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  • Written by Heather McGowan
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  • Schooling
  • Written by Heather McGowan
  • Format: eBook | ISBN: 9780307427632
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Schooling

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Written by Heather McGowanAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Heather McGowan

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List Price: $13.99

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On Sale: December 18, 2007
Pages: 320 | ISBN: 978-0-307-42763-2
Published by : Vintage Knopf
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Heather McGowan’s widely praised first novel introduces a literary artist of consummate skill, and a narrative voice of astonishing sensitivity and sensuousness. Tracking every mercurial shift of her character’s consciousness, the result is dreamy, disquieting, and achingly alive.

Schooling is a portrait of an adolescent girl, thirteen-year-old Catrine Evans, who following her mother’s death is uprooted from her home in America to an English boarding school. There she encounters classmates who sniff glue and engage in arson and instructors who make merciless fun of her accent. She also finds the sympathetic chemistry teacher Mr. Gilbert, who offers Catrine the friendship she so desperately wants–a friendship that gradually takes on sinister and obsessive overtones.

Excerpt

1

Did it grieve me to bring the girl. Of course it did. Add to that her mother just gone and knowing how it is from my own gone young well of course it grieved me. I said as much to her shooting silences all the way up to Chittock Leigh. What a fine June day, I kept saying, Mild isn't it Catrine Catrine to which she always replied, Yes Father. Well, I eventually suggested, Let's have some publegs. Just then we passed the Horse & Trap. Look, bach, here's six for me already. Six? she said, Six, what kind of horse has six legs? Well, I said patiently, What kind of trap is it without a driver. Maybe it's parked, she said moodily to her shoes. I pointed to the upcoming pub on her side but when we drew near saw it was named The Happy Onion. Happy Onion what kind of pub's that, I said, Onion indeed. Finally rousing herself to speak she said, Well it could be that your old coachman had his leg shot off in a war. Yes, I said, And there's no telling the nag isn't a hopalong herself but there are things you might infer like a publican wanting his emblematic men in full possession of their limbs and we discussed some if I was a cheating father or simply fatherlike. The White Hart appeared on her side Six! she shouted and I veered. Six, she repeated thumping the armrest, Six for me. I laughed. Now who's a cheat, why six may I ask. Because there's never a white hart without a hunter to shoot it, Father, you have to infer a hunter. Well I let her have six so we could be neck and neck and she wouldn't sulk coming to see the new school and there it was before I knew it up through mist like a liner. Same as it was the very day my own da brought me though he sprinted away upon arrival whereas we were to tour and have salads with the head. Yes she did go silent again though to her credit never once mewled. We walked through the halls nosing in the dining hall where Brickman used to throw cutlery at innocent backs mine included past the stairs where Hawthorne once told me he loved another boy out through the courtyard to the cricket pitch before it rained. And there it stood glowering across the cultivated green, a bundle of boards, the cricket pavilion. If I was numb until now, well here's where I felt something. The old days, not so bad. Darvish and me having a smoke then walking across to sit on the steps. You could find a form of silence there. It behooved you to take the quiet where you could. Did it smell the same. Why not. Linseed, leather. Sweat. I said, This wasn't such a bad place in my day, Catrine. I replaced a kneepad which had fallen to the floor. I told the story of Mr. Mortimer joining us at dice. I'd related it before. Repetition will make the story myth. She stared out toward School House. I said, I recommend the cricket pavilion as a place for thinking and you'll do plenty of that here among these intelligent minds. She asked, Did Hamey go here, Father and I said, You know very well he did not he was a friend from the old days in Gwydyr. Imagine Hamey at Monstead. What a match that would have been for the old school. No, Hamey left me too. Walking back, such fineness to the old pitch. I kneeled to make a point about the grass. Softer than in Maine, I yelled to drown out my cracking knees, See how all the rain makes their grass soft. On cue, rain began to drop. In the drizzle, I hustled my daughter inside, then swiftly hustled her out again, away from a couple of boys slanting their eyes at us. Grinning louts in cricket whites. Across to the old science labs now a toolshed of some sort. We cleared a patch in the grimy window to spy through. I told her how Prep meant homework, you did it every evening in your classrooms form by form, how Tuck was delectable treats sent from home or bought in town and she'd be given a locker for her swiss rolls and peanut butter, how she'd be assigned a school number we'd sew on her uniform, that Sides was the word for punishing essays which she better not be getting any of. These were important details to get right. No one offers explanations when you begin and asking questions leaves you soft. I described autumn, how the trees go their colors, how the walk down the hill to town becomes a golden walk, how she would play tennis and rounders, learn to handle a violin oh how you'll love it here bach my daughter my dear how you will flourish among the finest minds in

