A New Face of Fiction for 2015, All True Not a Lie in It is pioneer Daniel Boone's life, told in his voice--a tall tale like no other, startling, funny, poignant, romantic and brawling, set during the American Revolutionary War and hinging on Boone's capture by the Shawnee.
Here is Daniel Boone as you've never seen him. Debut novelist Alix Hawley presents Boone's life, from his childhood in a Quaker colony, through 2 stints captured by Indians as he attempted to settle Kentucky, the death of 1 son at the hands of the same Indians, and the rescue of 1 daughter. The prose rivals Hilary Mantel's and Peter Carey's, conveying that sense of being inside the head of a storied historical figure about which much nonsense is spoken while also feeling completely contemporary.
Boone was a fabulous hunter and explorer, and a "white Indian," perhaps happiest when he found a place as the captive, adopted son of a chief who was trying to prevent the white settlement of Kentucky. Hawley takes us intimately into the life-and-death survival of people pushing away from security and into Indian lands, despite sense and treaties, just before and into the War of Independence. The love story between Boone and his wife, Rebecca, is rich and tangled, but mostly it's Boone who fascinates, pushing into places where he imagines he can create a new "clean" world, only to find death and trouble and complication. He is a fabulous character, unrivalled in North American literature, and a prime candidate for the tall tale. The storytelling is taut and expert, the descriptions rich and powerful, the prose full of feeling, but Boone is what drives this outstanding debut.
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Alix Hawley studied English literature and creative writing at Oxford University, the University of East Anglia and the University of British Columbia. She published a story collection, The Old Familiar, with Thistledown Press in 2008. She won the 2014 Canada Writes Bloodlines competition, judged by Lawrence Hill, and was runner-up for the CBC Literary Award for short stories in 2012 and 2014. She teaches at Okanagan College in Kelowna, BC, where she lives with her family.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
My sister the whore is shown before all the Friends at Exeter Meeting like a grub spaded up. She stands at the centre of the room, and we all sit up on the benches round her to see. Sallie has got her confession prepared. She holds the paper before her face and talks as if she has got a mouthful of chewed potato. Unusual for her to talk so flat, she could run a blab-school if she liked. Heels-up Sallie, the boys say. Give her a tap and over she goes. Always the last to leave a bonfire or someone’s new barn in the dark.
I watch her tip back and forth on her famous heels. Her cap is slipping to one side, she tugs a curl out over her ear and lifts her eyes to see who is watching. Her fellow stands a few feet away looking out the window. I listen for words of interest but the only ones I catch are I was too conversant and fornication. She admits to all of it though it is evident enough to anyone who takes one look at her belly from the side. And everyone does look.
This is not usual Meeting. The air has a stunned feel as if a shot has just gone through it. The leaders have summoned all of the Friends. The benches are full. Even the Friends from the country farms have driven to town for it.
Daddy bursts into sad perspiring, his smell rises up like bread. He is set to get up and walk off. But Ma’s fingers tap upon little Neddy’s head, and so Daddy sets his jaw and keeps himself on the bench beside her. I slide my feet in circles. I want to laugh. My sister Bets creases her nose like a fox, and my oldest brother Israel does laugh under his breath.
—This is my confession.
So Sal finishes, but one of the widows near the door begins to swat her haunch and complain of ill winds. Bets chokes a giggle and whispers in Ma’s voice:
—Do you suffer from wind, my dear Danny? I give her a poke. Hill’s father carries on with Sallie and her fellow:
—In truth you were too conversant with one another before this day.
His voice is a wealthy man’s voice, every word rings like a coin falling. His face has its usual rosy look, but it becomes imaginative for a spell. I become imaginative also. I have not at this time witnessed any conversant doings at our house beyond those of the cows and bull, which are not entirely interesting, being so brief. At this time I am an innocent boy, but I am interested in many things in my mind.
Hill’s father asks Sallie will she now be married before all these Friends.
She says she will. Her fellow takes a sip of air through his teeth and says he will take her to wife.
Well it is done. Easy. Sal sneaks a look at us, she is thinking, That is that. Her eyes are bright. I hear her give her finger joint a pop, as is her way. Not a whore any longer. A wife. Safe, like magic. Well. God is not immune to performing tricks, perhaps He pops his finger joints also.
—And your confession? Plenty of time.
Hill’s father has turned to the fellow, his voice is kindly enough in asking. In his mind, we might sit here all day, but Sallie’s new husband says a brisk no thank you! He is not a Friend, he is an outsider. Perhaps he is not so certain he wishes to be inside the Boone family after all. But too late. He twists his feeble beard like a wick and squints, though I know he is not squint-eyed. He is keeping his eyes from his new wife’s lower half. Everyone else is still looking.
