From Governor General's Literary Award finalist Janice Lynn Mather comes this mesmerizing collection of linked stories that explores the beauty and brutality of being alive.
SET AGAINST THE VIVID backdrop of The Bahamas, these eighteen luminous and haunting stories introduce us to women and girls searching for certainty and belonging as they navigate profound upheaval. The characters are bold and big-hearted, complex and intimately familiar. They grapple with the bonds of kinship and the responsibilities of parenthood, with grief, longing, betrayal, coming of age and what it means to be a woman.
Little girls disappear from their beds one lush August.
A jogger with a secret diagnosis makes a sinister discovery on the beach.
An island wakes to blood pouring from its taps after a pastor's tirade.
An immigrant mother new to Vancouver struggles to plant roots in a city that doesn’t want her or her son.
Tinged with folklore and the surreal, Uncertain Kin is grounded by its emotional richness and breathtaking insight into our relationships with others—and ourselves. This extraordinary collection signals the debut of an important new voice in literature.
About the author
Janice Lynn Mather is a Bahamian writer with an MFA from the University of British Columbia. Her first novel, Learning to Breathe, was a Governor General’s Literary Award finalist, a BC Book Prize finalist, shortlisted for the 2019 CCBC Amy Mathers Teen Book Award, a YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults selection, an Amelia Bloomer’s Top Ten Recommended Feminist Books for Young Readers pick, and a Junior Library Guild selection. Facing the Sun is her second novel for young adults. Janice Lynn lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, with her family and a growing collection of dust bunnies.
Excerpt: Uncertain Kin (by (author) Janice Lynn Mather)
Excerpted from "Malcolm's Shoe" in Uncertain Kin
They came in the middle of the night, fists on the wooden front door, beating till it rattled in its frame. Mummy crawled into my room like a baby, pulled me out of the bed onto the floor, her hand clapped over my mouth, though I didn't need it, no way was I going to scream, to speak, to even gasp. Shoved me under the bed, the tiles cold. Dusty down there and hard to breathe. She rolled her body, a barrier between me and whatever might come. The fists getting louder. Was it two, three guys, seven? Feet rustling through the grass below my window, voices calling, "Hey, come out here, boy, we know you in there, you better bring your ass out here, better hurry up." From Malcom's room, nothing. I wondered if Mummy had hidden him someplace, shoved him under his own bed, crumpled him into the closet, a pillow jammed in his mouth. Then his voice breaking loose from inside his room, curling out.
"What y'all want?"
"Boy, you know what we want. Where the thing?"
"I ain' know what y'all talkin' bout. Come out my mummy yard."
Then the sound of something hard thudding against the window panes. "We ain' goin' nowhere. You come out here. Or you want us come in there?" There was a bang, a tremendous thud, like a body, a living body, a body tight with anger, throwing itself against the door. The house shook.
"Get out my yard. I callin' the police on you."
The door thudded again, heavier this time. I squeezed my eyes shut, struggling for air. Mummy's nails dug into my shoulder. A third thud. And then a crash, glass breaking. I bit down on my hand to keep my scream in. Squeak of tennis shoes on tiles, down the hall, to the kitchen. Then the slow click of the locks on the kitchen door. The bolts drawn. They were expecting Malcolm at the front, wouldn’t know he had made it to the back side of the house.
"Don't go out there!" Mummy shouted, throwing her voice after him.
And then they were upon him. Thick voices and pounding fists landing, shoes hammering the ground, and Malcolm's voice, twisted like a bedsheet pulled loose from a clothesline and wrapped strangely, wrapped wrong, around a tree branch. And Mummy's wailing long and loose, flapping free. Then it stopped. Footsteps pulling away, the voices hushed. The opening of car doors, engines starting, then drifting away. Mummy's wailing began to slow, the windstorm that had caught it settling down until it lay limp.
My face was wet. I freed myself from my mother, crawled out the other side of the bed, jostling two old books, a lost toy out of my way. Mummy let out a last, shuddering cry that crashed through the room in waves. And then silence.
I turned on every light I could to scare the fear away. The hallway light, shining into Malcolm's room, the bed unmade but nothing else in disarray, his boy smell, sweat and salt and stale socks and heavy cologne and a slight, almost hidden whiff of smoke, drifting out. The living room, everything in its proper place, the picture of Grammy on the wall next to Grampy's, even though they hadn't slept in the same bed in years, the carpets clean, the curtains still drawn tight against the night's dark. The dining room, chairs tucked in, table cleared of last night's dishes. And the front door still now in its frame, the chain on.
