About this title:
With Kit"s Law, Donna Morrissey established herself as a gifted storyteller. Her chronicle of life in a remote Newfoundland outport was acclaimed by critics and embraced by readers worldwide. Downhill Chance is a captivating successor to Morrissey"s first novel. Set in a pair of isolated fishing communities in Newfoundland during and after the Second World War, this is the story of two families joined by friendship but torn apart by fear and sorrows. Prude Osmond reads her tea leaves and predicts dark days ahead. Meanwhile, an hour"s boat ride away, Job Gale leaves his wife and two young daughters behind to fight in the war, a cause neither they nor their neighbors understand. The war and the dark secrets it holds cascade over the Gale family, afflicting the sensitive yet resourceful Clair, an unforgettable heroine. Forced to restart her life in another place, she must forsake the family she loves and her community. Morrissey blends drama, gritty realism, and a flair for the comic in this unique novel. At its core is the unravelling of secrets — and the redemption that truth ultimately brings.
About the Author:
Donna Morrissey was born in The Beaches, a small village on the northwest coast of Newfoundland that had neither roads nor electricity until the 1960s a place not unlike Haire's Hollow, which she depicts in Kit's Law. When she was sixteen, Morrissey left The Beaches and struck out across Canada, working odd jobs from bartending to cooking in oil rig camps to processing fish in fish plants. She went on to earn a degree in social work at Memorial University in St. Johns. It was not until she was in her late thirties that Morrissey began writing short stories, at the urging of a friend, a Jungian analyst, who insisted she was a writer. Eventually she adapted her first two stories into screenplays, which both went on to win the Atlantic Film Festival Award; one aired recently on CBC. Kit's Law is Morrissey's first novel, the winner of the Canadian Booksellers Association First-Time Author of the Year Award and shortlisted for many prizes, including the Atlantic Fiction Award and the Chapters/Books in Canada First Novel Award. Morrissey lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
It was a dirty old night that washed Gid O"Mara up on the shores of Rocky
Head. Sheila"s Brush, the old-timers called it, that late-spring storm that
comes with the fury of February winds, transfiguring the desolate rock island
of Newfoundland into a great whale soaring out of the Atlantic, shaking and
writhing as if to rid itself of the shacks, wharves and boats clinging to its
granite shores like barnacles. Yawning with the leisure of an old tomcat,
twelve-year-old Luke scrooped open the bedroom window, letting in a blast of
sea-dampened wind that near put out the burning candle stub that flickered
yellow over his older brother, Joey, lying beneath the blankets in their double
"The old woman"s going to skin you," Joey warned, the accordion
he"d been lazily drawing a tune out of flattening back against his chest as he
squirmed deeper beneath the blanket, pulling his brown worsted cap farther
down over his ears. But Luke was already skimming his belly across the sill
and dropping to the ground below. A swipe of rain cut across his face as he
scurried to the lee of the house to break the wind, ducking below the
lamplight spilling out through the window where his father, his cap rolled high
above aging eyes, and his mother, a crown of greying braids besetting a brow
forever etched with worry, sat watching the storm. A wave broke over the bit
of bank that separated the string of six houses from the sea-pounded beach,
and he gave a low whistle as seething white froth swooshed up around his
feet, then slid back into the rioting black water.
Always he wondered what it would be like to live inland, away from
the wet, wind and fog heaved at them by the sea, and for sure he would travel
inland someday, as soon as he was old enough to get clear of his mother.
But nights like this, when the storms were at their fullest, he wished for
nothing. Hunching his head into his shoulders and jamming his hands inside
his pockets, he crouched down besides a woodpile stacked against the
house, and inched underneath the canopy made by the water-sogged canvas
that covered it. Sea shelters, he called them, those dry hollows sometimes
found in the tuck of an overhanging bank, or beneath the eave of a chicken
coop, or behind the glass prism of frozen cliff water. He loved it, he did,
crouching in weather, his mind lulled by the wind gusting past him, and the
sea swarming up over the shore. And the gulls, sifting white through the dark,
cried differently at night: tremulous, haunting cries that only the solitary
deserved to hear.
Oftentimes, when curled in the bow of a beached boat or crouched
within the warmth of a bough-whiffen—those little dome-shaped shelters he
often made by weaving boughs into each other—and with the rain plinking all
around him but never a drop dampening his skin, he slept. And as he
crouched now, and a couple of fair-haired youngsters, their curls made limp
by the drizzle, appeared out of the dark and stood in the spot of light thrown
out through the window by his mother"s lamp, he thought surely he must
have fallen off and that the divinity presenting itself before him was but a
sweet-scented dream. Then another boy, about the same age, appeared in
the light. Luke blinked, then blinked again as a woman with a blanket
wrapped shawl-like around her shoulders and a babe curled in her arms and a
man with dark hair and a beard flowing down his chest appeared too out of
the dark—all huddling into the spot of lamplight as if it might reprieve them
from the storm.
