Three and a Half Deaths
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An accident, a suicide, an act of criminal negligence . . . and a near-death experience. The stories in Emma Donoghue's Three and a Half Deaths - set in France, the USA and Canada - bring together calamities from two centuries.
'What the Driver Saw' is inspired by a freak accident on Nice's Promenade des Anglais, the 1920s equivalent of Princess Diana's last ride through Paris.
'The Trap' takes us to New York, 1878, when a woman at the centre of a public scandal decides that she's finally had enough.
Any thinking about death must of course include its lingering effects on the living; 'Sissy' explores the guilt and culpability of a woman whose young sister died in the 1840s in London, Ontario.
Finally, 'Fall' is about an incident at Niagara Falls in 1901 when a middle-aged schoolteacher staked her whole future on an act so daring it could be called suicidal. A near-death, a sort of rebirth: the kind of moment that makes visible the discreet courage it takes to live a whole life.
when she’d lost husband and baby. I’m forty-three, and why should I mind? she told the boy, hiding a grin at her lie. At forty-three she’d still thought she could earn her crust by teaching children elocution or piano, acrobatics or languages or whatever was à la mode. Now Annie’s one hope is to stay out of the poorhouse. Yes, forty-three, that has a good ring to it; she can be forty-three again because time is loose and sparkles like water, and she’ll turn, magically diving back into her life
the spiel, spoken in one long soothing stream, but Madame Restell meant it too. ‘A husband, afraid for his wife’s life, working like a dog to provide for his family . . . ’ ‘You’re most understanding,’ said her visitor. She smiled. ‘Although clearly a gentleman, sir, you don’t – may I suggest – seem prosperous?’ A glum nod. ‘No doubt you and your wife feel caught in a dreadful trap, not of your own making.’ Another short nod. ‘I – I have a note for you, in fact.’ Ah, had the wife provided
like to go fast. to find the movement which expresses the soul I first met her just that day, the 14th. September 14th. No, okay, you’re right, I saw her a couple of days before, but I didn’t speak to her, it was in a restaurant called Tétu. She was with another American lady, she smiled at me and raised her glass, you know, coquette. I smiled back. Just to be polite, you understand; they were both middle-aged. Though she did move well, she had, what’s the word, grace? Her friend made a
trees are all burnt up over Sissy.’ ‘Never mind that,’ she said. ‘Charred wood never dies.’ I stared at her. ‘That lovely little coffin won’t ever rot away now,’ she told me. ‘Burning preserves.’ There was a school in town now, so my parents made me go and learn to read. Pa shot pigeons from the roof of the Tecumseh House Hotel; he’d pack them in brine and sell them by the dozen. Pretty soon I was old enough to leave school and go round asking to do people’s laundry. Ma had grown very skinny.
his hands to warm them, ‘you’ve got it wrong. It’s historical, like, pioneer days.’ ‘That’s my little sister,’ I told him again. ‘I think you’re a bit confused, ma’am,’ he told me, with this uneasy grin on his face. ‘You’d have to have been alive for a century and a half.’ I shrugged and walked off. It’s not like I ever asked for this. I would have been more than willing to die before now, but it never happened. I blame Sissy. Oh, sister, my sister. If I can’t be honest now, then when’s