THE BOOK: From the Edge of the World.
PUBLISHED IN: 2018
THE AUTHOR: David L. Carter
THE EDITOR: Andrew Mann.
THE PUBLISHER: Apprentice House Press, an imprint of Loyola University Press
SUMMARY: Expelled from school and without a friend, young Victor Flowers is sent by a mother at her wit’s end to spend a summer with his paternal grandmother and work in a family restaurant on the North Carolina coast. As if in spite of himself, Victor finds himself unexpectedly swept up into the concerns of this barely remembered branch of his family; his flinty but welcoming grandmother, his ambitious, intelligent, and indomitable cousin Shelby, and his meek Uncle Buzz, whose health is failing fast. Through coming to care for these strangers who are his kin, Victor comes also to a burgeoning understanding of some complex family dynamics that help to at once explain and dispel his sense of himself as having no real future. From the Edge of the World is the story of Victor’s confrontation with—and acceptance of— his beginnings.
THE BACK STORY: It’s really hard to say what the initial inspiration for From the Edge of the World was . . . it began as a short story about my main character grappling with the effects of having been institutionalized by his parents, but it didn’t take long for it to turn into a completely different story featuring the main character, Victor. I know that I am inspired by particular locations, and From the Edge of the World emerges, at least in part, from my fascination with the unique landscape and culture of coastal North Carolina. More than that, though, I think that my own experience of working in a family business when I was very young provided much of the energy that fed my impulse to tell this story. That experience was, for me, much like Victor’s experience of learning to live with and to appreciate and to transcend, when necessary, family history. It took a while to complete. As with all my previous two books, I wrote it during the early morning hours every day before going to work, and it went through several . . . I think three or four drafts . . . before I felt it was polished enough to send out to potential publishers. I found the original beginning unsatisfactory, and it was only after I’d laid the whole thing aside for many months . . . close to a year(!) that I could look at it with eyes fresh enough to detect some rough spots in the narrative and smooth them out. Like most of what I write, From the Edge of the World emerged little by little, one day at a time. I have never outlined a work of fiction, and rarely have a solid idea of what’s going to happen when I get started. It’s as if I have to tell the story to myself as well as to the readers!
WHY THIS TITLE?: The ‘working title’ was ‘Shelby’s Room,’ which was misleading in that it named a secondary character, and on the whole I just felt it didn’t represent the book well enough. Neither did my publisher! It was only when I remembered hearing a good friend of mine, who grew up in the tiny coastal town of Atlantic where much of the story takes place, refer to that town as ‘the edge of the world,’(which, given the location of that town, is apt, as it is located a short swim from the Outer Banks of North Carolina) that I knew I had my title. I felt it made a neat connection between setting and the precarious (at times) emotional state of some of my characters. I’m happy with it, though I generally prefer short, snappy titles.
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? I think that conflict is inherent in every single story ever written or told, and family conflict is particularly rich in possibilities for the development of character. In this book, I found that I was exploring the dynamics within a somewhat unique extended family structure, a family that has undergone a number of disruptions and communication breakdowns, and that in a certain sense is unfamiliar with itself. The process of my main character finding his place within this imperfect, but ultimately loving family fascinated me, and so I enjoyed working it out with him.
“David Carter gets everything right in this tender evocation of adolescence on the North Carolina coast: the landscape (physical and emotional), the idiom, the smell of fried seafood and salt in the breeze. From the Edge of the World takes us to a time and place familiar but entirely new, rendered lovingly by the sensibility of an attentive and assured storyteller.” — Michael Parker, author of The Watery Part of the World.
AUTHOR PROFILE: David L. Carter holds degrees in Theological Studies, English Literature and Library Science, and is a former obituary writer, social worker, and professor of English. Currently and happily employed as a librarian, he is the author of the novels Familiar, From the Edge of the World, The Dead Man and Lustration Rites; as well as the forthcoming The Seven Sacraments, to be published in Spring, 2021 by Apocryphile Press. He lives in North Carolina.
AUTHOR COMMENTS: I want the reader to take pleasure in the book, and to feel as if they have made friends with my characters, that the experience of reading has enriched them somehow. Ideally, I guess, the readers experience will reflect that of the writer, that together we experience, along with my main character Victor, the realization that a sense of home and belonging can be found in the most unexpected of places . . . even amongst those strangers who are our family. As the story begins, Victor is something of a lost soul . . . and it’s really through finding himself taken in by his barely remembered relatives that he begins to feel connected enough to make mistakes, make decisions, and accept the challenge to hope. I think we all need the love and support and even the flaws of some type of family to be able to grow.