In a land where the only visitors were fogbound fishers or the
scattered husband or wife brought ashore to keep the bloodlines clean, this
apparition growing in numbers before Luke became more and more
extraordinary, and with a frightened yelp he tore to his feet, racing around the
side of the house, hollering that Christ had returned, bringing with him the
lost children of Abraham, and they was right outside, standing in the light of
his mother"s lamp. In less time than it took to spit, every man, woman and
youngster from the six houses that made up Rocky Head were crowding out
their doors and piling warily onto the bank. Luke was in the lead, and his
mother, Prude, her hands clasped anxiously before her ample bosom,
brought up the rear. They were as Luke left them; the children like shivering
elfs, standing quietly in a patch of light besides their mother and father, their
yellow curls tangled by the wind, a dull curiosity in their pale blue eyes and a
stooped indifference around their scarcely clad shoulders. And when the
smallest of them, no more than a toddler, turned to his mother and asked in
a lilting voice and with the most sweetest of sounds, "Is this where we"s
going to live?" a gasp went through the outporters, and all eyes swung to
Luke as they believed surely he must be right, and this bedraggled bunch
were celestial creatures sent straight from the Divine Mother Spirit to land
upon their God-forsaken shores—for such was the beauty in the melodic
brogue of the child"s Irish tongue, a brogue never before heard by anybody
from Rocky Head. And when the father replied in the same sweetened tongue
that it was up to the good people before him, because his boat had been lost
to the sea, and everything they owned with it, the outporters stirred from their
half-frozen states. Resisting their wariness of strangers, they reverently
approached their God-given gifts, and divvying them up, half-carried, half-
walked them straightaway into their homes and into their hearts.
Aside from Prude, that was. "No good comes from a night like
this," she cried out as Luke ushered the boy the same age as he inside his
own house behind Herb. And as was always with Prude"s prophecies, it was
met with a scowl from Luke as he nudged her, too, back inside. Standing on
the stoop, Luke looked over to where Joey was following the bearded mister
and his missus into Aunt Char"s house and he wondered perhaps if it might
not have been better to lead the young fellow into Aunt Char"s house too.
Then he, Luke, could sit and listen to the elders talk as well. But the sight of
his conniving cousin Frankie following tight behind Joey, yet dragging his
step over Aunt Char"s stoop as he looked back curiously at the young fellow
treading over Luke"s, spurned all such thoughts.
"Stay weaseling where you"re at, my son," he muttered, hopping
inside and snapping the door shut behind him. And with a great might, he
swung himself into the chair beside where his father was seating the young
fellow at the table and, hauling it nearer, scrutinized more fully this token
from the night"s fury.
He wasn"t as pretty as the younger ones, he thought, as his father
turned up the wick in the lamp and his mother, crossing herself, scurried
inside the pantry, reaching for a bottle of rabbit. What with his kinky brown-
and-yellow hair plastered wetly to his skull and his eyes brown slivers
beneath wide, heavy lids, he looked almost odd.
"What"s your name?" Luke asked, and all hands stilled, listening
for the brawling tongue.
The young stranger hesitated at first, his eyes rolling slowly onto
Luke, then falling away timidly as he answered "Gid" in little more than a
When nothing else followed, Prude scooped the bottled rabbit into
a bowl, draining the liquor over it, as Herb stirred a spoon heaped with black
molasses into a cup of tea and placed it before the boy.
"My name"s Luke Osmond," said Luke, casting a discomfited look
at his kindred as he gave his first ever self-introduction.
"What"s your last name?" he asked.
All hands quieted once more.
"O"Mara," said Gid.
"O"Mara. Not a namesake I ever heard," said Prude, placing the
bowl of rabbit and a slice of bread before him. "And where"s that talk from? I
never heard tell of talk like that."
"Go on, old woman," said Luke impatiently, inching closer to the
young stranger, "you never been nowhere to hear nothing."
"You mind, now," warned Prude, then, noting the boy"s eyes fixed
hungrily onto the bread, she nudged the plate nearer him. "Go on, take it,"
she said kindly. "Course, it"s hard to eat with everybody staring at you.
Here—sop your bread in the juice," she coaxed, pushing the rabbit breast
floating in a bowl of liquor and pork scrunchions before him. "And leave off
your nosying till he"s done," she added sharply to Luke.
Luke watched as the young fellow dipped his bread crust into the
liquor and then shoved it into his mouth. Aside from a queer head of hair, he
had a face that was awful long and thin, and pasty in colour, and the eyes
were threatening to shut at a second"s notice as he struggled between
chewing and staying awake.
"He"s falling asleep in his tea, Mother," said Herb quietly.
