Excerpt from A Map of Glass by Jane Urquhart, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Map of Glass

by Jane Urquhart

A Map of Glass
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2006, 375 pages
    Mar 2007, 375 pages

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He had left Kingston Harbour on a Great Lakes coast guard icebreaker, onto the deck of which he had loaded a stack of firewood, enough food to last at least two weeks, a couple of bottles of wine, some whiskey, camera equipment, and a backpack filled with winter clothing. Though it was only a mile or so from the city to the island, the men on board had thought him reckless to go out there alone in this season. They were somewhat mollified, however, when he admitted he had a cell phone. “You’ll be using it soon enough,” the captain had ventured. “Pretty grim out there this time of year.”

Grim was what Jerome was after. Grimness, uncertainty, difficulty of access – a hermit in a winter setting, the figure concentrated and small against the cold blues and whites and greys that made up the atmosphere of the landscape, the season.

Ordinarily, residencies were not permitted during the winter months, but the officials at the Arts Council were aware of his work, his growing reputation, knew from his Fence Line Series that he preferred to work with snow. A young woman whose voice had indicated that she was impressed by his dedication had made the arrangements with the coast guard and had speeded his application through the usual channels. In a matter of days he had found himself standing on the deck of the vessel, his whole body vibrating with the hum of the engine, then shuddering with the boat’s frame as the bow broke through the ice. The wind had repeatedly punched the side of his face, and there was not much warmth in the late March sun, but Jerome had preferred to remain on the deck in order to dispel the impression that there was a look about him, a scent maybe, that suggested longing, dependence.

The captain was right though, he would be using the phone soon, to call Mira. He had to admit that he wanted to please the girl who had miraculously remained in his life for almost two years, that he felt concern for her and must honor her affection for him. In this way he had been able, so far, to slip easily around the disturbing truth of his own feelings, the pleasure he felt when thinking of her, and the ease with which he remained in her company. He was almost always thinking about her.

For the time being, however, he had stayed focused on his journey, intrigued by the dark, jagged path the boat had left in its wake as it moved through the ice. It would be a temporary incision, he knew, one that would likely be healed by the night’s falling temperature, so he removed his camera from the case, then leaned against the railing and photographed the irregular channel.

The opened water was like a slash of black paint on a stretched white canvas. Breaking the river. He liked the sound of the phrase and would remember to record it in his notebook once he got settled in the loft.

He himself would never be a painter, considered himself instead a sort of chronicler. He wanted to document a series of natural environments changed by the moods of the long winter.

He wanted to mark the moment of metamorphosis, when something changed from what it had been in the past. He was drawn to the abandoned scraps of any material: peeling paint, worn surfaces, sun bleaching, rust, rot, the effects of prolonged moisture, as well as to the larger shifts of erosion and weather and season.

This island was situated at the mouth of the great river that flowed out of Lake Ontario, then cut through the vast province of Quebec before losing its shape to the sea. The idea that he would be staying near the point where open water entered the estuary excited him and made the pull of the island stronger.

Now, two days after he’d arrived, as he stood near the shore with the camera around his neck and a snow shovel in his hand, the phrase breaking the river was still fresh in his mind, and he had decided that it would be the title of the first series he would complete on the island. He observed, by looking at the shards of ice along the shoreline, that, in effect, the river was broken by the island. Arguably, this would be true even in summer in that the island would break up the current of the water that passed on either side of it. But it was the ice that interested Jerome, the way it had heaved itself up on end and onto the shore like some ancient species attempting to discard an aquatic past. He plunged the handle of the shovel into a nearby drift, where it remained upright like a dark road sign. Then he walked away and began to search the surroundings for slim fallen branches of a suitable length.

From A Map of Glass by Jane Urquhart. Copyright Jane Urquhart 2005. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of MacAdam/Cage Publishing.

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