Twelve Miles to Midnight, by André Narbonne

The first three stories in this short story collection feature a young boy named Derek and his mother who are, for reasons we do not yet know, fleeing. The mother rousts the boy out of bed well past midnight to drive to check on their worldly possessions which are in a parked moving van on a highway. In this unsettled way, the reader embarks with Derek as he negotiates the perils of life as a child and outsider in a small town, isolation and responsibility in his job as an engineer at sea, and the flow and ebb of a relationship.

Narbonne, in an interview, described the collection as a dramatic arc which arrives in the last story as transformation. The title Twelve Miles to Midnight reflects the relationship of time to distance.

In ‘At Uchi Mine’, young Derek returns with a friend to an abandoned mine and thinks along the way, “There is an awesome familiarity and sense of ownership to the first stage of the journey that draws us into its calm. That emotion dwindles with each passing landmark until there are none left that I know–no landmarks, no comfort of predictability.”

“A good short story is not to be rushed but savoured.”

Patricia Sandberg

Narbonne draws on his work at sea for some of the stories. A chef on a tanker in ‘Separatists’ mourns the passing of René Lévesque, and a crew member comments that the chef “is not one of them” [separatists]. The chef reflects not simply on his personal isolation but on the solitary nature of life at sea: “One of them. The words stung as they always did. Everyone was one of something else, something other, to somebody. . . . There was no way of bridging the “one-of-them” gap. . . .”

‘In the House’, a man is facing his mortality. Described in a few direct words, “Jimmy had neither been a big man nor a thin man, but hard: a man of small strengths . . . ” and later, “He was a hellion, no longer a man of small strengths but a small man of cruel strength.” Yet, Jimmy finds the strength to complete one final act of love.

Two people meet one night by chance in ‘Enchantment of Circe’. Each deceives the other. As they learn more about each other, the woman says, “You know, a friend of mine once told me I live a double life. I said, No, I live one life that you know half of.” In that night, the man realizes the truth of the woman includes the spell she has cast on him.

A good short story is not to be rushed but savoured. These characters in transformation in Twelve Miles to Midnight are human and poignant, the stories so compelling that they stay with the reader long after the book is closed. For good reason, this collection was shortlisted for the Danuta Gleed Literary Award.

About the Author: A marine engineer by first trade, André Narbonne was living out of his duffel bag when he arrived in Halifax on a damaged tanker in the mid-eighties. He completed two degrees in English at Dalhousie University – where he was a Killam Scholar – and his Ph.D. in Canadian literature at the University of Western Ontario. He is a former chair of the Halifax chapter of the Canadian Poetry Association.

His short stories have won the Atlantic Writing Competition, the FreeFall Prose Contest, and the David Adams Richards Prize and were anthologized in Best Canadian Stories. He teaches English & Creative Writing at the University of Windsor and is the fiction editor of the Windsor Review.

  • Publisher : Black Moss Press; 1st Edition (April 22 2016)
  • Paperback : 160 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 0887535593
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0887535598

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About the Reviewer: Patricia Sandberg escaped a law career and became a writer. Her short stories have been shortlisted in competitions, published at The Cabinet of Heed and in the Lit Mag Love Anthology. She is hard at work on a World War I historical novel. Her 2016 award-winning, nonfiction book Sun Dogs and Yellowcake: Gunnar Mines, a Canadian Story is about life in a uranium mine in northern Canada during the height of the Cold War.

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