Alone in the Classroom
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In a small prairie school in 1929, Connie Flood helps a backward student, Michael Graves, learn how to read. Observing them and darkening their lives is the principal, Parley Burns, whose strange behaviour culminates in an attack so disturbing its repercussions continue to the present day.
Connie’s niece, Anne, tells the story. Impelled by curiosity about her dynamic, adventurous aunt and her more conventional mother, she revisits Connie’s past and her mother’s broken childhood. In the process, she unravels the enigma of Parley Burns and the mysterious (and unrelated) deaths of two young girls. As the novel moves deeper into their lives, the triangle of principal, teacher, student opens out into other emotional triangles – aunt, niece, lover; mother, daughter, granddaughter – until a sudden, capsizing love thrusts Anne herself into a newly independent life.
This spellbinding tale – set in Saskatchewan and the Ottawa Valley – crosses generations and cuts to the bone. It probes the roots of obsessive love and hate, how the hurts and desires of childhood persist and are passed on as if in the blood. It lays bare the urgency of discovering what we were never told about the past. And it celebrates the process of becoming who we are in a world full of startling connections that lie just out of sight.
Following her award-winning, #1 bestselling Late Nights on Air, Alone in the Classroom is Elizabeth Hay’s most intricate, compelling, and seductive novel yet
pen. Tulkinghorne grubbed about in her dreams, and Bleak House was the rustly black of Charlotte’s lap. Later on, in the period of her asthma, when she wasn’t well enough to go to school, Connie went through every book in the house, including a big, heavy copy of Canterbury Tales. Michael’s spellings would remind her of Chaucer’s, and it occurred to her during that teaching-fall of 1929 that commas hadn’t always ruled the waves. The ancient, original spellings and punctuations were changeable,
then the roof burst into flames. Now slow motion takes over and softly hobbles her. She is aware of her clumsiness reaching out to pick up Evie, her fumbling hands as she hoists the child and carries her to the water pump on its low platform thirty feet from the house, wraps those chubby arms around the pump and tells her not to let go, not to move an inch. Then half runs, half falls towards Susan, who is screaming in the upstairs window. Others come running, among them Michael and his father,
preserves and melted paraffin. I don’t suppose a man would have experienced the smell as I did; only women make preserves. La confiture, les conserves. The glass had melted, le verre fondu, and I picked up a piece. It was still warm. It too had that agreeable smell. L’odeur agréable et sucré. Finding new words for things drew her into another world. Oscar Jacobs put a beret on her head. Even when everything had fallen apart, how lovely it was to learn. Parley was never investigated,
perfectly normal manner. Is it possible for a good, respectable boy to commit a crime like this, the crime of a fiend, at a quarter to eleven in the morning, and walk into the home of a neighbour two hours later, perfectly normal?” He ended by stressing, “Why should you be asked to say the hairs came from Coyle’s head when no one else can?” Today happens to be another August 3. It is hot, bright, in blossom with white sweet clover, daisies, goldenrod, the flowers of the field, and all the
of metal, down to the lobby and went next door to a sad, dark-looking café. Syd Goodwin was smaller than she remembered, and worn down, but still solid and almost instantly attractive, and nervous, perhaps. When he talked he scratched parts of himself in rotation, back of his head, side of his neck, his wrists, the back of his hands. He wanted to know how she had come to the Journal, and she described returning from France and going for a job interview on a terrifically windy day, when because