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These Granite Islands

These Granite Islands: A Novel

Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    These Granite Islands
    Book Description:

    These Granite Islandsis an arresting novel about a woman who, on her deathbed, recalls the haunting and fateful summer of 1936, a summer that forever changed her life. Sarah Stonich's debut novel, set on the Iron Range of Minnesota, is an intimate and gripping story of a friendship, a portrait of marriage, and a meditation on the tragedy of loss.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8501-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[viii])
  2. Acknowledgments
    (pp. [ix]-[x])
  3. These Granite Islands
    (pp. 1-4)

    They worked side by side through the warm days, and in the evenings they traveled the fringes of town to the reedy shore, walking arm in arm the way women no longer walk. There they would sit, Cathryn doing most of the talking, her words bridging the whispers of waves.

    Words. Histories, stories, the funny, tragic things women say only to each other.

    “It’s a woman’s duty to astound a man, at least in the beginning.”

    “What do I want in life? That’s easy. Tulips,whitetulips. White lilies, even.”

    Other words, more serious, that made Isobel shield her eyes...

  4. CHAPTER ONE 1936
    (pp. 5-14)

    The summer began with the island, and the island began with Christmas of the winter before. Church bells heralded Christmas, and so in a way rang in the existence of the island. Isobel remembered easily now, clear as the carillon resounding from the bell tower at Our Lady of the Lake on a snowy afternoon.

    On Christmas Eve Victor came home, not with gifts for their children, but with three peppermint candy canes.

    In the back porch he shed snow, his stomping punctuating Isobel’s questions. “Presents?” He grinned, his tone was derisive, sly. “Bah, Isobel, any child can have presents...

  5. CHAPTER TWO 1999
    (pp. 15-29)

    Isobel felt herself rising through dark water. It was a slow ascent from slate depths, light teasing in a far shimmer above. Air bubbles trapped on the underside of the boat gleamed like wriggling snails. Victor was leaning over the gunwale, his face wavering just over the surface, beckoning to her, his fingertips dents of mercury in the water.

    She kicked with all her strength, and with each kick she was leaving the dark below. Finally she was freed to the foaming surface, revealed into the heat of summer. Breathing air blanched with sunlight, she reached out for the boat...

    (pp. 30-49)

    In May, Isobel Howard turned thirty-six years old. She woke early to find the sun not yet risen and the house perfectly quiet. She lay motionless next to her husband, the deep silence revealing a jewel within her cache of memory. She had only to reach up and wrap her hands around the glad weight of it.

    Had it been there all this time?

    She’d been very young, only four or five, and had just been bounced from the back of a careening toboggan full of schoolchildren. Lying on her back on a slope of blue snow in bitter twilight,...

    (pp. 50-72)

    On Saturday Isobel walked to the tailor shop. Victor’s sign on the door,Sorry, closed till September,was crooked. She removed it and hung the sign Louisa had fashioned the night before. The girl had worked so hard bent over her pasteboard, the tip of her tongue anchored sideways, that Isobel couldn’t bring herself to point out the misspelling.Open Mournings, Eight Till Noon.She took another sign from her basket, this one she had made herself with a laundry marker on parchment in a hurried longhand.Millinery.She spread the sign across the window under Victor’s gold and black...

    (pp. 73-85)

    Victor closed Beeks’s tailor shop, put the building up for sale, and crated up the best of the machinery and supplies. When the building sold, the cash would buy them a new start.

    After the wedding Victor cheerfully moved Isobel back to Cypress. He had great hopes for the Iron Range. It was a growing region, loaded with potential for an independent merchant.

    Following the red moving van full of the Beeks’s better furniture, they drove a hundred miles north. Once in town, they stored their belongings in the back of an old stable and took a room at the...

    (pp. 86-104)

    Like an island.

    “What did you say, Mother?”

    “Did I say something? Sorry, I was gathering moss.”

    “So, this woman, Cathryn, she’s a part of that summer?”

    Isobel smiled. “You could say that.”

    Thomas had a paper sack between his feet. He’d settled heavily into the chair next to the bed and pulled out a bagel and a cup of coffee. “Mind if I eat this here?”

    Isobel thought he looked tired. “Go ahead, but aren’t they going to miss you at the office?”

    “I’m the last person they’d miss. No one likes having the boss around all day.”


    (pp. 105-121)

    Isobel stayed away from home two years. When she did come back it was only reluctantly, bringing Victor to meet her parents. He endured endless cups of watery coffee and the stream of her mother’s chatter. When Victor finally asked what he’d come to ask, for Isobel’s hand in marriage, her father nodded solemnly, rose, shook Victor’s hand listlessly, and ambled away to the kitchen. Isobel followed him and reached out. He would not look at her.

    “Your mother and I were hoping for better.”

    Isobel’s hand fell away. “I wasn’t.”

    She walked Victor downstairs to the street. At the...

    (pp. 122-141)

    Monday morning Isobel walked into the shop to find Cathryn standing over the shards of a broken vase, palms pressed to her eyes as if to hold them in place. Purple columbine and white iris lay amid a pool of water slowly soaking into the floorboards.

    Isobel knelt. The vase was shattered as if it had been hurled to the floor, not merely dropped. The stems of the flowers were broken and the irises looked as if they’d been crushed.

    “They were so beautiful, and the vase … and now it’s broken. I’ve broken it.” Cathryn’s shoulders convulsed. “I’ve ruined...