They watched the television, which his father had tuned to ESPN, for hours in silence as the nurse periodically checked in and Uncle Buzz seemed at intervals to grow restless, then calm. At one point, during a commercial while Victor’s father was dozing with his head lolling to one side, his mouth open issuing short, soft snores, Uncle Buzz opened his eyes while Victor happened to be looking at the two brothers, in turn, noting that, as facial features go, Uncle Buzz looked like an elongated, narrower version of his father with a touch more sand-colored hair left on the top of his head. As he had seen his grandmother do every time Uncle Buzz showed any signs of consciousness, Victor reached over and touched the dying man’s shoulder and asked him if he needed anything.
Uncle Buzz’ voice was cracked and hushed from disuse. The two syllables that issued from him were not clear.
“What?” Victor said, loud enough to make his father stir and look over. “What’d you say Uncle Buzz?”
“What’s wrong?” Victor’s father said, and Victor held up a hand to shush him. “Uncle Buzz?” Victor said again. “Do you need anything? Are you in pain?”
Uncle Buzz shook his head. “Naw,” he said, cracked but clear. His long forehead was for one moment deeply furrowed, then smooth as paper. “Just come to pick up my shit and get the fuck out of here.” His thumbs and forefingers began plucking at the bed sheets in an irregular, deliberate rhythm. His eyes closed halfway. Victor reached for the call button, but hesitated, too timid, too aware of his uncle’s alertness to yell into the speaker on the wall. He slid out of the recliner, stretched upon standing up, and walked down the hall to the nurse’s station.
“Can someone come check on Mr. Flowers in room 716?” The nurses looked up from their charts at him as if he’s appeared from nowhere. “He’s waking up.” One of the nurses nodded. “Thanks,” Victor whispered, and went back to the room. His father was leaning over Uncle Buzz’s body like a child leaning over a dead jellyfish on the beach, anxious to see, but careful not to touch. “Has he said anything else?” Victor drew up beside his father and whispered.
His father shook his head and reached over to touch, as one might touch a slug, his brother’s bare forearm. “He’s cold as ice.”
“Call Gum,” Victor said. All of a sudden he felt as cool and steady as an iceberg, a solid prominence in the midst of a restless sea. His father, reaching in his pocket, turned and half walked, half ran out of the room and down the hall, in his panic forgetting that there was a phone right beside the bed.
A nurse trotted in; this one female, short, fat and young, with lavender scrubs and tightly curled red hair. She strapped the blood pressure cuff on uncle Buzz, squeezes the bulb, waits. “90 over 50,” she said after a moment, “heart rate 130.” She gave Victor a businesslike pat on the shoulder. “Do you need me to call someone?”
“No,” Victor said.
“All right,” she said. “Would you like us to call the chaplain?”
The nurse nodded. “Is his mother here tonight?”
“My dad is calling her right now.” Victor reached over to touch Uncle Buzz’s strange, cool, yet unmistakably living flesh. The dying man’s breaths were becoming slower with each inhale, and with each exhalation there issued from deep in the man’s chest a faint cooing sound, like the call of a dove. The nurse did not seem to hear it, but to Victor it filled the room. The
melancholy sound was, in fact, nearly unbearable, but Victor grasped the dying man’s hand, and the steadying sense of being an iceberg returned to him. “Oh my gosh, I need his chart,” the round little nurse said, and she bustled out of the room.
Victor was alone, now, with the gradual diminishment of that subtle yet maddening dove’s call. When this faded into silence the dying man gasped and opened his mouth as if to yawn. His mouth was open so wide that Victor could see the dark fillings in his back teeth, but there was no yawn, only a brief, breathy sound like the pant of a dog. Following this Uncle Buzz’s chest rose and fell a couple of times, but Uncle Buzz was gone. Victor released the still supple, but dead hand and stood up straight. The nurse bustled in with her chart, and Victor turned to her and shook his head.
“He’s passed?” She sounded surprised.
Her eyebrows rose. “I wasn’t even gone a minute!” she said, as if Uncle Buzz had done nothing more alarming than get out of bed and going to the bathroom by himself. She looked up at the clock beside the television. “We’ll say 3:36 am.” She smiled slightly at Victor. “You okay?”
Victor sat down in the chair his father had been sitting in. At that moment, his father rushed back in, and over to the bedside. “He’s dead,” Victor said, and his voice was flat.
