that he was widely regarded as a “dud.”
“My father thinks I’m one,” he said.
Who better than the richest man in the world to spy out a dud among his children?
But Van said he was going to surprise everyone by doing something “big” with his life.
Landish had doubted it. He guessed that not every graduate from Princeton would practise the modern form of alchemy. It was true of some that the more generation...
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