About this book
An honest and unaffected collection of human experiences that deftly tackles themes of grief, loss, missed opportunities, and the pain of letting go.
The stories in Michael Melgaard’s poignant debut collection, Pallbearing, offer candid snapshots of life in a small town, where the struggle to make ends meet forces people into desperate choices. In “Little to Lose,” a son confronts his mother over the crushing prison of debt created by her gambling addiction. The aging divorcee in “Coming and Going” spends her days in paranoid pursuit of evidence with which to incriminate her neighbours in the derelict trailer park where she lives. And in “Stewart and Rose,” lifelong friends find love after their respective partners die — and then face loss all over again.
With deceptively spare prose that carries outsized emotional weight and pathos, Melgaard brings his characters to life in sharp-edged portraits and all-too-human dilemmas, creating engaging stories that resonate with honesty and depth, and linger in the imagination.
The coffin was awkward to carry; the weight threw off the pallbearers’ balance, and their closeness to each other caused them to walk in a short, shuffle step. Jonathan was surprised by the weight; it seemed heavy, at first, but a few steps later, he wondered if maybe it was actually lighter than it should be. The wood was, after all, quite dense. But by the end she had been so thin, something he then tried not to think about. He decided that he had no basis for comparison. There was no reason to think the coffin was either heavy or light; experientially, it was exactly the weight all coffins he had ever handled weighed.
Jonathan tried to counterbalance by throwing one arm out to the side, but then thought having one arm flapping maybe looked disrespectful. Instead, he put it across his body and used it to help with the weight. The others struggled too. The natural burial field was riddled with little holes and clods of dirt. He wondered again why they hadn’t lifted it up on their shoulders. He was sure that’s what they should have done, but it was too late to do anything about it.
Then they were coming up on the hole in the ground. There were wide, canvas straps across it, the straps wrapped around a metal frame so the coffin could rest over the grave. The pallbearers walked on either side and stopped. A pallbearer opposite Jonathan shifted his grip, the coffin rocked and when it stopped, something inside kept moving for a moment. Jonathan tried not to think about that while they lowered the coffin into place.
About the Author
MICHAEL MELGAARD is a writer and editor based in Toronto. His fiction has appeared in Joyland, the Puritan, and Bad Nudes, among other publications. He is a former regular contributor to the National Post’s book section and has written articles and criticism for the Millions, Torontoist, and Canadian Notes & Queries. Pallbearing is his first book.
Awards and Praise
PRAISE FOR MICHAEL MELGAARD AND PALLBEARING:
“A rich and compelling collection, Pallbearing is a powerfully restrained debut showcasing the craftsmanship and deep emotional intelligence of its author.” — Open Book
“Melgaard’s quiet genius, like so many Canadian short-story writers before him, is in finding remarkable drama in the mundanities that make up an unremarkable life.” — Quill & Quire
“Michael Melgaard’s stories are deceptively still on their surfaces, but just below run cross-currents of the darkest human emotions: fear, rage, and love. Melgaard’s debut collection features characters in desperate situations, attempting to wrangle a drop of sense out of things while accepting or standing up to their fates. The stories in Pallbearing are crisp, ruefully funny, and unsentimental, each one a portrait on a grain of rice. A wonderful debut.” — Michael Redhill, Scotiabank Giller Prize–winning author of Bellevue Square
“These powerful, empathetic stories are about the burdens people carry and the debts they owe — at work and at home, to their friends and family, and sometimes, heaviest of all, to themselves. With remarkable compression and insight, Michael Melgaard cuts straight to the heart of people’s lives — in just a few pages I came to know these characters so well they felt like my own neighbours, and I’ll remember them for a long time. This is a striking debut by a writer to watch.” — Alix Ohlin, Scotiabank Giller Prize–shortlisted author of Dual Citizens
“With DNA traces of Raymond Carver and Kent Haruf, Michael Melgaard’s Pallbearing conjures up a wallop of small-town pathos and dead-end desperation that will leave you shattered. These stories may be deceptively spare in their construction, but they are rich and abundant in their impact.” — Michael Christie, Scotiabank Giller Prize–longlisted author of Greenwood
“Michael Melgaard does the hardest of things: the poetry of the everyday. Tough, heartbreaking, and astute, these stories move with grace through the margins of society, never condescending, never inauthentic. Pallbearing gives voice to the ignored, the invisible, the forgotten, and charges their lives with significance.” — Tamas Dobozy, Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize–winning author of Siege 13
“In spare, muscular prose, Michael Melgaard illuminates the moments, big and small, that make us human. But don’t be fooled by this deceptive simplicity — these stories will sneak up on you and knock the breath from your lungs. Pallbearing is a stunning debut.” — Amy Jones, author of Every Little Piece of Me
“Each of the stories in Pallbearing is its own universe, orbiting around the exquisite edges of joy and sorrow. In prose at once searing and gentle, Michael Melgaard takes us through the infinitely tiny, infinitely vast moments that make up his characters’ lives. In this collection, whole worlds live in the span of a gesture, a deep and riveting kind of magic.” — Amanda Leduc, author of The Miracles of Ordinary Men