“A tale told with ferocious honesty. A sharply-polished gem, glittering with lights both lovely and cruel.”—THOMAS WHARTON, author of Icefields and Salamander
“Gritty and pretty, mournful and light, and all-around unforgettable.” —TODD BABIAK, author of Come Barbarians
“Blind Spot is the memorable story of a minor failure, made all the more powerful by its honesty and restraint.” ALEX GOOD, Quill and Quire
“a breath of fresh air…” IAN MCGILLIS, Montreal Gazette.
“Like any good car crash, Blind Spot is a disturbing experience … but you can’t look away.” Read the North.
Blind Spot was published by NeWest Press in September 2014 and stayed on the Edmonton Journal’s bestseller list for five weeks.
Publisher’s summary: When his parents’ car is hit by a train, Luke, a failed actor, returns to his Edmonton hometown to attend their funeral, wrap up their affairs, and prepare their house to be sold off. But while all others around him grieve, Luke remains detached, striking up a relationship with a woman in a neighbouring house… and stumbling across evidence that his mother may have engaged in a longstanding extramarital affair herself.
In Blind Spot, debut novelist Laurence Miall crafts an unforgettable literary antihero, a man disconnected from the pain of those around him, yet blind to his own faults. With his clean, forceful language and his familiarity with the darker corners of the male psyche, Miall emerges as a gripping storyteller in the tradition of Tobias Wolff and Andre Dubus III.
You can whet your appetite by reading the first chapter here.
Joel came from what my parents called a broken home. I was eleven, and he was only two years older, but already smoking. When I first saw him spark up an Export A upon exiting our judo class, I knew I’d entered into a friendship with the right kind of kid. He stole the cigarettes from his mother’s purse. His father had run off with “some slut” many years ago. I had never heard a kid call a woman a slut. There were many things I had never heard or seen from a kid before I met Joel.
It would have been a blast to come from a broken home like him. One time, we went to his house after school and there was ten dollars on the table to order a pizza. His mother had scribbled a note saying she wouldn’t be finished her waitressing shift until late, so we ordered a pizza, shared it, and then we smoked. Smoking with ease as he did was a remarkable talent, and it took me weeks to master it.
When we didn’t have enough money, we had to figure out how to get our hands on it. We hit up the residents of Riverbend for cash once, pretending to be collecting for a children’s charity. Riverbend was a new neighbourhood in those days and Joel said it was full of rich suckers. He was right. We collected eleven dollars and fifty cents. I always recall the incident with a smile because of the audacity of it. We would hold out a thermos that we had wrapped in white paper, upon which we had printed, “Poor Children’s Fund.” To the people that came to the door we would say, “We’re collecting for the children.” Indeed we were. We bought a pack of cigarettes, two packs of Nerds, a Slurpee to share, and a couple of dollar hot dogs each. We walked all the way from Riverbend to the University farm and lay on our backs, finished the rest of the food, and watched our clouds of cigarette smoke drift into the summer sky.
Joel’s life seemed real while the life of my own family seemed a pale imitation. After meeting him, I held everything about my own existence in low regard, even things that had been dear to me. When Joel discovered that my favorite band was Duran Duran, he laughed uproariously at me and called me a faggot. He said that only girls liked that band of English faggots. I immediately stopped listening to Duran Duran.
My parents didn’t like me spending time with Joel. They couldn’t figure out why I’d taken up with some kid who didn’t read books or go to the theater or have any normal hobbies. You have to understand: that was the very point. Joel wasn’t like us. I craved anyone or anything not like us.
Six months into my friendship with Joel, I decided to do something that would truly impress my mentor. Joel was hard up for money. He could not buy cigarettes, nor could he steal any from his mom, who had been away at her boyfriend’s. I concocted a daring plan. I decided we would break into some rich sucker’s house and steal their valuables and pawn them for money. But I didn’t know how to break into houses. So I decided that the house we would steal from would be my own.
I planned this heist meticulously. It had to be pulled off at exactly the right moment. It was late April, and my sister had a piano recital. The whole family was supposed to attend. I decided in advance that this was the appointed day. As an excuse for not going to the recital, I pretended to be sick and took the day off school.
