Sandra Birdsell Children of the Day

ISBN 13: 9780679313700

Children of the Day

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9780679313700: Children of the Day
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Children of the Day opens on a June morning in 1953, when Sara Vandal, convinced that her husband has been having a decades-long affair, decides that she is too sick to get out of bed. With ten children in the house (and a possible eleventh on the way), this decision sets off a day of chaos, reflection and near disaster for the Vandal family.

Sara’s husband, Oliver, heads to the town hotel and bar in Union Plains, Manitoba, where he has been the manager for the past twenty years–a position he suspects he’ll no longer have by the end of the day. In an attempt to avoid the unavoidable, Oliver decides instead to pay a visit to Alice Bouchard, his childhood sweetheart across the river.
Throughout the day, both Oliver and Sara reflect on how their lives collided – a car accident that brought them together and tore them from the futures their families expected of them. Sara (from Sandra Birdsell’s previous novel, The Russländer) recalls her life in the big city of Winnipeg in the 1930s – a young Russian Mennonite woman lucky enough to escape the shackles of her overbearing culture. Oliver remembers his wedding day photograph–his the only Métis face in a crowd of Mennonites–and the precise moment when he suddenly grasped the enormity of his decision to “do the right thing.”

The Vandal children, too, must deal with this unusual disruption of their daily routine. Alvina, the oldest, secretly handles the stress of her family, her plan to escape them all, and her discovery of the world’s evil in the only way she knows how. Emilie worries about losing her happy-go-lucky father while facing the town’s heretofore hidden racism head-on. The boys live up to their family name by recklessly taking chances and literally playing with fire. And since her mother won’t come out of her bedroom, Ruby, just a little girl herself, must take charge of the babies with danger lurking in every corner.

By nightfall the extended Vandal family will be thrown together to work out the problems of the past and exorcise the ghosts that haunt them, which have all, in their own way, set this June day’s events in motion.
From the Hardcover edition.

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About the Author:

Sandra Birdsell was born in 1942 in Winnipeg, the fifth of eleven children, to a Dutch-Mennonite mother and a French-speaking Métis father – but that’s where the similarities to the Vandal family end, she insists. Children of the Day was inspired by the childhood memory of a census taker who came to the door and reduced her family’s rich and varied heritage to a simple fill-in-the-blank “French.” Her father would later assure the young Bartlette children that they were in fact “true Canadians”–a little bit of this and little bit of that.

Birdsell began writing when she was a girl, but it wasn’t until after she had three children (and a variety of jobs, including seamstress, cocktail waitress and Avon lady) that she started to earn a living as a writer. Since then she has written eight books – short story collections and novels – to critical acclaim, and has received numerous literary prizes and nominations, including a Giller Prize nomination in 2001 for The Russländer and Governor General’s Award nominations for The Two-Headed Calf (1997) and The Chrome Suite (1992). In 1993 Sandra Birdsell was awarded the Marion Engel Award, one of Canada’s most prestigious literary prizes, given to a woman writer in mid-career.

In 1996, Birdsell moved from Winnipeg to Saskatchewan, where she is at work on her next book and her garden, which in Saskatchewan proves to be, as she says, “an exercise in faith and infernal optimism.”
From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

In the morning, sunlight stretched like cellophane across the doorway of Sara and Oliver Vandal’s bedroom. The ticking of a clock beneath a heap of clothes on the bureau became louder as Oliver gathered them up and quickly dressed, his back turned to Sara in the bed. Throughout the night the clock’s muffled click, click had underscored the fist of worry in his ribs, and he had told himself, don’t jump to conclusions. But his worry hadn’t diminished or vanished, as it sometimes did when he awakened to the sight of the turquoise walls awash with daylight, the sound of his children’s voices in the kitchen below telling him that they were up and breakfast was on the go.

Sara moaned and turned her face to the wall, the memory of their quarrel a sickness pressing against one side of her ribs. The baby sleeping in the crib stirred, then poked her almost bald head up from a blanket to regard her mother hunkered in bed, her father across the room, his dark head crooked as though he was listening to himself slide the knot of his tie up under his shirt collar. She flopped back down, sensing that it was futile to try to gain their attention. The baby was Patsy Anne Vandal, the day June 14, 1953, in Union Plains, Manitoba.