I turned on the kitchen light, yellow spilling over the cupboards, the fridge, the counter, tidy and neat. Malcolm's smell in here too, musky with sleep. And the back door, shut. I pulled it. It was locked.
My fingers shaking, I fumbled with the lock, its metal slick and cold. The door stuck, reluctant to give in. I pulled harder and it gave way with a creak.
The yard was lit in flickering white. This gave me comfort. Nothing bad happens with the outside light on.
"Hey, Malcolm?" Barefoot, I stepped out, the concrete patio, the cold grass, the guava tree's leaves reaching down to brush my arm.
The grass was matted down. Here, there, splashed with red wet. No.
"Malcolm?" My voice came out tight, high.
I saw his shoe. I recognized it, a white and red sneaker, on its side in the grass, loosely laced, never tied. I turned it over. Size eleven. It was his.
And then a rustle from the back of the yard and I grabbed it, this part of Malcolm, and ran for the door, slammed and locked it behind me. Through the door, then, the small call of a bird, confused, crying dawn in the thick of night.
Shortlisted for the 2023 Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize
A CBC Books Best Canadian Fiction Book of 2022
"Searching for identity and belonging during moments of upheaval, these complex characters are intimately familiar. From the responsibilities of parenthood to grief, longing and betrayal, the stories of Uncertain Kin grapple with what it means to be a woman." —CBC Books
"Uncertain Kin weaves nuanced portraits rooted in home and community. . . . Janice Lynn Mather's portraiture captivates with its careful attention to unresolved dualities. . . . [An] immersive and subtle debut collection." —Vancouver Sun
"It's perfect detail that draws you in to Janice Lynn Mather's world. . . . Each of these stories is crafted from heart and gut, from knowledge of craft, and that piece beyond—the piece that causes us to think writers are born as writers. . . . The kinship in juxtaposition, of place and people, of reader and page, is here, with certainty." —The British Columbia Review
"Affecting and unsettling. . . . Haunting yet full-hearted. . . . Mather's craft shows itself in restraint. . . . The pleasure of reading Uncertain Kin is that some of its secrets are left unspoken." —Stir
"These stories travelled through me, like a shuddering sound system, like a bolt of menace, like a thrilling crush. They made me feel many things deep in my bones. Janice Lynn Mather is a remarkable writer, a conjurer of beautiful weirdness and eerie minutiae. This utterly absorbing collection is a reminder that sometimes reality must bend to let in more truth. A dazzlingly original debut." —Kyo Maclear, author of Birds Art Life
"In Uncertain Kin, Janice Lynn Mather enchants with striking and deeply compelling prose. The women and girls in this stunning collection of linked stories are flawed and persistent; they are vivid in their desires. In Mather's deft hands, The Bahamas becomes as much a character as it is the lush backdrop against which these femmes assert themselves and grapple with themes of longing and belonging. These characters and their plights will stay with me for a long while. At turns heart-wrenching, chilling, hypnotizing and redemptive, Uncertain Kin is a collection I will return to again and again." —Francesca Ekwuyasi, author of Butter Honey Pig Bread
"Here's one important question: why waste little girls? Here's one incredible silencer: they can be such nice things. This is an intricate series of snapshots into the big and little lives of girls and women, sort of like watching a movie in slow motion. Janice Lynn Mather is a writer of vivid sensibility: dreamlike, dangerous, daring. What you get with Uncertain Kin is an endless summer romance, a quiet dinner in the middle of an earthquake. I just love that kind of juxtaposition." —Téa Mutonji, author of Shut Up You’re Pretty
"Uncertain Kin is an exhilarating, heart-aching collection of stories sewn together by the soft but resilient thread of the Black experience, which Janice Lynn Mather illuminates in all its beauty and hardship. Characters are made real and raw with authentic, rich dialogue, while places and spaces come alive through vivid imagery. The salty ocean, the kitchen table and the liminal space of uncertainty are simple settings made riveting, emotional and deliciously uncomfortable by Mather's creative genius. One thing is for certain, the stories of Uncertain Kin must be told, and who better to tell them than Bahamian-born Mather and her mighty quill." —Cicely Belle Blain, author of Burning Sugar
"Uncertain Kin is an elegant collection, beautiful and engaging in equal measure. Mather writes with alluring, meticulous and dedicated prose, opening whole lives in the span of a few thousand words. The women in these stories are resilient, yearning and human; and the stories themselves are diverse in their richness, remaining with you long after you leave these pages." —Terese Mason Pierre, author of Surface Area and Manifest