I stayed home, coughing, hacking, and making exaggerated sniffing noises into dry tissues. My mom offered several times to get me cough syrup, but I declined, pretending to be brave. At three thirty, she left to pick up Laura from school and then Dad from the university. Then it was onwards to the recital. We only had one car in those days. I didn’t expect them back until seven. It was perfect. I had already arranged to meet Joel in front of the old Princess Theatre at four thirty. I had half an hour to erase every trace that identified the house as that of my family before we broke into it.
I took the family portraits off the wall and hid them in the bathroom closet. I removed my dad’s doctoral certificate from the front hallway. I scooped up all of the family’s mail that had been strewn on the kitchen table and stashed it away next to the garbage can under the kitchen sink. I almost entirely stripped my bedroom of its posters (Duran Duran had now been replaced by AC/DC), as well as the hockey cards, Hardy Boys books, and other identifiers. I stuffed everything into a sports bag. I worked in a feverish frenzy. I was getting closer and closer to zero hour. I still had to hide all of the valuables that I did not want stolen. I used the garage as a safekeeping place for the bigger stuff. I hid my Atari. I hid the family television set, the VHS player, and all of the taped TV shows – one of which in particular was my favorite – the SCTV comedy show. I hid all of Dad’s rocks and gems. I hid Mom’s arrangement of dried flowers and the travel books.
What remained to be stolen was the silverware, which I assumed to be made of silver and exceptionally valuable, a big vase that had stood in the living room for several years, an ancient pair of moccasins that had belonged to my grandfather, Victor (a bush pilot and a veteran of World War II), and lastly, what I considered to be the jewel in the crown of the perfectly masterminded heist: an elk’s head that languished in the basement. That too had belonged to my grandfather, Victor. He had brought it down with his own rifle and then had the head stuffed and mounted. He had been proud of it, but my mother didn’t want it anywhere that she could see it.
The eyes were so alive. Those eyes that would bear witness to my wrongdoing.
I rushed to meet Joel. I was a minute late. He spat when he saw me.
“Why don’t you have your shit together?” he said.
He was surprisingly committed to the ethos of punctuality.
“Sorry,” I said. “I was staking out the place. The kid didn’t leave till just now.”
This was part of the elaborate story I had fabricated. I had said that the house we were stealing from was that of a kid at my school. I knew the joint was packed with loot because the kid always bragged about how rich he was to his classmates. The kid was out at his piano lesson today and nobody would be home until six.
We arrived at the house – at my house. Joel ordered me to knock on the door to check that everyone was gone. He kept watch from the sidewalk. He was discretely having a smoke, partly camouflaged behind the elm tree. I knocked on the door and waited what felt like an eternity.
No answer, of course. We crept around to the back of the house.
“We get onto that roof and in through that window,” I said, pointing.
Over the back door there was an awning about eight feet from the ground, from where one could easily access the window that gave onto the inside stairway.
“How do you know you can get in the window?” he asked.
I thought I had spelled this out to him before, but clearly he had forgotten, or his nerves were getting to him. It was a guilty pleasure being the one in control, the one lecturing his former mentor.
“I watched the kid get in that way,” I said. “One day he didn’t have his key. You put your hands flat against the window, and if you push hard and up, it slides up.”
The kid who had done that was, of course, me.
“You saw this?” said Joel.
I nodded vigorously.
“Good fucking work,” he said, and patted my back.
He gave me a lift up to the awning. I hauled myself over the ledge and onto the sun-warmed shingles. I put my hands against the window. I worried for half a second that it might have become stuck during the winter. I pushed hard upwards. For an instant, nothing happened. But then sure enough, I heard the scrape of wood against wood, and it jerked upwards in the frame. Pushing it the rest of the way was easy.
“I’m in,” I said in a loud whisper.
I climbed through the window and jumped down to the stairs. Seconds later, Joel joined me. The first thing he said after an initial glance at his surroundings was, “Pretty shitty house, eh.”
I didn’t know exactly what Joel meant by the place being “shitty” – but I think it referred to the sheer mundane domesticity of it.
“We don’t have much time,” I said.