England. And he jumped back, walking quickly away, for there was Stokes offering slices of ham, tomatoes pale from salad cream. Father and the Head were boys together. After lunch they made for the car his hand on her back propelling her gently waving good-bye to the silent Stokes who stood at the top of the steps worrying the patch he wore over one eye. They would return to London he to work she to watching cricket in the park to attending dog shows to losing her way on buses to solitaire in the cracked-up kitchen. Slamming shut the hired car the school was prehistoric dwindling they circled the drive grinding the gears all the way back. Cutting the hedge-banked corners, Father focused on what awaited, such days would she have, minds to shame Einstein, discovering worlds within words, can you imagine the heritage here this place where I once was how you'll love the old school where they debate so fiercely, they read such books, they marvel at science.

2

They sniff glue. In the alley behind the tudor watch shop where the smells marry, vegetables, piss. Brickie you stay away from him, you'll see that boy's a bastard clumsy with the fixative. Bringing up his father's handkerchief to cover mouth and nose. Bastard eyes watering. Speaking thickly through the cloth. Watching her kick away a bottle on the cobbles. Watching her say, How can I hear you through that?

Brickie brings down the handkerchief . . . You're supposed to be looking out, not looking at me.

I told you not to bring her . . . Paul him too he's even worse older, fifth form, waits for the glue. Tips of fingers in trouser pockets just the nails. Scarf a concertina around his ears. Looking one way down the alley then the other . . . A yank . . . muttering . . . God help us.

Paul can be your lookout . . . and into the bright street.

Through the village green past the fountain with the rearing horse. As if she needed Paul with his rattlesnake neck always saying Yank. Past the church, its stopped clock. Tea at five-thirty. Half past. Great mattress of white bread to baffle stomachs needing more than a fleck of fish. Jam sandwiches three times a day. Twice. Be fair, there's marmalade in the morning. Which she eats because Father likes marmalade. Past Wenley Smith. Into the Chemist's.

Lavender grannie soaps in crenulated wrappers, shelves of orthopedic devices, plasters. Pumping a solution for eczema. Never warm at Monstead, not like this at least. Never nearly hot. Crossing to linger at the lip display. Behind her a woman curses her child. Salmon to mud with something plummy in the middle range.

The word chutney. Why. Maybe Ploughman's for Tea. Hard roll, cheese and chutney. Fifteen minutes by the clock above the door. Late for chutney. In the mirror she tries FireFire. Hair chaotic, you could say. She didn't pack a brush and why would Father remember. Forgotten pencils, lost hairpins stick her when she lies down at night.

Form a comb with your fingers. Or use a palm to smooth it. Chutney chutney. Might have seen it on the menu outside the dining hall. Posted there to temper appetite. Gilbert never says anything about her wild hair among the jokes he makes. Calling attention to her teeth when they studied calcium, blonde gags when the topic was hydrogen peroxide. As if she didn't have enough problems with hair.

I know things on you . . . Brickie against the counter, cuffs torn . . . What's on your mouth?

Wiping away FireFire.

What's this do? . . . he's picked up a silver tin from the display.

Eyelashes. You have to wet the paint.

Move it . . . knocking her from the mirror, spitting in the tin.

What is it you know on me?

Brickie, reflected . . . Something . . . mouth open in concentration painting an eyelash masterpiece . . . You'll find out soon enough.

Hastening over, the clerk What, blustering in misbuttoned smock Do You Think, as if they have personally degraded her commented on her exposed roots You're Doing, with rising indignation With That? Brickie all the while unwavering in his careful application Young Man?

Testing it.

The clerk snatches for the tin but leftover glue has affixed it to Brickie's hand launching the blondish woman into an attack of You public school You think you're the Well I'll tell you Think you can Give it over and Brickie into a dramatically pained Ow You're hurting me That's skin Watch it. Until the woman rips free the mascara with a terrifying smile.

Calm yourself . . . Brickie rubbing his palm, batting thick eyelashes . . . You're hysterical.

Brickie's downturned mouth like that of his trouty father. The ambassador presented Catrine with five dead fish It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance so she understood that it was a hand being offered. That she was to shake it. Then the ambassador handed Brickie a handkerchief. Politely indicated nose care.

Brickie and his eyelashes turn to hang elbows against the glass counter . . . You're a snob.

Lend me some money.

What for?

Just lend it to me.

If her hair were wet first she might get a comb through it. What could Brickie possibly know on her. How much did a comb cost. Gilbert was two days away. Bath night tomorrow. Enough time to shampoo.

