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Some Great Thing: A Novel

Some Great Thing: A Novel

by Colin McAdam

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“A powerful, poetic, bawdily funny, and tenderly sad novel about class, about love, about drink, about poetics, about land, and about money” (O, The Oprah Magazine).
Real estate developer Jerry McGuinty is a self-made man from a blue-collar world, a master craftsman who strives to fill the growing Canadian city of Ottawa with beautiful homes and has a soft spot for his alcoholic, unpredictable wife. Simon Struthers is a civil servant from a prominent, wealthy family who shapes land-use policy, and moves between women, consumed by a frantic emptiness.
When their two stories begin to intertwine, their lives and ambitions are set on a collision course. A richly observed story of family, social class, love, and the individual contributions we make to the bigness of the world, Some Great Thing is a reflection on the meaning of home and a “compelling, bawdy debut” (Publishers Weekly).

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781616954444
Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 10/21/2014
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 847,223
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Colin McAdam's novel Some Great Thing won the Amazon Canada First Novel Award and was nominated for the Governor General's Literary Award, the Rogers Writers' Trust Award, the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, and for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize in the United Kingdom. His second novel, Fall, was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and awarded the Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan Prize. He has written for Harper's and lives in Toronto.

Read an Excerpt


Kathleen on Wednesday

"jerry mcguinty was my husband for fifteen years."

"Oh, yeah?"


"But Jerry McGuinty's rich."

"I'm rich. From a phone call, I'll be."

"But you weren't really married to Jerry McGuinty."

"Watch where you're cuttin."

"How come you're not rich?"

"I am rich. Where's Lisa anyway? It takes a phone call, like I'm, like

I'm one of them people, you know, calling. Cut my hair. Where's Lisa?!" "I told ya. She's sick."

"What do ya mean, sick?"

"The clap."

"Ohhh. Lisa?"


"Who are you?"

"Joanie. I told you. See, it's here. Look in the mirror there. Joanie."


"So your last name's McGuinty?"

"It is."

"How come it's Herlihy?"

"It's McGuinty."

"Says in the book, Herlihy. Mrs. Herlihy, ten o'clock, cut and set."

"Don't you set my hair. I won't pay if you set me."

"All right, Mrs. Herlihy."

"Herlihy, eh? Haven't heard that in a while."

"But ya gave that as your name."

"Herlihy's a pretty name, too."

"Herlihy is a pretty name."

"A Herlihy doesn't get the clap. Not a Kathleen Herlihy."

"No, ma'am, not a Joanie neither."

"McGuinty's a name."

"McGuinty's a name all right."

"My name for fifteen years or so. Smoke?"

"No thank you."

"Give ya some cheekbones."

"No thank you, ma'am. I got cheekbones."


"I got cheekbones as much as you was married to Jerry McGuinty."

"Where's Lisa fer shit's sakes? You tell me where Lisa is."

"I told you. Lisa's dead."


"She died last week."


"Yep. Just after she married Jerry McGuinty."


"Lisa's sick."

"You tell her to get better."

"You tell me what it was like being married to Jerry McGuinty."

"You cut my hair."

"I'm cuttin your hair."

"Arse. Jerry McGuinty was the biggest ... You mind your own biggest."



"All I know is, I wouldn't be sittin in that chair if I was married to Jerry McGuinty. I wouldn't be gettin my hair cut by me, that's what I know, if I was married to Jerry friggin McGuinty."

"I could afford! I could pay for more than this. Who are you?"

"I'm Joanie."

"You're not Joanie. I was married to Joanie."

"Joanie McGuinty?"

"Jerry. Jerry McGuinty was my husband for twenty years."

And i gotta buy cheese.

I gotta buy cheese.


"Aisle three."



I can count. I can count. Comb your freakin hair, you ugly freakin freak, is all I want, is all I want is cheese. Three cheese.

"Where's aisle three?"


"Aisle three fer shit's sakes." What do ya want with cheese? "What do ya want with cheese?"


"I'm so fuckin thirsty."

"Do you need help?"

"I want some fuckin cheese."

"Aisle three, ma'am. That way, ma'am."


"That way, ma'am."

He was sweet, that boy. That way, ma'am, that way. Cheese? Over there, over there by that way, ma'am, ya grubby little freak. "Which way?"