Halfway across the room, Oliver was stopped by the sight of the shopping bag lying on the floor, shoes spilling from it, maroon ­calf-leather flats, navy slingback pumps, a pearlized bone-white sandal holding the imprint of a woman’s toes. The shoes conjured the image of Alice emerging through the darkness of her yard last night, bringing him the shopping bag, and Oliver relived the surprise of her breasts, as small and unyielding against his chest as they had been when they were kids. Her kiss, however, with its urgent appeal, was unlike any of her kisses that he’d chosen to remember.

In comparison to the tiny shoes, his feet were ungainly and used up. He regarded them. Spidery threads mottled the skin around his ankles, the pads of several corns were swollen and sore–they were the feet of a man much older than his forty-five years. It occurred to him that his father had been his age when the lung disease had overcome him.

Men and women can’t be just friends, Sara said, her tongue thick and coated and tasting like a peach seed. She took up where she had left off during the night, when Oliver had begun to snore, stranding her with her mind boiling for hours.

You don’t say. Well, in my opinion they can be. Oliver stepped round the shoes. He knew that eventually the footwear would wind up at the bottom of the closet, along with all the other shoes Alice had sent home with him over the years, shoes she dropped off at the hotel–a friendly call at his place of business, he’d told Sara, a white lie, knowing that she was apt to turn molehills into mountains.

Why shouldn’t I pay a friend a visit? he’d said last night, when there was no way around it other than to admit that he hadn’t stayed for the entire public meeting at the school, but had fled. Couldn’t sit there listening to all the down­in-the­mouth talk; and the next moment he found himself on the ferry and crossing the river. He hadn’t planned on going to see Alice, that was just the way it had turned out.

Dragging the girls along, Sara muttered into the wall.

I didn’t drag anyone. Oliver sighed heavily. I had me a walk, and they tagged along.

A walk to see that ­woman.

I don’t have time for talking in circles, Oliver replied, and stepped towards the ­door.

You can make your own breakfast, Sara said, her voice sounding as though it came from the bottom of a barrel.

Will do.

Sara’s presence in the kitchen wasn’t as crucial as she seemed to think it was, given her usual early-morning hustle to get downstairs first thing, hair rolled up in the style of Wallis Simpson, a freshly ironed housedress cinched at her still­narrow waist. She was charged and determined to conduct the business of her household, emanating a purposeful energy. An energy that sometimes had the effect of throwing a monkey wrench into a smooth and well­running machine. Her arrival in the kitchen had the power to induce quarrelling and tears.

This morning, however, she was worn out by her night-long fuming.

Some of us have to get to work, Oliver said, reminding her, as he often did, that his time was not his own. He couldn’t dally in the morning over a second cup of coffee, or the list she’d made of what needed fixing, or the remnants of a quarrel. This morning the word work was a raft being swept away on a fast current. His occupation; vocation, several long­time customers said, given that Oliver was a natural, the kind of man at ease with princes and paupers alike and therefore well suited to the hotel ­business.

Suddenly Sara was up, swinging her legs over the side of the bed, her eyes burning with rage. All these years, she said. Going to see that woman while I waited half the night. Going to see a woman who thinks she’s better than I am. Showing her off to the girls. She hissed the words, her fists raised and shaking. Then she gasped and clutched her ribs.

She’d been watching for him at the kitchen window last night when he returned home with the girls, staring into the darkness of the yard, her lit face betraying a raw fear. But once he entered the house, quick as a snake she lashed out, one hand on her hip, the other stirring the air to send the girls on upstairs to bed so she could have her say.

You went to see that woman.

Yes, I did.

The startling admission had left them both speechless for moments.

Sara broke the silence to accuse him once again. You went to see that woman, and took Ida and Emilie with you.

I already said so, he snapped. And I didn’t take the girls, they tagged along. But why not, eh? Why shouldn’t they meet my old school friend? Heat rose in his neck as he remembered Alice’s kiss, the searching flick of her tongue. The girls had stayed out on the veranda the whole time, he was certain they hadn’t seen.

Sara balled her nightgown in a fist beneath her ribs, her slate-grey eyes growing wide and watery, like blobs of melting glass. The sight made Oliver turn away. There’s no need to cry, he muttered, although in the almost twenty years he’d known Sara, he’d never seen her cry.
From the Hardcover edition.

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9780679313694: Children of the Day

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ISBN 10:  0679313699 ISBN 13:  9780679313694
Publisher: Random House Canada, 2005
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