“You said no one’s home until six.”
“Better safe than sorry.”
“It smells weird in here.”
Did it smell weird? What did it smell of?
“Let’s go downstairs,” I said. “I want to get my hands on that silverware.”
The word silverware was fairly new to me. It conveyed legitimacy. To take the silverware made this a credible job – a real criminal job. I led the way into the kitchen. I rifled through a few drawers, pretending to be searching, and finally coming across the treasure. Joel, I noticed, was hanging back. He wasn’t touching anything. He was looking around, checking things out. He was, I suppose, curious, just as a genuine stranger to the house would be.
“What the hell’s this?” he said.
On the ledge where we kept the phone was an old and battered book of phone numbers, which yawned open if it wasn’t weighted down with something. For as long as I could remember, it had been weighted down with a large slice of quartz. It glittered in Joel’s hand.
“I dunno,” I said.
“This looks like something,” he said.
“Probably nothing,” I said. “Just a rock.”
“I’m taking this.”
He dropped it into the hockey bag. I felt a surge of panic. I had purposely removed every rock and gem I could find in the house. I knew they were precious to my father, but I had overlooked this one. There was nothing I could do.
“Look at this,” I said, summoning him to look at the silverware.
He came and looked.
“It’s just a bunch of knives and forks,” he said.
“They’re made out of silver,” I said.
He picked up a butter knife. He brought it close to his face, frowning a little disdainfully.
“No, this is stainless steel. It says right on it.”
I looked. The tiny etching said that it was indeed stainless steel.
“This isn’t worth shit,” he said. He slammed the drawer shut with a clatter. “Don’t waste your time with this shit.”
I could feel myself very quickly losing my earlier assuredness. This was no longer my show. This was his show. We entered the living room.
“There it is,” I said. “The vase that kid kept bragging about.”
“It’s okay,” Joel said. “It’s going to take up a lot of room in the bag though.”
“It’s expensive,” I said.
“It’s not like it’s made out of silver.”
The cutting sarcasm of his words further tightened my chest. I was doing nothing more than follow him. I was following and watching a real criminal in action. Despite his reluctance about the size of the vase, he stuffed it into the bag. That at least was something.
I showed him the moccasins. He had no interest in the moccasins. They were just a pair of “stinky shoes.” He was more curious as to why there was no television.
“There was one,” he said. “That’s the cable there.”
“Let’s go check the basement,” I said, wanting to change the subject.
“No, let’s go upstairs,” he said.
I was powerless to do anything more than walk behind him like a dog following its master. On the landing in the office area, Joel took a serious interest in the computer. Suddenly he started disconnecting the wires. He heaved the monitor off of the computer. He pulled the vase out of the hockey bag to make some room.
“You’re taking it?”
“What the fuck do you think?”
I had never conceived of him taking the computer. I had passed it about a dozen times when I was dashing around the house looking for things to hide. It had never occurred to me to hide this too.
He stood up and draped the hockey bag over his shoulder. One of the straps was straining – you could see the stitches pulling.
We went into my bedroom.
“This is the kid’s room,” he said. He laughed. “It smells like he pees the bed.”
I didn’t smell that at all. It just smelled like home to me. Joel didn’t have anything more to say about this room. We moved on. We entered Laura’s room. The only thing he found of interest was a spooky-looking doll that Laura had been given by our grandmother.
“These can be worth more than you think.”
He tucked it next to the computer with surprisingly delicate care.
We entered my parents’ room. I had not lingered here for long in my earlier mission, stopping only to remove the wedding picture from the bedside table. I did not see anything in the room worth taking. My mom had a lot of clothes. Big deal. My dad had a few photographs he’d taken of their travels, framed and hanging on the wall. But to my surprise, Joel started rifling through the drawers of a dresser.
“We won’t find anything here,” I said, trying to adopt an authoritative air.
“Are you shitting me?” he said. “Look at this.”
He had found an ornamented box and inside it, real treasure: necklaces, bracelets, earrings. These were things my mother wore but, being a boy, I had never paid any attention to them. Joel, however, was exhilarated.
“This is the shit,” he said. “This is the real shit. Between this and the computer, we got something.”