"Where'd he go?"

"Who, ma'am?"

"The grocery boy. He'll bring me a stick of cheese." That's it, that's right. Run away.


"Ya can't drink here, ma'am. This is a hairdresser's."

"I'll just have a drink."

"Ya can't, Mrs. Herlihy. This is a salon. Put that away now."

"I'll just put it down here."

"Put the flask back in your pocket, ma'am. I'm not kidding ma'am."

"I'll just put it down here."


"I saw your cheekbones."

"You see anyone else drinking?"

"There's no one in here."


"There's no one in here, and you're trying to trick me."

"I'm not tricking you, Jerry."



"It's Kathleen."

"Your name's Kathleen. Put the flask away, Kathleen."

"No one else is drinkin cause you're trickin everyone."

"Just put the flask away. There. In your pocket. You want me to finish your hair, don't ya?"


"Mrs. Herlihy, ten o'clock, cut and set."

"I won't have a set today thanks."

"So you say."

"So says the Lord."

"Put the flask away now, Kathleen."



"I'll just have a smoke to help your cheekbones along."

"Thank you, ma'am."

"You confuse the shit out of me, Lisa."

"Do I? I'm Joanie. Would you like a drink, ma'am?"

"You're feckin right I would."

"Cause this is a saloon."


"Put that away, ma'am. Put your head back there. Have a rest. Have a rest while I set your hair."

"Get your feckin hands off me, is all I'm sayin."

"And all I'm saying is you should do your shopping elsewhere."


"I am security, ma'am."


"Come on outside, ma'am. Finish your shopping outside."

"Get your hands off me, and I won't kill you."

"You won't kill me?"

"Get your hands off me."

"Please keep your voice down."

"I want some flippin cheese!"

"You'll get some outside."



"Where the fuck is aisle three?"

"mrs. Herlihy? Mrs. Herlihy? Wake up, Mrs. Herlihy. Wake up now, Kathleen. Wake up, ya friggin drunk. Mrs. Herlihy?"


"You fell asleep."

"I fell asleep."

"I've done your hair, Mrs. Herlihy."


"Just on top of your head, ma'am."

"That's very kind."

"Are you all right?"

Kathleen on Thursday

"It's Herlihy."

"Good morning, Mrs. Herlihy. Could you hold for one moment?"


"Hold please."

Hold hold hold hold old hold old old.

"Mrs. Herlihy?"


"What can we do for you today? The usual?"


"Good morning, Mrs. Herlihy."

"Robert, is it? Come in come in."

"Just on the counter, ma'am?"


"I'll just put it on the counter. I have bad news, Mrs. Herlihy."

"Give us a drink."

"It's about the drink, ma'am."

"What is it?" Itchy, itchy bastard.

"Our supplier had no Dewar's. It's Bell's today, I'm afraid."


"I thought you hated Bell's."

"Not just now. Hurry."

"I was worried."

"No ya weren't."


"I suppose you want some."

"Thank you, Mrs. Herlihy. Just a quick one. I've got four more deliveries this morning."

"Dewar's or Bell's?"

"You don't have Dewar's today, ma'am. I'll have Bell's."

"You'll have Bell's. I'll have Bell's. I'll have more Bell's than you cause you're driving."

"That's only fair."

"Where'd ya put it?"

"Just on the counter, ma'am."

"I'll just ... I can pour the feckin thing ... Here we go."

"Thank you very much."

"Give that back for a second, Robert, is it."


"I'll just have a little sip of yours."

"I wish you wouldn't do that, ma'am."

"More tomorrow. I'll give yiz."

"Can't I just have a bit?"

Fucker. "Here. One finger. One and a half fingers."


"Pass that back for a minute. I'll just drink half a finger. There. You're driving."


"Sit, Robert, is it."

"Thank you very much. Thank you. I like this couch."



"Flippin right. I remember."

"I'll bet. How are you today, anyways, Mrs. Herlihy?"

"I want you to leave, Robert."

"Sure. I'll just knock that back."

Just knock it back goodbye son. Off then, ya freakin sponge? I'll just slip over here and ring the Bell's and call ya back for more. No? Tomorrow then. Come on back tomorrow.


