The Parabolist: A Novel by Nicholas RuddockThe Parabolist: A Novel by Nicholas Ruddock

The Parabolist: A Novel

byNicholas Ruddock

Paperback | October 19, 2010

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Parabolist: noun (1) one who speaks in parables. (2) a member of a splinter group of disaffected young poets in Mexico City c. 1975. (3) a practitioner of the art of concentrating multiple sources of energy into a single focus, illuminating or, if left unchecked, destroying everything in its path.

Part comedy, part mystery, The Parabolist is a novel about murder, sex, the medical establishment, poetry and vigilante justice on the streets of Toronto in 1975.

Told through interlacing narratives, the story funnels towards the eye of an unsolved crime: on a rainy summer night, a woman is raped and very nearly murdered, but for the intervention of two drunken vigilantes who kill her attacker before fleeing the scene. The only clue the police have about their identities is a slab of Crisco shortening found on the victim.

The unforgettable cast of characters includes a charismatic Mexican poet, a libido-driven first-year medical student, a runaway teen turned prostitute, a raven-haired beauty, a sinister psychiatrist, and a donated corpse that is dissected - from skin to muscle to bone - as layer by layer, the inscrutable mysteries of anatomy, love, literature and life are poignantly revealed.

This is a funny, satirical, searing, dangerous and tender story of earnest youth and their ardent desire for love, acceptance and fulfillment.

From the Hardcover edition.
Nicholas Ruddock's writing has been published in The Dalhousie Review, The Antigonish Review, Fiddlehead, Prism International, Grain, sub-Terrain, Event, and Exile. His short story "How Eunice Got Her Baby" was published in the Journey Prize Anthology in 2007, and a short film adaptation, narrated by Gordon Pinsent, has been made by th...
Title:The Parabolist: A NovelFormat:PaperbackDimensions:384 pages, 8 × 4.95 × 1 inPublished:October 19, 2010Publisher:Doubleday CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0385668759

