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Our Homesick Songs

by Emma Hooper

Hardcover, 326 pages, Simon & Schuster, List Price: $26 |


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Book Summary

Aidan and Martha Conner and their children Cora and Finn, residents of a once-idyllic fishing community decimated by mysteriously dwindling fish populations, each struggles in their own way to survive in a town they may soon need to abandon.

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Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: Our Homesick Songs

Our Homesick Songs

That night, at home, the phone rang. Aidan picked it up downstairs, in the kitchen. Finn picked it up upstairs, in the hall, as quietly as he could, breathing sideways out the corner of his mouth.

Aidan, said Martha, everyone on the flight was from here, going there. Everyone.

The hotel line was fuzzy-quiet, far away.

And, she said, the plane was bumpy, less graceful, than I thought it would be.

And, she said, Aidan, when we arrived and all stepped out and down the airplane stairs and all looked around, looked up, there were no mountains.

Of course not, said Aidan, those are miles away. By Calgary.

I was hoping, said Martha. I thought maybe, in the distance.

I know, said Aidan. But no.

• • •

Finn listened until his father hung up the downstairs phone, until the gentle clatter as Aidan went back to putting away dishes, humming like he always did when he was alone. Finn quietly put down his phone and avoided the two creaky boards on the way back to his room.

Before bed, he ducked his head under his bedroom window’s curtain to count boat lights out on the water. Finn had started doing this when he was three and scared because there were high winds and his father was out on-sea. Cora had come into his room to tell him to shut up because his crying was keeping her awake. She told him he should calm himself by counting boat lights on the water, that shining lights meant safe boats.

So Finn counted every night, no matter if his father was out or not, or if the wind was wild or small. Shining lights mean safe boats. They were like upside-down stars.

Sometimes, if she wasn’t mad at him, Cora would stick her head into Finn’s room and ask, How many?

That first year, Finn would say, Twelve, the highest number he could count to.

And then, two years later, Eight.

And then, Five.

And then, Three, all far away and slow.

Until, six years later, when Finn would squeeze and squint his eyes to try and see one, just one faraway fishing-boat light, and Cora would say, How many?

And Finn would say, One, at least one.

And she would say, Really? Still one?

And he’d say, Yes, I think so, still one.

• • •

Tonight Finn didn’t see any. Not one. Since Cora was already in her room, had gone there as soon as they got back from the ferry and closed the door, there was no one to lie to. Zero, he said quietly to himself. Zero lights. He lay down, pulled up his quilt and, through the pillow and the bed and the floor, listened to the faraway song his father was humming. A familiar, old song. He closed his eyes and let it fill him up, let it spread out and over all his other thoughts, his own heavy heartbeat.

• • •

When Finn woke again it was full night. All dark, all quiet. He listened for Cora or for his father, for humming or breathing or snoring, for something, but there wasn’t anything. He tried closing his eyes again, but the silence was too big, too full. He tried counting boat lights again, but there were none. There was nothing but the always-there wind and the always-there waves and him, just him. Miles from morning. Miles from his mother.

He got out of bed, went to the hallway phone and pulled it as far as it would reach toward his room. He dialed the number off by heart, stretched the curly cord around his door and, leaning on his bed, the farthest he could get without the cord breaking, Finn listened to it ring, one, two, three times. Mrs. Callaghan always answered on the fourth ring. Even if she was right there beside it, she would wait, she would count.

Good evening, Finn, she said. She had a satellite phone. It made everything sound underwater.

Hi, Mrs. Callaghan. Finn was whispering; he didn’t want to wake anyone up. Mom left, he said.

I know, said Mrs. Callaghan.

She’s gone, said Finn.

I know, said Mrs. Callaghan. But not for good.

Still, said Finn.

I know, said Mrs. Callaghan.

Will you tell me the story again?

Their story?

Yeah, said Finn.

OK, said Mrs. Callaghan. But don’t worry if you fall asleep. I’ll just keep going.

Until it’s light?

Until it’s light. I promise. Ready?