Good morning and goodbye to you Robert, ugly face, freakin mole, strawberry pus on chin.

Smell of old teeth. So old in my mouth, and look at yourself. Look at above the couch, dirty freakin mirror, lookin at yourself. Get yourself up for another, and for anyone else? Blinds down behind the eyes. Older than you look. Nothing like you look. Get yourself another. Goddamn couch cost a fortune, might as well enjoy life.


Get a man to lay a carpet just as soon as I finish this here, this drink here cost a fortune. Three fingers at noon, get me through the lunchtime quiet. Half a glass, fat fingers today thank God. There's a toast to all my friends, I wanna thank you all for comin. Get a man to lay me down, three fingers behind the truck.

Feet! God damn the knees. Cover your knees ya freakin hag and lie down there on the couch. There ya go. There ya go. Peace and freakin quiet. I'll just have a quick cigarette, if that's all right with you, Robert.


"It's herlihy."

"Hello, Mrs. Herlihy. What can we do for you?"

"Don't put me on hold."

"No need, ma'am."

"No need?"

"No, ma'am."

"I didn't ... I need my cigarettes. Robert didn't deliver my goddamn cigarettes."



What I should say is my name is Jerry and I built this house. Foursquare, plaster walls, buttressed from toe to tip with an iron goddamn will, my friend, standing proud proud proud. I hammered it into the ground and I pushed it up to the sky, and with the grace of God and the sweat of men I will build a thousand more.

All these houses you see around you I built, and neither you nor the grown-up child of your grandchild's grandchild is going to see them crumble.

I build, my friend, and up yours if you think me common. I challenge you to build something, and I defy the fist of time to touch what I have done. I challenge you to build a matchstick outhouse in the time it takes me to tell an endless tale. See if you have the will; then wipe that smirk off your flabby pink chops and listen.

It is endless. And I am worn.

My name is Jerry and my son's name is Jerry, and that's because my imagination was always saved for my work. And Jerry, my son my son, is the life hope love and death of me.

Please tell me if you see him.

A plague of years ago I put a cigar between my teeth and reckoned myself the greatest man on earth. For there in her hands, careful of the ashes Jer, was the pinkest thing I ever made. Flesh and wrinkles and a boneless chicken in the palm of my hand, screaming in a purple dribbling rage, my boy. My chest, my boy, as swollen as the proud blue sea.

But where do I begin?

He had a grip as sharp as needle-nosed pliers. And he grew up smart.



So I said to her, I said, listen, I said, Kwyet, I said, Kwyet, I said (the eager chasseur), I want, I said, to run. My little humming Quiet, my little thread of Kwyet, a birdbreeze lower than a breath said Come, she said, or so I had imagined, Come she said, Here I am.

She said nothing, but I took her to mean much, as she ran more than walked, cowered more than curved up the stairs through the door by the window.

I want to run, I said, but None, I said, of this Come here. My goose was bumped all over from the breeze of disquieting breath; to run was my need, not my wish. I was prepared to get song-of-songsy, all hinds and harts and panting, to sing with her as we ran. But when I was there, when I was right there with her, there was nothing but quiet: an open window and an invitation. Come, she says, here I am.

What a long way to the ground.

He is a fascinating man, awful, handsome, disgraceful, a subject of great interest for many and the subtlest beast of The Glebe. You have to search to find him but we know exactly where he is: Number Fifteen, Cowslip Crescent, Not Far From Here At All If You Know The Roads.

Twenty years ago he had twenty years stretched out before him, as they say, although he constantly searched for them and has found them only now that he looks back.

His name is Simon.

Kwyet had a bottom like a pillow, where I rested my head to consider what I looked like from above. I sent my soul up there to have a look. Kwyet on the bottom, me on hers, my graceful raffish soul tilting his head in Botticellian pose above my grateful rakish body (recently sated on Kwyet's adaptable bottom). I smiled and my soul winked back at me. I looked good, I should say.



He showed an interest in building, my Jerry. He had strength and the right touch. You know, nimble. I am talking about Lego and Meccano, mostly, in the early days. Toys of course. I wasn't fooled. Don't think for one dirty minute that I was a fool. I know the difference between toys and real life. But there was potential there, in those little forearms of my little Jer. He could put up a Lego wall as fast as any Italian brickie.