ISBN - 13:9780385668750


Read from the Book

It was well past three or four in the morning and she was married and far more experienced than he was and he couldn’t remember half the things they did there in her bedroom on Roxborough Drive. Oh Jasper, she kept saying. Then there was a crunching sound in the gravel outside in the driveway, a car, and she got up and looked through the curtain. Jasper, she said, oh my God, you’ve got to get out of here. Right now. She panicked. She ran in circles around the bedroom, and then she ran into the adjoining bathroom and closed the door. He stood for a second by the rumpled bed and then he took off. He reached down and grabbed his clothes. He clutched them to his chest and ran naked out of the bedroom and down the stairs. Near the bottom, he vaulted over the mahogany banister. He slipped, he recovered, he put one elbow to the kitchen door and it flew open. It was dark in there but a dim light came up from the cellar. He stood there to breathe, to get his bearings. The kitchen door stopped its oscillation just in time. He heard the turning of the key. Honey, I’m home. Those were the very words, it was hard to believe. His heart was pounding for the eleventh time that night. Quickly he ducked down onto the cellar steps and closed the door behind him. The dog barked, a deep woof. Hey there Brewster, the voice said. He must have ruffled the dog’s head in the hallway because Jasper heard the clinking of the collar, the tags. Then the kitchen light came on, a sliver across his knees. He heard water running upstairs in the pipes. Marnie was in the shower now. The refrigerator opened and closed and then Brewster came over to the cellar door and put his nose under it and snuffled. Brewster, get out of there. Brewster drop that sock, come on boy, let’s go upstairs. The kitchen light turned off. She shouted downstairs, Hey! You’re home? I just got out of the shower, couldn’t sleep, the humidity. Come to bed. Flight cancelled, he said, fog. Then, before her husband went up to the bedroom, damn it if he didn’t activate the security system. Jasper heard his fingers tapping in the code in the front hallway. It was one of those very first alarms, primitive but effective, complete with flashing lights. Then he went upstairs with Brewster. His steps receded clump-clump, jingle-jingle the dog, and there Jasper was, all alone, halfway down to the basement. There was the side door, his best chance for escape. But now a red light flashed off and on, ominously, right by the lock. He was trapped. He sat on the steps and got dressed, minus the missing sock, and then he went all the way down to the basement and looked around. There was enough dim light from the windows but they too were all wired up. He picked up a flashlight on a bench. Nothing useful to be seen with that, just cobwebs. He went back up into the kitchen. The clock on the stove said 5:00. Then he heard the headboard groaning upstairs but it was hard to be jealous. The place was a bloody fortress in reverse and he had anatomy class in three hours so he was desperate. Then he noticed it, the milkbox partway down the cellar stairs. A tight rectangle, maybe eighteen inches square. Even though it was small, it looked not impossible. Everybody used to slide in and out of those things when they were kids, and there was no wiring around this one, none at all. Aha, the Achilles heel. He opened the inside door of the milkbox and pushed on the outer door. It flew open with a bang that no one heard. Cool air rushed in. He was covered in sweat. He eased his head and shoulders in and braced his feet against the opposite wall and pushed. It was a very tight fit though, years of growth. Inch by inch he advanced and he swore he was almost there but it was no go. He went back to the kitchen. He looked around and there it was on the counter, a large can of Crisco, never opened. He took off all his clothes for the second time that night; the anticipation now was almost equal. Cleverly, he left Brewster’s sock on the floor where it was. After all, it had been noticed. He was thinking more rationally now, like a seasoned criminal. He bundled up his pants, his shirt, his shoes and pushed them out through the milkbox into the free world. Bridges burned, he scooped handful after handful of Crisco and slathered himself neck to knee with it. He used it all. He put the empty can back in the basement, on the floor. Then he put his head and shoulders through the milkbox and again he pushed with his feet on the far wall and then bang-pop there he was, slithered and fallen on the driveway like a newborn. He almost shouted with pleasure but he didn’t. He stood up and shivered. He put on all his clothes. He hopped from one foot to the other. Maybe should have kept that sock. Birds began to sing, cardinals. He set out in a lope like a wolf, but there was no way he’d get all the way home and back to school on time so he headed south, down into the ravine. He lay there, hidden from the roadside by a tree, and he fell asleep. Then his inner clock kicked in. Maybe the traffic picked up or sunlight filtered through the trees. He made it to anatomy class just as Valerie Anderson, his lab partner, made the incision into the left wrist joint, and even though he had not slept more than an hour all night, being near Valerie Anderson was enough to keep him wide awake. You smell good, Jasper, she said, almost like baking.  