Hill’s father walks a few paces across the centre of the room and then turns in quick hope to Daddy:
—The truth is all that we seek in this life. Confession makes us new. You will confess now, Friend Boone? Daddy rises, just as Granddaddy had to when his own daughter did the same:
—My daughter was too conversant. This is true, yes. I am very sorry for allowing it.
For a moment Daddy stretches his neck like one prepared to say more. He looks at Hill’s father’s legs. His fingers twitch as if they might test the weight of that good heavy cloth suit. Daddy is a poor enough weaver himself, though he cannot understand why. He can see this cloth is good. He would like it not to be. The leader’s life has gone right, his suit says so. The deep grey of it defeats Daddy and he says:
—In the future we will be more c-careful.
His stammer noses out of its dark rabbit-hutch as it does at such times. His face goes hard, he touches the top of his head where his hair is gone. He has a love of escape and a love of being angry. See the ship thundering off from the grey English shore, young Daddy’s chin thrust over the bowsprit, away from other people and their ideas and money and churches to find a home for Granddaddy and himself and his brothers and sisters. It was meant to be better here.
Israel snorts. But Ma’s eyes are like glass, all breakable. She squeezes young Squire, who frowns, and Daddy thumps down onto the bench again and breathes against his fist. Ma is a true lover of God. She turns back to Sallie, who is trying to keep up her meek countenance as though she has been brained like a cow by Him. Bets laughs into the crook of her arm and makes out as though it is coughing, but I know.
I squint like the new husband, I turn my face upward to make everyone vanish. I have no liking for Meeting, the people in rows, the gap at the centre where Sallie and her fellow stand to be gawped at, and the long spells of quiet when everyone contemplates each
other’s sniffling. Bets is singing under her breath: Wind in my bowow-owels. She pokes me again but I pay her no heed. I am the first to see it. A bird at the highest window, a martin with a dark head and body. It flies straight in and sits for a moment on the sill until it flaps up to the rafters. I see every turn it makes, every shift of its wings. I see every feather of its body, and I see its small black eye.
A few hands rise and point. The martin rushes and flutters in the silence. It beats like a heart against the ceiling. Israel says:
—It will shit on Sal.
I believe Israel, I always do. He is sixteen years of age and has whiskery cheeks. I cannot help a look at them. I suppose I will have whiskers at some time. He crosses his arms and raises an eyebrow and gives a smirk. It is the first interest he has shown today. I look up with my mouth shut. Bets laughs loud this time:
—It will! Or piddle.
Daddy casts her a look from his loose eye and so she saws her cap strings back and forth between her teeth. I keep my eye on the bird. I feel Israel’s idle interest, he is following it too, he could have it down before it twitched.
The martin crosses the rafters back and forth, as if it is stitching them up with a thread. It lands on a window ledge and pants, it opens its beak but it says nothing. I know I could get that bird if I had my club. Or an arrow. Or a stick. I could make a path straight to its head from where I sit. Israel would see me do it.
At a cough from below, the martin dives straight down as if it has fallen but now swings up again to the ceiling. Its head and breast strike the roof again and again, all dull thuds. I want it to look at me. I am sorry for it. If Daddy would let me have a proper gun, I would shoot a little hole through the martin’s head and its suffering would be ended. I have clubbed plenty of birds dead. I know already that their eyes stay open but lose their wet shine, though their feathers do not for some time. I have held them until their bodies go all cold. It takes longer than you might imagine.
The martin bangs on. Hill’s father knows he has no grip on anyone’s brains now, and so he folds his hands and says Meeting is at an end for this day. Plenty of talk and hand-shaking as the rest make their way out, all looking quite relieved and able to be kindly again now that the marrying is done. I feel my Ma’s relief and Daddy’s grimness as the Friends nod to them. I am thinking to take this opportunity to ask Daddy about that gun when a finger arrives in my ear.
I stretch my foot backward to crunch William Hill’s toe. He pulls his finger out but not before he says with great cheer:
—A baby is going to come out of your sister. Out her stomach.
—Out her big arse, Hill. Like a chicken. I know you love to look at chicken’s arses.
I see Hill grin wide but I walk on with Bets behind our brothers. Once out the door, Israel turns and says loud:
—How can you stand and watch her go? And never speak to her again. Nothing about this wedding is right. It is nothing! None of these people can say we are wrong—
Ma hushes Israel as though he were young Squire. Daddy shakes his head but keeps quiet. Israel stalks off and my legs burn to follow. I know he will be going to fetch his gun, he will go up to the hills away from all of this, perhaps he will not come back until morning.