“He just died.” Victor said. “At 3:36.”
Victor’s father bit his bottom lip and his broad chest swelled. He took a deep breath, held it, and then released a sob. “Oh, Buzzy…” he said to the body on the bed. “Come on, now. Come on.” Victor was reminded of how his father had often tried, with exactly those words and exactly that desperate tone, to palliate Victor’s mother after one of their many fights. The iceberg feeling
melted, and Victor had to leave the room. He brushed past the nurse and stood outside in the hall until he heard the ring of the elevator down past the nurse’s station and his grandmother came running down the hall, with Shelby walking like a convict in tow.
As soon as she saw Victor, Gum stopped short and slumped as if she’d been deflated. He nodded his head slowly, in confirmation. “Oh My God!” she said, and with her hand over her mouth, she pushed past him into the room. Shelby, moving as if she was weighted down by some invisible yoke, brushed past Victor without a glance. He followed them into the room. Gum staggered over to the side of the bed, stood beside Victor’s father, wailed, and bent over the dead body of her son. Victor, still standing in the doorway, could see her reach up to touch his face. For a moment her shoulders, her entire body, shook, then the shaking stopped. “Oh me,” she moaned, “Oh me.”
Shelby attached herself to the wall just to the side of the doorway. From the corner of his eye Victor looked at her as best he could. Her face was pale and still, her eyes wide. The palms of her hands pressed flat against the wall as if she were trying, like a child who does not want to be where she is, to sink into it.
After a few moments Gum turned away from Uncle Buzz and held out her arms toward Shelby, who just stuck like a moth against the wall.
“Shelby…” Gum’s voice was an urgent, choked whisper, “Shelby, come here, honey. Come over here to Gum.”
Shelby didn’t move. Victor stepped a bit further towards her, and she warded him off with a look of pure, impersonal fury. He sheepishly avoided her eyes and walked over to stand behind his father. He gazed down over his father’s shoulder at Uncle Buzz. Someone had closed the dead man’s eyes. Victor wondered if his father had done that. The nurse was in the tiny bathroom, emptying Uncle Buzz’s catheter bag. When she came out, she walked over to Gum, and put her hand on the old lady’s shoulder. “Mrs. Flowers,” she said, “I’m so sorry. “
Gum’s reply was warm but distant, as if she’d rehearsed it. “Thank you, honey. Y’all have been a blessing, you have no idea. I appreciate everything you’ve done.”
The nurse embraced her in a formal way, as if they had just run into each other at church. “I’ve put a call in to Dr. Patel. He’s going to come in the morning to sign the death certificate, unless you need to see him tonight.”
“No, there’s nothing he can do now, it’s all in the Lord’s hands now.”
The nurse made a murmured, wordless sound. “I just need to know what funeral home ya’ll are using…”
Gum paused. “Mason’s, in Beaufort.” On the last word her voice broke. “I just can’t believe it,” she wailed.
Victor’s father turned to her and wrapped his arms around her in what was as much a restraint as an embrace. “You did all you could, Mama,” he said. “He’s in a better place now. He ain’t suffering no more.”
Gum’s back heaved as if she were vomiting against Victor’s father’s chest. The heaves subsided after awhile and she broke away. “Shelby,” she said, in a voice of sudden strength and clarity, “come here, child.”
The nurse bustled out of the room and Shelby, unwilling but helpless, approached the bed, winced, then turned away and pressed against her grandmother, with a gasp and a shudder. She moaned while the old lady stroked down the length of her back. They stood pressed together in this way for a long time, until Shelby, her face wet with tears and her teeth clenched, broke away and bent over her father’s body. “This isn’t right,” she wailed, and tears sprung to Victor’s eyes. “Oh, Daddy…”
Shelby pressed her cheek against her father’s face, now lifeless and unresisting. She sighed, and Gum took her by the shoulders, and murmuring into her ear, led her to the door. But at the doorway, it was Gum herself who could not pass through on her own strength. She returned to the bedside and looked down upon the body for a long time, the clear plastic bag containing Uncle Buzz’s personal belongings, his pajama bottoms, the wallet that he called his billfold, his toothbrush, and his key chain with its AA chip, hung like a teardrop from the crook of her elbow. Minutes passed and she did not move a muscle; it was soon obvious that she couldn’t. Victor’s father walked over and led her away, just as she had led Shelby away. Victor was the last one out the door, the last one to look back at the dead body, and he was astonished by the sudden amber glow that filled the room through the window as the sun began to slowly rise way out of the sea beyond.
