Spring fiction PREVIEW: Giving Up, the debut novel by Mike Steeves

“Infinite resignation is the last stage before faith, so anyone who has not made this movement does not have faith, for only in infinite resignation does an individual become conscious of his eternal validity, and only then can one speak of grasping existence by virtue of faith.”
— Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling

Giving Up, the hotly anticipated debut novel from Montreal author Mike Steeves, is the story of a young married couple in crisis. The story takes place over the course of one evening, unfolding in three sections, each consisting of a long unbroken paragraph and told in the voices of two protagonists—James and Mary—who reveal the nature of their problems (creative, marital, procreational) in painstaking detail.

Giving Up is an extraordinarily insightful novel about ordinary things: James works a less-than-glamorous office job by day, retreating at night to the basement to slog away on his ‘life’s work,’ the precise nature of which we are never told. For years, James has spent his evenings underground, desultorily revisiting and revising his opus. However, as the novel opens, it has become impossible for James (and everyone around him) to ignore the fact that he appears to be getting nowhere. When we first encounter him, he is standing on the precipice of giving up.

James’ wife, Mary, meanwhile struggles to remain supportive in the face of her own anxiety over the couple’s future—especially their inability to get pregnant—and her irking suspicion that James, regardless of his official cooperation, simply does not want a child the way she does.

On the night the novel takes place, James is out for a stroll in his neighborhood, taking one of his cherished breaks from his life’s work, when he encounters a stranger in need, who presents James with an elaborate sob story and a proposition. James immediately suspects that he is being conned; but he is fascinated enough by the inexplicably charismatic con man/stranger to not walk away.

Back at their apartment, Mary is falling into the social network rabbit hole, precipitously creeping through Facebook photographs of friends and their apparently happy families. All of a sudden, the sound of something in the house alerts her to the presence of a wounded cat that has made its way in through an open window. In the span of a few hours on an ordinary night in a non-descript city, these two curious and seemingly small events will have enormous consequences on James’ and Mary’s lives, both together and apart.

With its unique, unrelenting narrative style, devastating intelligence, and pitch-black humour, Giving Up is a startlingly true-to-life tale of what bubbles beneath the surface. Every sentence trembles with insight and longing. Steeves’ dense web of a narrative misses nothing: a cinema of self-awareness. Stylistically ambitious, darkly humorous, gut-wrenchingly precise, Giving Up is a bold read: deceptively straightforward and deeply rewarding. In grappling with the line between what’s happened and what might have happened, Steeves scours the depths of modern relationships, giving voice to the anguish of a generation of people who grew up with great expectations, and are now settling into their own personal failures and compromises.

Praise for Giving Up:

“Steeves is a brilliant, singular voice in Can Lit: funny and fresh and fast! Giving Up burns and glows with the intensity of a blue flame and all the pathos and obsessiveness and truth and absurdity of modern coupledom.”
Miriam Toews, author of All My Puny Sorrows

“Few first novels in recent memory are as consistently charming, smart, entertaining and incisive as Giving Up. Somehow Mike Steeves has written a page-turner about stray cats and trips to the bank, and a story that treads through the stuff of everyday life with such precision to cast each detail, every gesture and object and silence, with great meaning.”
Pasha Malla, author of People Park and The Withdrawl Method

“Mike Steeves’ GIVING UP is like a Facebook-era version of Paula Fox’s 1970s New York classic DESPERATE CHARACTERS: a lucid micro-portrait of an apartment-bound couple facing childlessness, marital landlock and a malevolent feline presence. But its pulse is faster, warmer, more irregular. It’s a chamber piece for two voices sharing disappointingly overhyped takeout, a woozily funny yet deeply decent view of adult love. It broke the shit out of my heart. Read it with someone you adore who you fear half the time can’t stand the sight of you.”
Carl Wilson, author of Let’s Talk About Love: Why Other People Have Such Bad Taste 

Advanced Reviews:

“The monotony and discomfort of innermost thoughts, through normal and abnormal circumstances, are brought to life in this novel, pulling the reader into the exhausting cycle of anxiety in which the narrators have lived for years.”
Publishers’ Weekly

This is a novel of unrelenting relatability, truth, contravention, hope, loss, and usefulness. Within these 216 pages, the reader may be forced to accept the dark side of her/himself, and the society from which s/he was contrived. I can see myself returning to this book once a year, every year, for the rest of my life…”
Nomadic Press

 

Excerpt from Giving Up 
by Mike Steeves
(Available May 12th from BookThug)