Then when he was eight, I remember the day clearly, he built an impossible house. It was plaster. It had three walls and no drafts. I showed it to Edgar Davies, who showed little interest; but it was clear to me that I was raising a genius, my friend, a boy, my friend, with the promise of a prince.



Let me begin where she began, at the ends of her almond-sweet toes. There began daily his lingual epigraphy, from toes to ankles and upward: a world of liquid phrases sketched with the tip of his tongue. Kwyet was every morning a dream of an unfound America.

Toes, ankles, inward; my salt trail of reverence (delicious!) formed a changing map.

When Kwyet ran, the elastic world yearned after her and he could not resist the pull.



I was thinking nothing when the doorbell rang because I am and was a busy man. Paperboy? is maybe all I thought.

But when I opened the door.

This was, I don't know, maybe several years ago now.

When I opened the door there was Jer.

"Jer!" I said.

Or maybe "Jer?" because I will tell you now there was no way I could have recognized him if I hadn't been his father.

"Jer?!" I said.

And he said, with my voice but smaller, "Hi, Dad," he said, and came in.

Now there are two things I should tell you. The first is that he had stubble on his face, hair on his hands, and his mother's you'll-never-touch-me eyes. And the second I cannot tell you because you do not know Jerry or me or what it would be like to want to hug him.

"Hi, Dad," he said, and I knew it was my job to be cool.

"How are ya, Jer," I said, cool.

And he said, "How are ya."

And I said, "Beer?"

And he said, "Yeah."

And I went to the fridge and came back with a couple.

He was still standing there in front of the door, and we clinked them together, me and Jer, and no two beers in the history of man were sucked back faster, I tell you with no shame. We finished at the same time, and when I look back now I realize that's because he was my son.

"Another?" I said.

And he said, "Yeah." So I came back with two more.

"Come in. Sit down. Come in."

He had a knapsack on his shoulder full of his father's hope. I couldn't ask if he was going to stay.

He sat down over there, across from me, and I kind of wished I was his beer and don't call me a faggot.

"How are ya, Jer?" I said.

"OK," sip of beer, "OK ... You?"

"OK," I said, and was going to say "You?" again. "Beer?" I said, and he said, "Yeah," and I got another case from the basement and put it in the fridge.

"So, you've been OK, eh, Jer?"

"Yeah. OK enough."

"You look thin."




"You hungry?" Too early, too early.


"Me neither."

"You look thin," he said, after a while.

"I've been on a diet," I said, because I'd been on a diet.


"Yep. Twenty pounds."



And it just came out again — "You hungry?" — and I watched him grow his thorns.

We sat there silent for a long loud time, I tell you with no pleasure.

But when the room warmed up and the floor came back, I looked at my son full in the face and I said this: "I know the guy who makes this beer."

And he said, "Yeah?"

"Yeah," I said, and I told him a story you can borrow if you want to send your kids to sleep. I'll tell you how it goes once I've finished this. There I was talking about yeast, a grandmother's recipe, a guy named Buck who made one or two himself, and there was Jer, a familiar stranger, older, smaller, a growing man, and as he politely nodded himself to sleep I might have walked over and put my hand on his head.



She never had a lover as curious and adept, I told her to tell me. We were sitting on my windowsill (naked: downstairs), and we were both immensely pleased with me. She was at a loss for words.


The Story of Jerry McGuinty

Thirteen neighborhoods, five thousand roofs, thirty thousand outside walls, and a rock-hard pair of hands. That is what I have built. I have laid iron, I have laid iron mesh, I have breathed more iron filings than the men who built the railroads. And I have plastered.

My father was a plasterer. His father was a plasterer. His father's father was a plasterer (and plastering was the death of his father). I, my friend, am a plasterer. Lean forward here and I will show you my card. I am a member of the Plasterers' and Cement Masons' International Association of the United States & Canada, local one-one-five. There are fifty thousand members, and I am the best. My father was the best. His father was the best. His father's father was the best. And this is all due to two things: will, and a secret. Only Portland cement goes into my mix, and when it comes to mortar I use barely a pinch of lime. That is my secret.


Excerpted from "Some Great Thing"
by .
Copyright © 2014 Colin McAdam.
Excerpted by permission of Soho Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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