They filed past the unit desk, from which the nurses whispered somber goodbyes. Once in the elevator, Shelby, who had been moving along with her forearm covering her eyes, lowered her arm, straightened up, tossed her hair out of her face, and took a deep breath. “That was hard,” she said, like someone who has just finished a set of exercises. Everyone looked at her, then looked away. Victor recognized, in her voice and her words, the echo of a clinician somewhere in Shelby’s past, some social worker or therapist, or maybe even just a teacher. Someone removed and obliged to be supportive, commenting on some anguishing ordeal that a younger Shelby had to endure; someone who’s real concern, in spite of their professional distance, had come through and made an impression; someone who, deep down, Shelby wanted to be; someone to take the place of her crazy mother, her drunken, unreliable father, and well-meaning, bigoted grandmother. Victor wondered if he will ever know whom that person had been, if Shelby even knew from whom she inherited her self possession, her determination.
In the lobby Gum said to Victor’s father, “I don’t know why you didn’t call us sooner.”
To Victor’s surprise, his father accepted that responsibility. “Because I don’t have ESP, Mama!” he snapped. “One minute he was doing fine; the next minute his pressure was dropping. We got the nurse in there every time he so much as twitched his little finger. What more was I supposed to do? Why didn’t they have him on any monitors or something, so we could have known?”
“They don’t do that with no code patients,” Gum said stiffly.
“Maybe they ought to,” Victor’s father said.
“I knew I should have had him at home,” Gum said then to no one in particular. “God knows I was only trying to do what was best…”
“All right, Mama,” Victor’s father said as they approach the revolving door. “No point in all that, now. Buzzy was taken good care of right up to the end, and that’s what’s important.”
“I’m his mother. I should have been with him.” Gum came to a standstill before the motionless gigantic revolving door, bringing the rest of them up short behind her.
Shelby tool the old lady by the shoulders and looked her dead in the eye. “Gum, he’s your son. He should have had to be the one to be with you at your deathbed.” She gave the old lady a gentle shake. “Nothing about this is how it should be. Let’s get out of here, Gum. Come on.” She put her little hand between her grandmother’s shoulder blades and prodded her forward. They followed her out into the parking lot, which the slow sunrise had not yet reached, and they parted company at the flagpole to go on to their separate vehicles, Victor to ride with his father, Shelby with Gum.
“I wouldn’t mind stopping at Denny’s for a bite,” Victor’s father said as the two of them got in the car he led them to. Victor didn’t recognize the vehicle as his fathers, and once he was settled in the front seat he could tell from the dirt-scuffed flyers on the floor mats that it was a rental. He was so preoccupied with this triviality that he did not reply to his father.
“I guess we better not,” his father said, and Victor was at once relieved and sorry. He could tell his father wanted to talk, but Victor needed to be alone.
“Lets’ go tomorrow,” Victor said.
By the time Victor’s father dropped him off at his grandmother’s house, the day had dawned and the pale morning light and the fresh song of invisible birds was like a reproach to Victor’s urge for solitude and sleep. When they pulled into the driveway, Gum and Shelby were standing on the front stoop waiting for them.
Victor’s father did not turn off the engine, but idled while Victor climbed out. Gum came over and tapped on the window of the driver’s seat. “Don’t you want to come in and lie down for a little while? You’ve been up all night.”
Victors father rolled down the window and shook his head. “Martha’ll take the kids to the beach after they get up and have their breakfast. I already called her. I’ll be over later.”
“Well…” Gum’s hands gripped the ridge of glass where the window was lowered. “I appreciate you coming up, son. It means a lot to me.”
“Well I’m not just going to turn around and go right back home, Mama. I’ll be over later today. We’ve got to make arrangements.”
“Well, I’ve taken care of most of it. But I’ll have to call Mason’s and fix a time to go out there. I guess we have to do it today, sometime.”
“Make it around three,” Victor’s father said. “I’ll be by around two.”
Gum reached in and squeezed his shoulder. “Get some rest, son,” she said, “You too, Mama,” Victor’s father said. “Take your pill.” And
who looked bleakly, sullenly down upon them from the front stoop like a gargoyle, he shifted his car into reverse, backed out of the driveway, and drove away.
LOCAL OUTLETS: Quail Ridge Books, Flyleaf Books, So & So Books (all located in Raleigh, NC)
WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Amazon, Barnes & noble, Powell’s.
CONTACT THE AUTHOR: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org