This week, The Globe and Mail is running excerpts from the five books shortlisted for the 2011 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. Today’s offering is from Dan Vyleta’s The Quiet Twin. Vyleta’s second novel, The Quiet Twin is about a forensic psychologist named Anton Beer who is asked to probe a series of murders in an apartment building in Nazi-controlled Vienna.
This is the second excerpt in the series. Vyleta’s fellow nominees are Clark Blaise, Michael Christie, Patrick deWitt and Esi Edugyan (whose excerpt appeared on Monday). The winner of the $25,000 prize will be announced on Nov. 1 in Toronto.
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When she woke, she was surprised at first to find him there, slumped low in his seat, his chin on his chest, and a line of wet where he was leaking from the mouth. His hands had dropped to either side of the chair, hung lifeless, like the limbs of a marionette. It was easy at this moment to think of him as hers, to play with at her leisure, and she reached out at once to touch his beard, like a schoolgirl on a dare. He was handsome even in his sleep, perhaps more so: a closed man, buttoned up in his soul, the eyes like peeled almonds, half hidden under the broad brow. It was tempting to spend an hour just touching him; lie there, slide a hand upon his thigh. Then she remembered why she had asked him to stay the night and shot up in her bed; shook his shoulder in passing and ran to the window.
“We’re too late,” she hissed. “He’s already got rid of his face.”
To her left, on the other side of the yard, lay the lit-up stage of her obsession. A threadbare curtain billowed in the breeze.
She heard Beer get up behind her, stumble to her side. Together they stared over at the young man across. He had just finished taking off his clothes. One saw the reflection first, staring waist-up from his corner mirror, then the man himself. He stretched, both arms thrown up towards the ceiling, then began to pace the length of his room; lit a cigarette that dangled careless from one limber arm. She breathed and swallowed, excited that he took his time like that, parading for them without haste. The man was well-built, and naked. The electric bulb caught the ridges of his shoulder-blades, and, upon his turn, the sculptured line where the belly veered to avoid the hip and narrowed to the pubic bone below. His manhood was heavy, half-aroused, a purple knotting on his otherwise pale body; was familiar to her from long nights of watching, and shameful, too, for him and for her. Once he seemed to grab for it; scratched his thigh instead. The girl and the doctor cowered in the window like soldiers in a trench: it was what she imagined war to be like, two snipers waiting for their cleanest shot. As they stood and watched, she reached over and took hold of Beer’s hand.
“I’m married,” he whispered, but she did not relent.
“I know,” she said, and placed a cheek against his shoulder. His jacket smelled of cigarettes, and day-old cologne. It upset her when he pulled himself free with sudden violence, and reached across her face to draw the curtain, cutting them off from the yard. There was to his face then that unsavoury quality – at once superior and benign – that she often found in her uncle: the paternal mask of enlightened discipline, calibrated in its wrath. Beer was getting ready to tell her off.
Excerpt from The Quiet Twin © 2011 by Dan Vyleta. Published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.
Dan Vyleta reads at the International Festival of Authors in Toronto Tuesday and Wednesday, and at Hamilton’s Gallery on the Bay Thursday ( www.readings.org).