3

Damp on the washroom ceiling. A spot to make Father say, Atoll of some sort, these curlicues of coral. What will you have, Catrine? More round island. Sicily? Toes add HOT simian dexterity hotter hotter. Draped, she is an atoll. Under water. Quiet. Not for long. A burst, the cubicle door slams open. And she's up in a tidal wave. Maggone at the faucet, cuffs rolled to the shoulder an orderly for the mad, That's Enough Hot, dashing a hand in the water. Why Why must she be so selfish clacking out on selfish (tap shoes? metal on her heels?) selfishshellfish resounds down the row of cubicles to lukewarm girls in their selfless baths. Selfish mingling with Scrub Yourself Sophie Marsden Not Down There Mind clack clacking down toward Mareka toward Siobhan's obstinate nicotine stains Better Not Be Henna Hathaway clack clack Maggot's prison warden strides Sophie's hanging over the wall now miming scrub scrub now lolling her head Look, I'm Jesus now singing football songs Had a sheep oh and it was good to me. Hearing Sophie's song as she curls sinking deaf, weightless, dead. If Isabelle, no. Once apple trees were their horses. Once rebellions were led across deserts.

4

Mr. Brickman, I can tell, has made steady progress on the copper oxide experiment from last week. In fact something tells me it's become an obsession, What on earth could be the effect of oxygen on a copper wire . . . Gilbert waist against his lab bench . . . That right Brick? Astounded by the possibilities of reactions when a catalyst is added? Lost your appetite, have you? Touch of insomnia? And the odyssey from Tea to Prep, undoubtedly for you it includes cogitating the differences between fluorocarbons and hydrocarbons.

Sir? . . . Brickie plays the fool, the boys laugh . . . Sorry sir?

But why is Gilbert paying all the attention to damn--her hair is clean. Mostly straight. She arrived early to claim a white lab smock not an ugly green one. Why won't he notice.

In any case . . . Gilbert smiles with one side of his mouth . . . I'm certain that once again you will awe 3X . . . lab coat propped open . . . With your intellect . . . waist cocked between thumb and forefinger . . . Am I right, Mr. Brickman?

Sir.

A game between the two of them and she with washed and smooth hair bleached smock leaning as Gilbert does against a scarred wooden lab bench waiting. Next to her, Vanessa tapes her leaking fountain pen. On her other side, an empty space for Siobhan still smoking her morning cigarette behind the cricket pavilion. Next to Vanessa, Sophie with a finger dug in her ear. And on down the row. All of them waiting standing waiting for the lesson.

He is calling her name.

Yes, sir?

Was that a yawn?

Sir? I don't think so.

You don't know whether you were yawning?

I. I guess I was.

Guess. Yes Americans guess a lot don't they? What is it Evans? Too much bed and not enough sleep, is that it?

And he has made a remark again like the ones about her hips and teeth. Everyone is laughing even Sophie even Vanessa arranging burettes. All of them.

I don't know. Sir.

Dropping his coat and waist, Gilbert has turned away from her, from her foul yawning, from her too much bed, turned to the board with chalk, dismissing her disgusting hair, her useless smock.

Vanessa licks a finger to flip a page in her exercise book. Sophie steps back to wink but she was laughing only a moment ago.

Gilbert's bleached collar defines the back of his neck. Hairline. Broad back right arm raised chalking out 2Cu plus O2 equals To see you oh.

In the front row Brickie has turned his back to Gilbert. Elbows against the lab bench, he stares at her. She raises her eyebrows. Curls her lip. A catalyst but he won't react. Won't balance the equation. She stares. He stares. Stubborn both. Brickie with his black hair his bastard hair in his eyes leaning as he did at the Chemist's. Upper lip up to no good.

Siobhan slides in past Nessa past Sophie dragging the last and too small lab coat shedding wrappers gold twix and old tests reeking of cigarette smoke ignoring Gilbert's In your own time in your own time.
Heather McGowan

About Heather McGowan

Heather McGowan - Schooling
Heather McGowan's play The Return of Smith was staged at Lincoln Center's Living Room series at HERE in 1997. She lives in Providence, Rhode Island.
Praise

Praise

“Stunningly beautiful, earnest and aching and astonishing and sad.... The most haunting novel of the year.”–Detroit Free Press

“Mesmerizing.... Does a dazzling job of conveying the hormonal impatience and doomy romanticism of adolescence.”–The New York Times

"A thrilling, crystalline novel of adolescent consciousness, a brilliantly unflinching marriage of lyricism and erudition, a book which, like the best books, contains a whole, urgent, and unforgettable world." --Jonathan Lethem, author of Motherless Brooklyn

  • Schooling by Heather McGowan
  • June 25, 2002
  • Fiction - Literary
  • Vintage
  • $17.00
  • 9780375714320

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