Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Dirty Dozen, with Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer

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Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer

From fighting bears to keeping dark family secrets, the protagonist of All the Broken Things (Random House Canada) by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer, Bo, is far from a regular teenage boy in 1980s Toronto.

When a carnival worker sees Bo's prowess as a scrappy streetfighter, he brings him into the circus' bear fighting circuit, opening up the narrow world Bo has experience in Toronto's Junction neighbourhood. But when the carnival's owner begins to pursue Bo's disfigured sister for the freakshow, things begin to spin out of control.

Today we are talking to Kathryn as part of our Dirty Dozen series, where authors volunteer twelve quirky and unexpected facts about themselves, taking you behind the book and into their lives. Read on to hear from Kathryn about comforting a ghost, looking in the mirror naked and one persistent suitor.

You can also check out the gorgeous book trailer for All the Broken Things to whet your appetite for the book.

  1. The third dimension causes me grief. In the same way, the real never truly makes sense. It spills over into the unreal and then I can’t tell them apart. It’s like when you look at a word for a long time and it stops meaning anything. Like the word “the” —
  2. Similarly, whenever I see a ghost, I repress the fact I’ve seen it. I say something like, “It’s a subliminal accretion of history impinging on my psyche.” I say, “It’s not a sad child sitting on the stairs to the third floor; it’s a memory.” And in this way, the word “ghost” becomes the word “spectral,” which is less fearsome, because it’s not true.
  3. My mother says, “You’ve always been funny.” But I remember drawing elaborate cartoons with all kinds of captions on them, such that I myself would laugh and laugh, but not one of the adults would “get” them.
  4. Once, waiting at the end of a country laneway to be fetched from an art lesson, when I was maybe six of seven years old, a fresh oil painting of a verandah in my hand, I heard, deep in the bush, the drumming and chanting of the Indians. They sounded exactly as you would imagine them to sound. Unreal.
  5. The little girl on the stairs conveyed to me, without saying anything, that she was sad to have died. Every time I went up or down the stairs, I whispered, “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay.”
  6. That was the second house in Toronto, the one in which, after eighteen years of living in the city, I finally was able to write a story set in Toronto. Understanding space is such a challenge for me. It takes me a long time to know where I am.
  7. I do things to try to fix this problem. Every day, at least once, I look at my naked self in a mirror. Up against the photoshopped beauties, this body and this face constitute an outrageous spectacle. I like them, though. I like the way they alarm me every time again. “No way,” I think. “No freaking way.” Sometimes, I am astounded to even have a body.
  8. In Pakistan, in 1988, a beautiful young man wandered after me through a museum, asking me, over and over, “Are you marriaged?” The artifacts had provocative, useless captions like “a bone” and “old pot.” I still feel badly for lying to the young man. He looked so terribly rejected. I miss him sometimes.
  9. Do you remember Lola popsicles? They were shaped like pyramids. Do you remember when the helicopters hovered over your village? Do you remember grape-flavoured Hostess potato chips? They were purple. Or do you remember when you died way too young? If all the news is real, and if everything that ever happened is real, then the awful thing that happened to you, should also be my awful thing. This is why we have ghosts, I figure. To remind us that we should be kind. We have stories for the same reason. (This is an elliptical way of telling you something about myself. I’m doing my best here; I am.)
  10. The first time I died was in my sleep. It was an old boyfriend shooting me in the head through the front door window. Even when I woke up, this surprised me. I didn’t really think he had liked me all that much.
  11. The world is outrageous to me. It alarms me. I can’t believe anything of it, and so I try to remember that none of it is there for me to believe. It’s there to wonder at, to be enchanted by, to try not to trip over it, and to just bear witness.
  12. My favourite joke these days is the one about the magician who drives down the road and turns into a laneway.


Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer is the author of the novels Perfecting and The Nettle Spinner, which was a finalist for the Amazon.ca First Novel Award, and the short-story collection Way Up, which won the Danuta Gleed Award and was a finalist for the ReLit Award. Kuitenbrouwer's short fiction has been published in Granta, The Walrus, Numéro Cinq, Joyland and Storyville. She is an award-winning instructor with the University of Toronto's School of Continuing Studies.

For more information about All the Broken Things please visit the Random House Canada website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

Check out all the Dirty Dozen interviews in our archives.

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