I am about to set off after him when Ma grips me and says:
—Hold little Neddy now. Stop him going into the road. And my young brother smiles, he is always smiling. Sweet Neddy. I lift him. He has a high smell like Granddaddy. I say:
I hold him up so he might see Sallie’s arse as it retreats to the cart in which it will travel to a new house to lay an infant. Cast out, married to her squinting outsider husband. Neddy calls:
I set him down, his face is perplexed but he does not cry. Ma and Daddy stand still looking after Sallie as though they do not know what to do with themselves now, but they go on looking as though some answer will appear. I turn as the bird flies out the open door of Meeting House, it leaves a pile of purple droppings on the threshold. The only answer we get.
The night of the wedding I do not sleep, though the house is silent. Ma and Daddy are quiet in the loft upstairs. I think to get Bets out of the bed next to mine and Neddy’s, but she is heavy in her sleep and only rolls flat onto her back when I whisper. And I recall she threw shad guts over me the last time we went night fishing. So I tug the sheet over her face and leave her like a corpse.
I crawl past Sal’s empty bed. I know it is empty forever and this gives me an odd prickling about my heart. I feel my way along the floor and I find Israel’s bed empty also, which is a disappointment to me. He has not come back. But perhaps I will find him.
Once I am free of the house I go over the kitchen-garden fence with a pail, thinking to get worms. The moon and a few stars are showing themselves. I trot over the Owatin Creek bridge and down towards the river, I can hear its quiet rush. For a moment I am quite happy.
A thick rustling comes out of the night before I get to the water. I say:
A shadow crashes from the birches and snatches my arm. My happiness peels away from me.
—Are you fishing, Dan? I thought you might come out. I will go with you.
It is not Israel, it is William Hill. His mouth smells of iron, I know he is smiling in the dark, as if he has eaten my happiness. He is only one year older than I am. He sits before me in my Uncle James’s school and turns about to breathe on me with this breath. Sometimes he whispers answers at me if he thinks I do not know them. I do not listen, I would rather sit blindfolded on the onelegged stool in the corner than listen to him. Uncle James is always sorry for punishing me and gives me sweets at home later.
But Hill has money, it tumbles from his pockets, he is careless with it. Sometimes he gives me some of his money for a dead squirrel or a walk with me up the creek to a fishing place. His pleased face over the fence or around the edge of the door. I say:
—You do not know where I am going.
—To your granddaddy’s? I do not mind. I would like a look inside his house. Does he keep whores in all the rooms?
And again I run, again he follows me. He thinks he knows where I will go but he does not. I take a long winding way over the fields. I will not go to Granddaddy’s, though I cannot think of anywhere else in particular. I only want to run Hill until he is too tired to go on. I race through dark pasture and corn and flax until the moon ducks in back of the clouds and I can only make my way by knowing the fields in my mind, not by seeing them.
I run in grass up to my knees for some time. Soon enough the back of my hand catches a farm fence, all rough split rails. I know it is the Blacks’ fence and I know they all have the summer fever. It has given Ma something safe to talk about with the other women. Well, I have no care for sickness. I am sick worse of William Hill.
I follow along the fence towards the yard. A horse has got out of the stable and is standing by the front step. I put my hand over its soft nostrils as I pass, it puffs in my palm. I will find the root cellar and hide there with the turnips until Hill goes. But I hear him lumping along into the yard and so I go up the front step of the house. I find the door, the sick-rope is knotted on the latch, but I hear Hill talking to the horse as if to me: Where are you? And so I go in.
In the thicker dark of the room I stand, keeping myself still. I am not afraid, I am afraid of nothing. I hold my breath in. A curious noise comes from across the floor, a rattle.
I pick my way over the floor to the far wall, but soon enough Hill’s breath is on the back of my head and I stop. He says:
—Do you want to catch it?
The Blacks have only daughters. One of the youngest lies beneath the open window hot as a pie, her teeth clacking and her eyes bound up with a white cloth to save them from the fever. I lean closer to see. Hill shoulders me down beside her and takes up a lock of her hair, then presses the end of it into my ear. In his father’s low kindly Meeting tones again, he whispers that Molly Black and I are now married till death do us part.
—Kiss her. Hug her.
My brother Israel told me at one time that sick hair will lay bad eggs in your ears. I do not know if this is true but the hair pricks me horribly. I make my shoulders stiff. I do not wish to wake the sick girl. Though I will not have Hill think me a coward. I bend and put my lips to Molly’s burning cheek. Her teeth rattle on. I laugh and roll away but Hill says then reasonably:
—Or breed her. I will watch.
—Go on, Dan. I am trying to help you. I will save you from whoring, you will need a wife.
I jab him and again I say:
He sighs up another lungful of helpfulness. Molly’s teeth give a great rattle and I reach out to cover her mouth. Hill bends with his face big and close:
—I want to see what you will do now.
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