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Burning Ground by Pearl Luke

Burning Ground is the winner of the 2001 Commonwealth Prize for best first novel, Canada/Caribbean region. It was short-listed for the Georges Bugnet award, and the Canadian Booksellers’ Libris award, and was a Globe & Mail notable book of the year.

In 1999, before the novel was published, it was one of five finalists for the Chapters/Robertson Davies Award for an unpublished first novel.

In an unconventional love story, Percy Turner watches for fires on an isolated fire tower in the Canadian north, while also battling the fires and passions within. It’s the intrusion of the past that haunts her, as she struggles to escape disturbing family secrets, and the loss of Marlea, her best friend and sometime lover.

As she reaches out to a new frienship, Percy faces changes — both emotional and physical — that will redefine her whole life, her loves and losses. Cinematic in its style, erotic in tone, Burning Ground boldly explores desire, sexual identity, and emotional risk, rising to a powerful ending, not easily forgotten.

Excerpt from Burning Ground

That afternoon, a bird swoops into the cupola. It is thirty-three degrees Celsius, or at least it was an hour ago when Percy reported her weather, and like each day of the past two weeks, the fire hazard is extreme. Each of the eight glass window panels is open, slid completely down to encourage whatever vestigial breeze might be mustered in the thick still air. Percy has given in to drowsiness and lies sprawled on her back in a hammock that fills an entire side of the tiny octagonal cupola. To her left is the centred wooden stand upon which the fire-finder sits; on the other side of that, a three-foot space equal to the one she fills. That’s it. The space is an oddly shaped cell, and in it she has been spending twelve to thirteen hours a day.

The abbreviated flight of the trapped swallow wakes her as it dives madly back and forth, shrieking through a sharp violent beak. Percy covers her head and ducks deeper down in the hammock. She is accustomed to swallows dive-bombing her in the yard, swooping past her head with only a centimetre to spare as they protect their nests, but this is madness, wings and beak everywhere, papers swept to the floor, and unexpectedly, the sudden cool relief from a feather-breath of moving air driven by thrashing wings. Then, as suddenly as it started, the bird is out, gone, leaving nothing but oppressive stillness behind.

Percy’s head throbs back of aching eyes, and little fingers of discomfort reach out to pinch into awkwardly placed elbows and knees. The heat has entered her bones, and where there should be marrow, she feels instead the dull grey lead of weighted sinkers. Each minute trudges past the one before it, and a pale, listless sun drags the day forward.

Normally she likes to read in the tower, where silence is a comforting array of small, happy sounds—the wind brushing through trees or coughing up dust, birds and insects coordinating song—but even her books fail her today. The heat has been burdensome too long, and the whining of wasps and black flies is a source of constant irritation.

Gilmore’s last e-mail is in her back pocket and Percy pulls it out, reads it again. If only they could meet, see each other in person. She is drawn to him through his writing—clever, engaging passages designed to charm her, with each letter tentatively more intimate than the last. Tens of thousands of words, a book’s worth, have passed between them already, and she feels herself submitting to these words. He flatters her, and it is his diction that seduces her as she has never been seduced, her thighs, along with her heart, opening and softening, yielding—not to him but to black ink marks on a page, signifiers, nothing more.

He says that he looks forward to sharing a glass of wine with her before a warm fire. There lay the simple signifiers, clichés of romance—the glass, the wine, the warm fire, the sharing. From these words she conjures a mighty mirage—his hands lying open on the table as if wanting to prove they could never hurt her, her eyes following each vein past his wrist, up his arm, back to his heart, and to what she hopes is a beginning.  With firelight in their eyes and warming their faces, they lean forward from wingback chairs, across a small table, and their hands lightly brush as they speak. Her focus is on his hands again: he caresses his wine glass as if it were a breast, cups the bowl, twirls the stem between forefinger and thumb.

Visit Pearl’s website

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Posted by Pearl on Jul 23 2010. Filed under Fiction. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.
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