He took the whole jewelry box. I said, “You’re not going to leave anything?”
He looked at me in just the way he had when he’d discovered that my favorite band was Duran Duran.
“Are you sure you’re not a faggot?”
“Why would I leave anything?”
I had no reply. He was going to take the whole jewelry box because that was what we’d come here to do.
“Let’s check out the basement,” I said, feeling like crying.
“Alright,” he said. “We’ll check out the basement.”
I don’t think he cared. He was happy. He was whistling in that strange way of his, not with his lips in an oval, but with his tongue somewhere between his teeth. He seemed terrible yet heroic. He had again rendered my own life but a pale shadow of his. My attempt at a heist was feeble. He was the professional.
It was cool and dark in the basement. I didn’t bother turning the light on. I crept up to the odd-shaped shadow and, with as much majesty as I could muster, whisked the blanket from the elk’s head.
“Holy shit,” he said. “It’s a fucking deer.”
“It’s an elk,” I said.
He crouched down and looked right into the elk’s eyes – the eyes that had always distinctly unnerved me.
“Hey buddy,” he said. “Not a cute little Bambi now, are you?”
“It’s got to be worth something,” I said.
He looked up at me.
“We can’t carry this,” he said. “It’s huge.”
Suppressing my disgust for the thing, I crouched down and tried to lift it. Sure, I could lift it, but barely.
“You see yourself on the bus with that?” Joel said.
I dropped the elk’s head. It landed nose first, rolled, and returned to its former position.
“Stupid idea,” Joel muttered.
He said it was time to make a quick exit. We should just walk casually out the front door like it was no big deal. It was unlikely anyone was watching, and even if they were, they wouldn’t care about a couple of kids coming out of the house with a hockey bag. They’d assume we were friends with the kid who lived there.
Once we were out on the front steps, Joel turned to pull shut the front door. I heard the click of the latch falling into place, and I wanted to start running. But he had frozen there. He was staring at the door.
There was a sort of wreath hanging there, and etched on the wood in cheery yellow letters it said, “Welcome to the Violets’ residence.”
“Violet,” he said. “That’s your name.”
My first instinct was denial.
“That’s not me.”
He was shaking his head.
“How many Violets are there? This is your neighborhood. I know it is. How many Violets could there be in this neighborhood?”
“I don’t know.”
“That’s why you were acting so weird in there.”
“I wasn’t acting weird.”
I had to confess it. Yes, it was my house.
“You’re robbing your own house?” he repeated, incredulously.
I retorted accusatively, “You steal money and smokes from your mom all the time.”
“That’s not like this.” All of a sudden, he had become very moral. “You’re breaking into your own parents’ house. Fucking unbelievable.”
For a moment, I could not speak.
“What are we going to do?” he asked.
“I don’t care,” I said, feigning bravado. “Let’s sell it. Let’s go to the pawn-shop. My parents are saps.”
“Sap” was one of the many words I’d stolen from him. I was trembling. He looked at me witheringly and brushed past me on the front steps. We beat a hasty retreat. We were supposed to take the bus together from Whyte Avenue, but I lost my nerve. I didn’t want to sell the stuff. I asked him if we could store it at his place.
“And what if my mom finds this stuff?” he asked. “She’s gonna wonder where I got it.”
“We’ll get rid of it real quick.”
“If you’re not coming with me, that’s your problem. I’m going right now. I’m going to sell this shit. You don’t want to hold onto hot goods. The pigs can smell it.”
We parted ways on Whyte Avenue. We agreed to split the profits fifty-fifty. On my own again, I wondered if I should go home. Maybe I should run away. There was going to be hell to pay once my parents discovered they’d been robbed. How had I ever thought I would be able to conceal this from them? I knew that when I walked in the door, my crime would be emblazoned on my face.
I could not go home. I had never wanted parents anyway. I started walking eastwards, got to 99th street, then 91st street, and finally I descended into the Mill Creek Ravine, usually the outer limit of my existence. I had played here many days of the summer. The ravine joined up with the river valley. If I followed the river valley, I would get somewhere. I would escape the scene of my downfall. It would be the start of a new life.