Now, finally, I'm publishing the entire novella, which constitutes 1/3 of a planned novel. As we reach the end of the novella, hopefully we will also reach a funding goal that allows me to continue the novel. KANADA is all planned out, and just needs to be written at this point. The novella of the first third, however, simply needs revision, which I will complete as I post new sections for you.
KANADA is a spiritual cousin to Franz Kafka's AMERIKA. Although it is radically different in its plot, it contains a handful of similar themes, some of the same shades of tone, and some interesting little nods to Kafka. In addition, KANADA is a satire on Canadian culture, and to some extent on Canadian publishing (although this is more apparent in its later, unwritten sections).
Kafka's AMERIKA opens with an eager, optimistic immigrant happily spying the Statue of Liberty, which holds a sword aloft (instead of a torch). That strange little narrative shift from our world into a surreal world is mimicked in KANADA, where Winnipeg's "Golden Boy" also holds a sword, but more radically the entire city core is surrounded by a massive wall of black metal designed to keep its denizens downtown. KANADA is a comic novel, but also partakes of magic realism in this manner, and has a strange, Kafkan darkness at its own core.
Here's the first excerpt of the novella for you. This post is public, but subsequent posts will be for patrons only. I hope you'll join us if you haven't already. I'm excited to finally share KANADA with the world, and grateful for your support.
by Jonathan Ball
“I’m free,” said Karl, and nothing seemed more worthless than his freedom.
— Franz Kafka, AMERIKA
In which we prepare to begin
Before we begin, there are things about I you should know. Aside from an odd name — the single letter I, a bizarre compromise that his parents had come to after fighting between the names Indiana and Isaiah — he thought himself unremarkable and his life uneventful. Even later, when the crows tore his dreams and the black metal of the Winnipeg Wall encircled what remained of his life, I thought his struggles ordinary. He would turn eyes to the Golden Boy and the sword it held aloft and think that the whole city shared his terror.
Uneventful, to be certain, is the wrong word, although we might allow his unremarkable. Better to say that his was a life without Events, lacking capital-letter moments that punctured time. Even when I saw the towers fall, I watched it on television, in another country, and still tried on that day to go to school.
Like so many people, I had lived a life of lowercase events, tiny triumphs and dim disappointments. A little life. It felt so small. Like so many, I lived in the shadow of other lives. Of his Father’s, of the people he learned about in school, of his heroes. Who had written such great books, made such great films, played such great music, done so much.
And to this great mass, to this great mass, I hoped to add a small book. Only, the more he thought about it, the more he wanted it to be a great book. And he thought, in his secret thoughts, of the world, of its history, as a challenge.
And I feared I was not up to this challenge.
But he had taken his first small steps. I had begun a novel. And was about to receive his degree.
In which I is silent
On graduation morning, I spent a long time in the bathroom, getting ready. He had gotten a haircut the previous week, so that his hair would have enough time to begin growing back, so that it didn’t look like he had just gotten his hair cut. But it did not grow back as fast as he expected, his timing was off, he should have gone earlier.
Looking in the mirror, at hair shorter than he ever remembered it being, he saw he was beginning to go gray. Rather, white. Was it normal to go white? Just a few strands around the temple. He thought about covering it up. Maybe the mortarboard would cover it up. Maybe he should pull the gray hair out. There were only a few scattered strands. It was no a big deal.
Father was gray. He used a special shampoo designed not to hide the gray but bring it out. He was proud of his gray. I wondered if there was a special shampoo for white hair. Maybe the hairs just looked white individually, but collectively would look gray. There were so few, it still looked shiny brown unless you moved in close.
It didn’t matter. There was a knock on the door.
He opened it and there stood Mother, smiling her broad smile.
“Breakfast is ready. Don’t take too long. We have to go soon.”
He nodded and she went away, whistling. I decided the hair was fine. But what about his shirt? It was tucked into his dress pants, which were held up by a thin black belt, but it seemed too formal, looked too much like a child playing dress-up. He wanted to look natural, as natural as one could look in dress pants and a buttoned shirt. So many other people at the university looked so natural in these clothes — one of his classmates wore a suit every day, wore a tailored suit casually.
He decided to pull the shirt out a little bit, so that it hung looser on him. He tugged it a little out from his waist, but then it just started to look puffy.
Maybe he could just let the shirt hang out, rather than tuck it in.
But then Father would insist. I had fought a long, quiet fight over the tie — over his lack of a tie. And won. He did not own a tie, and did not want Father to buy or lend him one. He had tried to tell Father this without offending him, because it wasn’t a way in which he was trying to rebel. He just wanted to buy his own tie after getting his own job. There was an order to things.
I would browse the ties and try a few on, and after trying on a number of ties would settle on the first one, the one that first drew his eye, the one that best suited him.
He would wear it to work.
He decided that the shirt could stay a little puffy. It would be hidden beneath a graduation gown anyway. He could fuss with it in the car. Breakfast was ready.
At the table, he ate eggs while Mother watched. She beamed and took a sip of tea from time to time, polishing off an English muffin between sips, smiling at the eggs as they slid into his mouth. Father collected the newspaper from the front porch and brought it to the table, but didn’t read it. Instead, Father asked if he wanted it. He didn’t. Father put the paper on the extra fourth chair.
“Then let’s just save this paper for later.”
I wondered when for later was to come.
Father had donned his best suit, the one with the tiny stripes. I felt out-dressed. He ate and watched Father eat and watched Mother watch back to watch him eat.
“We got you a card.” Mother reached into her purse and produced a small envelope.
“He’s still eating.”
“When you’re done.” She slid the card across the table. He began to eat a little faster. Even though he didn’t care about the card, he wanted to show that he appreciated the gesture.
“Almost time to get a move on.” Father finished his plate and started gulping his orange juice. I followed suit and took the card in hand. “You can open it in the car.”
Mother insisted that he sit in the front seat with Father. They lived in St. James, in a northwest part of Winnipeg, and the University of Manitoba was in the south and further east. Winnipeg was small, as cities went, and the trip only took a half an hour, twenty minutes on a good day. It was a good day.
He opened the card under Mother’s watchful eye. It had an embossed mortarboard on the cover with a yarn tassel hanging off. Underneath the picture, Con-GRAD-ulations! was scrawled in cobalt blue. I read the card through twice, to make a big show of it for Mother.
“Hope you like it. There weren’t very many good ones at the store.”
“Feeling nervous?” Father said. It was not really a question.
“It’s a big day!” Mother answered for him.
I smiled and read the card through again before putting it on the dashboard. On the inside of the card was printed a short poem:
Graduate, the time has come,
To cast your cap into the fray;
Be proud of all the things you’ve done
Preparing for this special day.
Don’t forget to stand up tall
As you make your way in the world;
Always be proud of who you are,
And savor the beauty of the world.
I thought the poem atrocious. He took particular offence to rhyming world with world and found himself also offended by the American spelling of savor. He did not mention this to Mother. It was the thought that counted, after all, or so he had often heard. At least it was a poem. They had tried.
I wondered why no one ever hired real poets to write greeting cards. He supposed too many cards would look like this:
time into this proud cast your day
come cap forget make has the tall
way the the of beauty of world you
fray the things you’ve your you in
Be of all the world done
To be stand proud to
As special are
And savor the
Less cards would be sold, I admitted. Render unto Caesar.