The cadaver lay there as always. I’ll be the assistant, he said. You cut, you be the surgeon. Okay, she said. They always took turns. First one of them assumed the role of the surgeon, the one who did the actual cutting, the peeling, the teasing of tissue. The other one held the retractors, kept things out of the way and held open the manual. The next day they switched. It was important to do it right, both jobs, to be careful. So he took the little hooked skin retractors and put them on each side of the incision Valerie had already made through the anterior aspect of the wrist. There was no bleeding, it was just formaldehyde that oozed out. He pulled apart the incision so she could see where she was going. She was right, he smelled like Crisco. It wafted up from inside his shirt, heated to 98.6 degrees, body temperature. Wait, he said. He let go of the skin hooks and buttoned up the top of his lab coat. That’s better, Jasper, she said, now I can breathe. Then she extended the incision so it ran all the way from the base of the thumb across the front of the wrist to the other side. There, she said. The flexor tendons, the radial and the ulnar arteries ran side by side, exposed. You know what that is? she asked. Like it says in the book, he said, the arteries, the veins, the tendons that flex the fingers. All laid bare. She just looked at him. I’ll let that pass, she said. Laid bare, he repeated. It’s the number-three method for committing suicide, this, the slashed wrist, she said. First pills, then carbon monoxide, said Jasper, if I remember right. Yes, but this way’s not so easy, is it? I had to press hard to do that, to open the skin deep enough with this blade. And ever so sharp, Jasper, is this blade. She made small circles in the air with the scalpel. Ever so sharp and that’s why teenage girls, they only have little scratches when they try it the first time. They use razor blades, that’s all they have, a series of little scratches and maybe three or four drops of blood. Poor things, he said, they get saved by ignorance. By hesitation and by fear, she said. By lack of physical strength, he said. Lack of resolve more than anything, and thank God for that, Jasper, because they almost all get better in the long run. Gestures. That’s all. They’re playing at it, those girls, said Jasper. Men make gestures too, said Valerie Anderson. Oh? In the form of risky behaviour. Hold that back a bit more. She bent towards Jasper Glass. She began to undercut the skin on the palmar surface of the hand. With the hooks, he pulled up and kept the tension constant and they proceeded that way until the whole hand was degloved. Three hours passed. Now and then his mind wandered from lack of sleep. It was a nice dissection they’d done. Coffee? he asked. Sure. They washed off the stench of the formaldehyde and then they went down to the cafeteria. He bought two coffees and they sat together for lunch. She had hers from home, a brown bag. I forgot mine, he said, or didn’t have time to get it together. One of those things. Jasper, she said. She gave him half a sandwich, tuna fish. Valerie Anderson had dark hair. During anatomy class she tied it back in a ponytail but now she let it down around her shoulders, and as usual everybody in the lunch room looked at her, and looked away, and looked back at her again. —— The professor thought at first that Roberto Moreno should never have come to Canada. The young man was a fish out of water. For one thing, he looked different, with his thick, wavy hair combed back straight from his forehead. It had a slightly dampened look to it, slick, an effect he might have achieved with a hair product, though that would have been paradoxical because the rest of his presentation was essentially careless. Not in a slovenly way—he was clean— but the act of dressing was obviously an afterthought. Perhaps his hair had that shine naturally, the professor thought, but the professor had never been to Mexico. He couldn’t compare that hair to anything he’d seen in France or Germany or Canada. Quite remarkable, the sheen it had, how dark it was yet how it reflected light. He was skinny too, Roberto. When he arrived in mid-winter and moved into the basement of their neighbour’s house, the professor and his wife were afraid he might perish from the wind and snow. Immediately, they looked through their sons’ closets and took over to him, the first day he wandered out inappropriately— in his cotton trousers, a windbreaker and soft-soled brown leather shoes— a spare parka. Also, they took warm woollen mittens from the East Coast, the kind with just two fingers and a thumb. Roberto Moreno put them on with a smile. They found him quite engaging. He said something about lobsters, waved his gloved hands in the air, and they all laughed in a very friendly way. They also took him galoshes. You need these, June said, and she showed him how to put them on over his leather shoes, how to close the metal clips. His English was surprisingly good. They were charmed by the boy, his self-effacing manner, the way he looked them directly in the eye. Thank you, he said, come inside and meet my family, please. That was how they met Roberto’s uncle and aunt, who had rented the house next door and who, they understood, were acting in loco parentis for the young man. His parents had died, and the aunt and uncle had taken up the burden, or the pleasure as the aunt said, of raising Roberto for the past ten years. The uncle was a short and rotund man with a pencil-thin moustache, in the fashion, the professor