    (pp. 142-154)

    Cathryn’s new watercolours were no longer of remembered hats, but Isobel’s own creations, painted in crisp detail, but with one side fading into shadow or simply unfinished, so that the hats seemed to be emerging from the thick watercolour paper by magic. The faces of the models were regally simple, drawn with only a few strokes of black ink to define a profile; a curving lip, one closed lid, the sweep of a cheek.

    As a surprise, Isobel had six of the paintings framed in slim walnut. She smuggled them into the shop one morning and hung them over the...

    (pp. 155-182)

    With little to do in her first lonely days in Cypress, Cathryn had taken to wandering about on a bicycle left by some previous tenant. On one of her excursions she found a narrow road leading up to the fire tower. The tower stood on the highest point of land in the county, and the rutted road winding to it was so steep and rocky she had to get off the bicycle and push it along. It was the beginning of the warm weather, and by midmorning the temperature was near ninety. The hill ahead seemed endless, yet she felt...

    (pp. 183-197)

    Victor reserved a room at the Hotel Duluth. Saturday after her shift at the Pasal Millinery, Isobel rushed home to pack. She bathed, put on perfume, decided the perfume was too strong, bathed again. She raced out the back door of the boardinghouse so her landlady wouldn’t see her leaving with an overnight bag. She’d left a note saying she was going to see a cousin. Like a criminal.

    She had tried to make herself look as mature as possible, putting on a hat that was much too old for her face and a dress that fell nearly to her...

    (pp. 198-219)

    She asked Cathryn if she was ever afraid God would punish her for her sin.

    “My sin?”

    “Your infidelity.”

    “My infidelity.Mine.It has nothing to do with God. If anyone, it’s Liam I’ll have to answer to.”

    “But what about the church?”

    “Izzy.” Cathryn huffed as she stood up. “You’re too intelligent a woman for that. Don’t go righteous on me. Besides, Jack feels guilty enough for both of us.”

    Isobel turned away, feeling insulted.

    After a moment Cathryn gently pulled her back by the shoulder. “Listen, I’m sorry. I keep forgetting where I am.”

    “where you are? You...

    (pp. 220-227)

    When Thomas walked in, her face was turned to the window and she was reciting something. Her voice was muffled by the plastic tent. He stepped closer.

    As she turned, her voice became more clear.“And woodthrush calling through the fog / My daughter.”

    Her eyes were hooded; even through the barrier he could see the sharp bones of her skull.

    “That’s Eliot, Thomas. You must’ve read some Eliot in school?”

    As she dozed and woke she felt she was opening her eyes as she would open doors. Each door opened to someone waiting. Sometimes it was the nurse she...

    (pp. 228-243)

    Through the afternoon, lightning illuminated the room’s farthest corners in jagged flashes.

    “One-thousand-one, one-thousand-two, one-thousand-three …” A staccato clap of thunder shook the building. The storm was three miles away. Or was it? Isobel tried to remember: did you simply count, or did you count and then divide the total in some mathematical formula? Turning on a small lamp, she sat down on the floor and watched Louisa sleep. So much lightning. She leaned against the felt bolts on the floor and played with her daughter’s hair, curling it into damp loops over her cheek, dabbing perspiration from the girl’s...

    (pp. 244-258)

    Did you believe she was powerless, as she claimed?” Isobel grew thoughtful. After a moment she turned to her son. “I saw a television program once, I think it was during the Vietnam War, some panel discussion. Four famous and respected men were asked for their personal definitions of power. The writer said, ‘Beauty,’ the general said, ‘Fearlessness,’ the rabbi said, ‘Madness,’ and the businessman said, ‘Money.’ Does that answer your question?”

    “I suppose it does.”

    “Jack and Cathryn left me something that summer, something that to this day I cannot define. It was a different view, an awareness that...

    (pp. 259-274)

    Isobel testified at the inquest into Liam Malley’s death. Victor stood close as she gave her curt answers.Yes, Your Honor,orNo, Your Honor.

    She embellished nothing. She did not take off her hat or her white gloves.

    Afterward Victor held her hand and walked her to Our Lady of the Lake, where she lit a dozen candles for Liam’s soul. At the church door she hesitated, then went back and lit another dozen for Cathryn and Jack. Wherever they might be.

    Once home Victor poured her a neat gin, which she gulped before taking the purse from her...

    (pp. 275-299)

    When Louisa came to visit from New York she saw her mother’s hair wild with grey, her demeanor oddly complacent, and her tongue a little dull. The shop was dusty, and when she examined the account ledgers she found payments past due and orders well behind schedule.

    “Mother, what’s this?”

    Isobel looked up from her book on the Canadian fur trade. “Oh, I’ll get to it. I’ve been so busy with the garden. I’ve laid a new stone path — it’s taken me ages.” She glanced back at her book, her voice brightening as she held up a finger. “A...

    (pp. 300-310)

    Isobel’s eyes closed to a veil of sleep. She had fought to stay awake, to run through more possibilities. By all, she could no more be certain of the fates of Jack and Cathryn than she could know what to expect when the splashing within her own chest would cease.

    Her own chest. When Victor tapped her collarbone she woke up in a bed of life vests lining the ribs of the rowboat. Victor had gathered stones into a ring on the sand and had built a fire of driftwood and birch bark. She had dreamed, but the memory of...