JJ Lee is back on our radar with great news to report. His novel, Measure of a Man, has been longlisted for the CBC 2018 Canada Reads Contest!
“The story of a father, a son and a suit,” is the subtitle of JJ Lee’s The Measure of a Man, tracing the author’s journey altering his father’s old suit as an act of remembrance. A finalist for the 2012 RBC Taylor Prize and the 2011 Governor General’s Literary Award for nonfiction, the memoir turns suitmaking into powerful prose — and one family’s story into a tale of intergenerational reconciliation.
The shortlist will be announced on Jan. 30th, and until then, we’ll keep our fingers crossed!
JJ Lee has been the feature author of several Pulp Literature Issues: Issue 17 (‘Desdemone’), Issue 8 (‘The Man in the Long Black Coat’), and Issue 2 (‘Built to Love’). As well, the multi-talented author painted a custom cover to go with Robert J Sawyer‘s story ‘Fallen Angel’ in Issue 7.
Here is an excerpt of ‘The Man in the Long Black Coat’ to whet your appetite for more of JJ’s marvelous storytelling style.
A Chthonic Christmas Tale by JJ Lee
I don’t remember if Mother’s eyes said it or if she spoke the words, “He’s just a boy.” I do remember feeling anger and burning shame. I was eleven years old, the eldest. Father had been gone for years. The weekly newsreel Die Deutsche Wochenschau showed boys my age working in factories, making shells and gun parts. In school we were told to be “slim and strong, swift as greyhounds, tough as leather, and hard as Krupp steel.” I thought I was until I saw Mother’s eyes that night in the winter of 1944.
Herr Mundt didn’t care. He had arrived from the larger, Lower Silesian town of G______ in search of what he called ‘recruits.’ He dressed in the makeshift manner of the Volkssturm, the People’s Army. He wore scuffed and muddy railroad boots, brown breeches, and an armband over his grey coat sleeve. On his collar, Herr Mundt had pinned officer pips. He topped his head with the kind of hat a butcher would wear. His attire was theatrical, ersatz, outlandish, wildly officious, and, because he seemed so out of control, menacing. From his gaze I wanted to hide.
“He has five minutes to gather warm clothes and boots, if he has any,” said Herr Mundt.
He stepped back into the snow and shadows and strode off in the direction of the neighbours. Mother shut the door. My legs trembled as I climbed up the stairs and went into the bedroom. I took off my pyjamas and folded them. I tucked them under my pillow. I began to put on as much clothes as I could. I stuffed more warm things into a canvas bag. I went to the other side of the bed and leaned down to kiss Lena, my sister, on her forehead. Her eyes opened.
“You should be asleep,” I said.
“Where are you going?”
“I don’t know.”
She pulled from under the covers a tin soldier, my oldest, most treasured toy.
“Where did you find it?” I fought the urge to snatch it from her and I held out my hand. She put it in my palm. I saw the chipped paint on its shako, the blue on its tunic nearly worn through from play, the bent rifle, and the blankness of its face. It made me think of Father.
“Keep it until I come back.”
I tucked her in, kissed her again, and went downstairs. Mother said, “You can hide in the forest.”
“I don’t think they will let me.”
A pistol cracked. A woman’s wail cut through the night. A minute later, Herr Mundt thumped on our door. “Frau Steiner.”