I live in what can only be described as a lively neighbourhood, and even though it wasn’t very late and the weather was mild – the ideal weather for an evening stroll – the streets surrounding my home were surprisingly deserted. Even though literally thousands of people live in my neighbourhood, not one of them was out for a stroll, or an errand, or even just to stand on their front step or patio or balcony and stare at the clear night sky and enjoy what I considered to be unseasonably warm weather. I felt as though the neighbourhood had evacuated and that I was the only person left because I’d been too busy at my life’s work to notice this mass flight. This may be why, when I saw a man standing on the corner just ahead of me, I didn’t turn around or cross the street to avoid him, which is what I normally would have done. Instead, when he turned to see me coming and raised a hand in greeting, I raised my hand in response and headed directly for him. Under any other circumstances, I would’ve been overcome with dread at the prospect of encountering a stranger, not out of fear for my safety but because, in my experience, the only reason a stranger ever wants to introduce himself is because they want something from you, and since I had no desire to give away what little time and money I had, I shouldn’t even have acknowledged him. It was a waste of time for the both of us. Our encounter would surely end in disappointment, but I was in a desperate state, and at the sight of this guy on the corner I decided to ignore all my prejudices against strangers and to go see what he wanted. I was immediately impressed by his good looks. It’s altogether rare that a stranger who approaches someone on the street is anything other than decidedly unattractive, at the very least, and usually kind of scary. I’ll admit that the stranger’s good looks temporarily confused me. Even as he was calling out to me in a hoarse and strained voice and coming towards me at a near sprint, obviously worried that I might drop eye contact and revert to the blank pedestrian stare, I was too absorbed in scrutinizing his remarkable features to notice just how fucked up this guy actually was, but by the time we were facing each other and he asked me if I could do him a really big favour I’d become aware of how his handsome features had clearly been ruined by what I assumed was a pretty serious drinking problem, and when I looked closer into the glacial tint of his eyes it occurred to me that there may be other factors involved in the decline of his good looks aside from alcohol. There was no doubt in my mind that I was being approached by someone who was after my money. Since he came to me, instead of waiting for me to pass by, I knew that he wasn’t going to come right out and ask for it. He was going to try to tell me a story that would pin me down and make it difficult for me to interrupt him to say that I didn’t have any money, because then he’d get all offended and claim that I didn’t let him finish, and that if I had, I would’ve known that he was, in fact, not asking me for money. In fact, the opposite was true, he was offering to give me money. The peremptory way he had raised his hand, the panic in his eyes, the desperate tone of his voice, the ruin of what must’ve been, only a little while ago, fine, youthful features, everything about his approach that betrayed just how shifty and potentially dangerous this stranger was, all of this was immediately clear to me as I stood listening to him relate the elaborate story that he’d come up with in order to con me out of my money. ‘I have this money order,’ he said, and flashed a form in my face as if he wanted me to examine it so I could see for myself that he wasn’t lying. But when I leaned in for a closer look at what did in fact appear to be a standard triplicate money order form (not that I’d ever seen a money order form before he showed me his, but it seemed likely that what he had was the real thing), he quickly stuffed it in his pocket and continued with his story as if the authenticity of the money order form had been definitively established. ‘My car is in the fucking impound lot,’ he smiled here, the way a prisoner might smile at his new cellmate, the sort of smile that implies a shared fate. ‘Can you believe it? I’m parked at my girlfriend’s,’ he gestured vaguely up the street, ‘and thought that at worst they might give me a ticket, not tow the fucking thing.’ I was nodding along impatiently to what he was saying. I’d finally decided that at the first chance to interrupt I was going to tell him that I had somewhere I needed to be, that I was late, and that even if I wanted to help him out, it wasn’t going to happen. But it was at the mention of his girlfriend that I felt the first surge of the anxiety that would bother me for the remainder of our encounter. I knew that everything he was saying was a lie, but until he mentioned his girlfriend I was happy to stand there and let him lie to me. It didn’t matter to me whether the story he was telling was true or false because at that particular moment I just wanted to listen to someone else tell me a story, as long as it was plausible, which is to say that I didn’t believe what he was saying, but it was still important that what he was saying was believable. But at that point, while I was standing there listening to him feed me a line of complete bullshit, even after I had just resolved on breaking off the encounter, I changed my mind and gave up on the idea of interrupting him, of bringing his preposterous story to an abrupt end and going on down the street to some all-night café or diner where I could take my break in peace, and then head back to the basement to continue my life’s work. One moment I was disinterestedly listening to what he was saying but mostly thinking about how I could get away from this guy, and the next I was actually listening to what he was telling me. Even though I knew his story was bullshit, I started to listen as if it were real. I could see his car in the lot, I could see his girlfriend back at her apartment, asleep in a single bed. I know this doesn’t make any sense, that it shouldn’t be possible to know that something isn’t true while simultaneously believing that it is, but I don’t know how else to explain what I was feeling as I stood there listening to the stranger.

Giving Up goes on sale May 12, 2015. Pre-order it here.

Mike will be joining his fellow BookThugs for an evening of readings and celebration at the BookThug Spring 2015 Book Launch and Party at The Garrison, Thursday, April 23, 2015. RSVP to Hazel at hazel@bookhugpress.ca and receive a $5.00 off coupon towards any book purchase at the launch!

He will also join Carellin Brooks, Jake Kennedy, Pearl Pirie, and kevin mcpherson eckhoff for BookThug’s Ottawa launch, as part of the Ottawa International Writers Festival, Sunday, April 26, 2015 @Christ Church (Festival Café), 414 Sparks Street, Ottawa. 

The Montreal launch of Giving Up will be held on Friday May 15, 2015. Mike will be reading from his debut novel, followed by a Q & A with fellow BookThug, Jacob Wren (author of Polyamorous Love Song).

 

Mike Steeves. Photo Credit: Nikki Tummon

Mike Steeves. Photo Credit: Nikki Tummon

❧ Mike Steeves attended University of King’s College in Halifax, where he received a BA in Political Science and English Literature. He completed an MA in English Literature at Concordia University. Steeves lives with his wife and child in Montreal, and works at Con- cordia University. Giving Up is his first full- length book of fiction. Connect with Steeves on Twitter @SteevesMike.

 

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