Excerpt from The Agony of Bun O'Keefe by Heather Smith, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Agony of Bun O'Keefe

by Heather Smith

The Agony of Bun O'Keefe by Heather Smith X
The Agony of Bun O'Keefe by Heather Smith
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2017, 224 pages
    Feb 26, 2019, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rory L. Aronsky

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She yelled, "Go on! Get out!" So I did. It wasn't easy. The path to the door was filled in again. I tried to keep it clear. But it was like shoveling in a snowstorm. There was only so much I could pile up on either side before it started caving in again. Not that I left the house much.

At one point I had to turn sideways and suck in. I wondered how she did it. She was over three hundred pounds. As I inched forward I saw frozen smiles through a clear plastic bin. Barbie Dolls, $10 As Is.

I knew without looking there'd be some without limbs.

I tripped on a lamp and fell on a bike. She didn't even laugh. The only sound was the tick-tick-tick of the bike's spinning wheel. I watched till it slowed to a stop.

I took one last look at her before I disappeared behind a mountain of junk. She was nestled into a pile of garbage bags, a cup of tea balanced on her chest, and I wondered, how will she get up without me?

Boxes and bags lined the walls. As I squeezed down the hall I said therianthropy over and over 'cause I liked the way it bounced in my mouth. It was one of the words I said out loud when I hadn't used my voice in a while. It meant "having the power to turn into an animal." I'd read it in an old anthropology textbook and I thought, Wouldn't it be nice if my mother could turn herself into a hummingbird? That way she could flit in and out through the piles of junk that filled every nook and cranny of the house. It was a nice thought, her being a shape-shifter. Maybe, I decided, that's how I should remember her.


I walked down our laneway with my arms crossed over my chest. I had forgotten my jacket. I wouldn't go back for it. Not after the trouble it took me to get out.

I counted Mississippis down the long gravel road. By the time I reached the highway I'd had two coughing fits. She did the trek every day. An empty wagon on the way into town, a full one on the way back. I figured she had exceptional lungs.

At the main road I stuck out my thumb. What I knew about hitchhiking came from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It came home in a box of VHS tapes. When I told her we didn't have a player she said, "There she goes, never satisfied, always asking for more." When I pointed out that I had asked for nothing and was simply stating a fact, she didn't talk to me for days. Months later a VHS player showed up and I popped in the tape. I watched it on the floor model TV she'd pulled home on a wooden toboggan. It had a missing button so I had to change the channel with a pair of pliers. The screen had fuzzy lines going through it, which made the movie even scarier. The hitchhiker wanted to kill people. I had no intentions of killing anyone so I figured there was no harm in sticking out my thumb on the main road.

I went to St. John's. Seemed as good a place as any. Only two hours away and easy to disappear into.


I figured there were places for people like me, people whose mother said, "Go on! Get out!" After all, there were places for people like Jimmy Quinlan. He was in the box with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. He drank too much alcohol and lived on the streets of Montreal. Just one of the many "derelict human beings in Canada—living their lives around a bottle of cheap wine, rubbing alcohol or even, on a bad day, aftershave lotion."

I watched the documentary so much I'd memorized the script. Alone in the house I'd recite it. Sometimes I'd say aftershave lotion, over and over, putting the emphasis on shave, just as the narrator had. I'd copy his gravelly voice too. I'd say, "Quinlan's nerves are raw," till I wasn't me anymore; I was a faceless man in the TV.

I walked along Duckworth Street and asked the first person that looked like they might know. I waited till he finished his song.

Excerpted from The Agony of Bun O'Keefe by Heather Smith. Copyright © 2017 by Heather Smith. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Random House Canada. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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