Last Night In Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel

By SMW Staff

Eli knelt down on the floor, but it was a moment or two before he could bring himself to lift an edge of the duvet. Her suitcase was gone from under the bed. Later he was out on the street, walking quickly, but he couldn’t remember how he’d ended up there or how much time had passed since he’d left the apartment. His keys were in his pocket, and he clutched them painfully in the palm of his hand. He was breathing too quickly. He was walking fast through Brooklyn, far too late, circling desperately through the neighborhood in wider and wider spirals, every bookstore, every café, every bodega that he thought might conceivably attract her. The traffic was too loud. The sun was too bright. The streets were haunted with a terrible conspiracy of normalcy, bookstores and cafés and bodegas and clothing stores all carrying on the charade of normal existence, as if a girl hadn’t just walked off the stage and plummeted into the chasm of the orchestra pit.

He was well aware that he was too late by hours. Still, he took the subway to Pennsylvania Station and stood there for a while anyway, overexposed in the grey atrium light, more out of a sense of ceremony than with any actual hope: he wanted at least to see her off, even if it had been four or five hours since the departure of her train. He stood still in an endless mirage of travelers passing quickly; everyone pulling suitcases, meeting relatives, buying water and tickets and paperbacks for the journey, running late. Penn Station’s ever-present soldiers eyed him disinterestedly from under their berets, hands casual on the barrels of their M16s.

That night there was a knock on his door, and he was on his feet in an instant, throwing it open, thinking perhaps… “Trick or Treat!” said an accompanying mother brightly. She looked at him, started to repeat herself, quickly ushered her charges on to a more promising doorstep. The whole encounter lasted less than a moment (“Come on, kids, I don’t think this nice man has any candy for us…”), but it remained seared into his memory nonetheless; afterward, when the thought of Lilia leaving seeped through him like a chill, he never could shake the image of that hopeful line of trick-or-treaters (from left to right: vampire, ladybug, vampire, ghost) like a mirage on his doorstep, no one older than five, and the smallest one (the vampire on the left) sucking on a yellow lollipop. He recognized her as the little girl from the fourth floor who sometimes threw temper tantrums on the sidewalk. She was three and a half years old, give or take, and she smiled very stickily at him just before he closed the door.

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Here’s what SMW’s Book Bloggers are saying about LAST NIGHT IN MONTREAL:

Perhaps the strongest aspect of Mandel’s prose is her ability to fully develop her characters – people who are adrift and searching and often in pain, but who attract the reader’s empathy and admiration despite their weaknesses. — Caribousmom

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