"Sure then, let"s put him to bed," said Prude, and Luke sprang to
his feet, helping the young fellow up from his chair, leading him into his
room. "And mind you keeps them legs in bed this time," warned Prude as
Luke was closing the door behind him, "else, I nails a piece of two-by-four
across that window come morn."
"Geez," muttered Luke, snapping shut the door. "Geez," he
muttered once more for the benefit of his guest as he turned towards him but
was astonished into silence as Gid, his wet pants already falling to the floor
and still wearing his wet shirt, fell into bed, rolling himself into the blankets,
his face to the wall. Shrugging disappointedly, Luke fumbled with the buttons
of his pants, glancing at the window, his thoughts straying to Aunt Char"s,
but the threatening clucking of his mother"s tongue sounding through his door
stayed the notion, and kicking his pants aside, he crawled in besides his
now sleeping bedmate.
He was still awake when Joey came home a half hour later. "They
come from Ireland," he reported, his voice muffled through the room
door. "They spent the last couple years down Harbour Deep and was looking
for a new place to build when the wind hit. He says he was a carpenter back
"What"s he looking for a new place for when he already come from
Ireland to Harbour Deep?" asked Prude suspiciously.
"Now, Mother, just because he landed in Harbour Deep don"t
mean he got to live out his days in Harbour Deep."
"Nothing we got here they haven"t got in Harbour Deep," said
Prude, "unless he was looking for kin—and if he was looking for kin, why"d he
spend two years in Harbour Deep when he found no kin there?"
"You"re making a case," said Herb, the finality of his tone
bolstered by the scrooping of his chair as Luke pictured him turning away
from the talk and back to the storm outside his window.
"Mark my words—no good comes from them that"s always shifting
about," said Prude, her voice rising, and Luke, too, closed an ear. Ireland, he
thought, his eyes beginning to droop, the place where men wears skirts and
plays bagpipes—or was that Scotland?—and talks like they"re singing. They
never said nothing in the school books about people talking like they were
singing. He flicked a dying glance at the back of Gid"s head and felt a queer
The next morning his eyes popped opened to the wheedling sound
of his cousin Frankie"s voice and the sweet lyrical sounding of Gid"s as he
said something about finishing his tay first. Scrambling out of bed, he hopped
from one leg to another, hauling on his pants. It was just like Frankie, the
sneaking, lying sliveen, to be the first one out this morning, trying to steal
Gid away for his own, he was thinking, pulling a garnsey over his head. And
leaving it riding high on his back, he tore out through his room door.
"What"re you at, my son?" he growled, slewing his eyes from the
knife-edged part of Frankie"s slicked-back hair as he slouched against the
doorjamb to that of Gid"s mane as he sat at the table, chewing on a heel of
bread. Gid"s hair was fluffed off from his head like a seeding dandelion this
morning, now that it was dry, but his eyes, noted Luke, were still drooping as
if half asleep.
Frankie had straightened as Luke barged across the
kitchen. "Going down to see the shark," he said.
"What shark?" demanded Luke, plunking himself down at the table
and pulling his chair closer to Gid"s.
"Back of the stagehead," said Frankie. "Uncle Jir dragged him
ashore this morning—caught in his net, he was."
"You stay put—I gets you some bread, Luke," called out Prude
from the pantry.
"How big is he?" asked Luke.
"Thirty feet," said Frankie.
"Hope now, thirty feet."
"Yes he is, my son; we was already down measuring him—two
"Here, mind your talk and eat," said Prude, bustling to the table
and pouring a cup of tea for Luke. "And stay clear of that shark; the last one
come back to life and near took the arm of young Jack Dyke."
"You coming, Gid?" asked Luke, taking a loud sup of his
tea. "Come on, then," he said as the young stranger nodded, draining back
his cup. Taking one last sup, he clinked his cup alongside Gid"s on the table
"What about bread, Luke—my oh my, have some bread," said
"I"ll have it with me dinner," said Luke, shoving his feet into his
rubbers and clumping around the kitchen. "Where"s me cap, old woman—
hey? Where"s me cap?"
"Blessed Lord," whispered Prude. Luke screwed up his mouth at
the look of fright on her face as she crossed herself, staring into the tea
leaves stuck to the side of Gid"s cup.
"Another flood coming?" he mocked. "Geez, old woman."
Snatching his cap off the foot of the daybed, he hustled Gid and Frankie out
the door before him. "Women! Always bloody worrying," he muttered,
slamming the door on Prude"s cries. "Your mother read tea leaves?" he
asked, chancing a look at Gid.
Gid shook his head.
"What"s your name?" asked Frankie.
"Gid," answered Gid, his voice the guttural murmur of the night
"Say all your names," coaxed Luke.
"Gid O"Mara," said Gi...
"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.