later opined, of Latin Americans everywhere. He was a visiting professor from Mexico at the University of Toronto. As William Glass was himself a professor at the same university, that turned out to be a pleasant coincidence, yet as they talked they found that their interests were very different and therefore it was unlikely their professional paths would ever cross. For Julián Nájera was a medical man, sharply focused on the destruction of tumours by the lowering of temperatures to absolute zero. This was a new approach, he said, that he had stumbled upon by accident in Ciudad Juárez in the course of research in epitheliomas. William Glass’s field of interest, on the other hand, was French idiomatic expressions which, he readily admitted, was— in the scientific sense— softer, more general and of little practical significance to anyone other than linguists, poets and writers. An arcane field, the professor said, as though he were modest about his achievements, though in fact he was as passionate about idioms as any scientist could be about his subject, even if that scientist were on the verge of a great discovery, such as insulin or nuclear fission. Ah, but Roberto is a poet, said the uncle. Roberto has already had some success at his young age in Mexico City, said the aunt. The professor and his wife were both impressed. Poetry is a discipline for the young, or at least for the young at heart, isn’t it? said the professor. Perhaps, Roberto, when my book is published, you would be interested. Book? Roberto said, of course I would be interested in your book. I am interested in all books. It was evident that that was not just politeness on his part. The young man truly loved the written word. Parlez-vous français? asked William Glass. Immediately Roberto responded in complex, grammatically correct French, but his accent was tinged with Spanish and thus grated on the professor’s ear. Really, Bill, June said later when he commented on the boy’s accent. Roberto then took off the lobster gloves that he had been wearing throughout the conversation. Tell me all about your book, Professor, he said. The Nájeras were also eager to hear, so in expectation they sat down together at the kitchen table and Silvana brought out some glasses into which she poured a clear liquid. Tequila, she said. They had three or four glasses each. The setting sun disappeared behind the curtains. Night fell. William Glass explained that his book, with the dry but also direct title A Living Collection of Idioms in French, was to have been published five years ago by the small press at the University of Windsor. Was to? said Roberto. Well, it still is to be published, said the professor, but the ever-changing French language is so vibrant, as you probably know, that new idioms have kept coming at me, coming at me at such a pace that my book is rendered obsolete the moment I complete it. Thus I have been forced on several occasions to recall the manuscript. I start anew, I cull the dead, I introduce the newborn, and there are times, I confess, I despair that my book will ever see the light of day. Of course, said Julián Nájera, a common fear among writers. It’s like coitus interruptus, said Roberto. The tequila was long gone by then. They all laughed, however, because the effects were still with them. Yes, said the professor, the production of a book is like the act of sex. At least here in Canada. I know nothing about books or sex in Mexico, but here I am robbed of pleasure just at the moment of fruition. I think I can relate better to that than you can, said June. That’s something women know, all right, said Silvana. Had Roberto Moreno’s small joke about coitus interruptus been in French rather than in Latin, Professor William Glass would have jotted it down immediately. He always kept a pocketful of small index cards at the ready and a pen or the stub of a pencil. He could have included Roberto’s original observation in his compendium. It qualifies as a freshly minted idiom, he said to June as they finally left the Nájeras’ at midnight. Don’t be ridiculous, she said, you just sent in another version of your manuscript. That’s the last thing you need, something brand new and not even French. So they left the conversation about books, they left the spare parka, the lobster gloves and the galoshes with Roberto Moreno, and June and Bill Glass walked home through two concentric circles of light, yellow tinged, that met upon the melting snow— the yellow-tinged light from their two front porches, contiguous. They both commented, as they opened their front door, how pleased they were with their new neighbours.From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

"Comic and inventive." — Edmonton Journal"A playful, literary mystery." — Winnipeg Free Press"Wildly inventive." — The Sun Times (Owen Sound)"An inventive, poetic, and thoroughly wonderful book." — Vincent Lam"Dazzling . . . an exciting, compelling, and expertly layered mystery." — Anthony De Sa"[A] big-brained, warm-hearted debut." — Kyo MaclearPraise for Nicholas Ruddock:"Ruddock has a refined ear for dialogue and a mischievous sense of humour. He also knows how to bring a story to a memorable conclusion."— David Bezmozgis"Nobody can mistake the ingenuity of Nicholas Ruddock…. Ruddock has talent to burn; he writes with verve and style."— Madeleine Thien"Accomplished, original, witty and wise…. A wonderful piece of writing."— Helen Humphreys (on "The Housepainters")From the Hardcover edition.