Archive for the ‘This Ramshackle Tabernacle’ Category

The following is Steven W. Beattie’s review of “Eight-ball” from This Ramshackle Tabernacle, featured over at That Shakespearean Rag, part of Beattie’s 2012 “31 Days of Stories.” Other highlights from “31 Days of Stories 2012” include stories by Nathaniel HawthorneGloria SawaiRamona DearingHerman MelvilleBarbara GowdyZsuzi Gartner, and (of course) Alice Munro.


From This Ramshackle Tabernacle

fix v. 1 tr. mend, repair. tr. put in order, adjust. … n. slang a dose of a narcotic drug to which one is addicted.

– The Canadian Oxford Dictionary


You forgot your wrench, man! the waiter calls to Harold, who is halfway out the door. The young clean-shaven guy walks over to Harold and hands him the shiny new monkey wrench and asks: So what’re you going to fix with this?

I’m good at fixin things, Harold mumbles as he staggers out onto the sidewalk. Goin to go fix things. – “Eight-Ball”

Harold, the protagonist of Samuel Thomas Martin’s dissection of drug-addicted urban hell, comes by his desire to fix things naturally. As the story opens, he is seen in flashback talking to his father, who is working on the underside of a Chevette. “Friggin Carl could’ve drained the oil before he let this piece of crap car rust in his yard,” Harold’s father complains as his son stands, defiant, on the brink of leaving his small-town Ontario home to strike out for the big city of Toronto. Harold’s father has tried to fix what’s wrong with his son by administering copious corporal punishments when Harold was a boy. A budding violinist and a “Goth” in the eyes of his prejudiced father (“even though [Harold] never wore leather, painted his nails black, or listened to heavy metal”), Harold leaves home with a grand total of $180 in his pocket and dreams of making a mark for himself. “If he could just get to Toronto he’d be able to land a bar gig – that was the only thing in his life, at that moment, that he was certain of.”

Like so many starry-eyed dreamers before him, however, Harold finds the urban environment much more inimical than he’d supposed. “You need cover tunes, okay?” the manager of one establishment tells him. “And a back-up band. Violin’s great if you’re Stravinsky or some crazy stunt like Ashley MacIsaac’s.”

The problem is that Harold is not Stravinsky, not by a long shot. He plays reels and jigs on the violin like his grandfather, who only played “when he was drunk off his ass.” Harold “played best when he was drunk too,” a testament to the cycle of alcoholism that repeats itself down through generations of a family, and makes him an easy mark for Neb, a dealer in downtown Toronto who gets the aspiring musician hooked on crack cocaine, in part by telling him about all the “big-shot users” who dabbled in the drug:

“Like that Sir Conan guy.”

“The barbarian?”

“No! Not friggin Schwarzenegger! I’m talking about the guy who made up that detective Sherlock Holmes. He was a crack-head and his character was a crack-head. In those days crack-heads were the detectives and now the detectives are after the crack-heads.”

No one is going to give Neb points for historical accuracy, but in the cold of a Toronto winter, with nowhere to turn and nobody to offer him a break, Harold succumbs to his sales pitch and finds himself spiralling deeper and deeper into uncontrollable addiction.

This is not blazingly original material, having been thoroughly covered already by everyone from William S. Burroughs to Hubert Selby, Jr. to Irvine Welsh. What elevates Martin’s story is its canny structure, shuttling back and forth between the present – which finds Harold being ejected from a bar where he has got stinking drunk and heading in the direction of the University of Toronto to locate a music professor who, in Harold’s mind, denied the violin virtuoso his big break – and the past – which traces the downward trajectory of Harold’s unfortunate experience on the streets of Toronto.

In the narrative past, Harold attempts a disastrous impromptu audition for the professor’s secretary, who ends up calling university security to have him thrown out. “I was trying to fix things!” he yells at the men who unceremoniously toss him and his violin to the curb. Although the idea of swallowing his pride and returning home to his father is, on one level at least, abhorrent, Harold decides to purchase a new monkey wrench as a peace offering and secure a bus ticket away from the city. He is sidetracked, however, by an offer of cheap shots at a campus bar, which leads to an unfortunate encounter with his would-be musical mentor. The wrench, a tool often employed to fix things, ends up being the instrument that lands Harold a kind of notoriety, although not precisely the kind he was hoping for.


The average shelf-life for a book (even a bestseller) is a year, so it was awesome to find this review of This Ramshackle Tabernacle almost 2 years after its publication in June 2010.

Steph VanderMeulen, over at Bella’s Bookshelves had this to say about TRT:


“This is a powerful book. It deserves much more attention than it’s had, though it’s not been ignored, either, having reaped positive reviews and also been a finalist for both the 2010 Winterset Award and the 2011 ReLit Award for Short Fiction.

“The book’s certainly had much attention from me. As I did with This Cake is for the Party, I got intimate with it: I brushed my teeth in front of it, I sweated on the treadmill with it, I ate cottage cheese and tomato and crackers and peanut butter with it; I spattered pickle juice on it. I dogeared the pages, I folded them backwards over the spine as I read. I flattened the spine, I shoved the book in my bag every morning and after every time I’d sneaked a few minutes with it at work. I slept with it by my side. I loved this book, for so many reasons, but mainly because while I was reading it I was deeply moved, so much so that sometimes I had to put it down after a story, only for a minute or two, to digest what I’d just read and quietly admire (er, and resent!) Martin’s skills. In Salty Ink, Chad Pelley, fellow East Coaster and author of Away from Everywhere […], wrote of This Ramshackle Tabernacle: ‘A compelling [collection]. It is emotionally engaging and impressively written. [This] book will rattle you.’

“For once an endorsement is absolutely true. (Actually, they all are in this case.) The book did rattle me. I was disturbed and uncomfortable reading some of it, but it was a good kind of disturbed, the kind that makes you admire the writer’s ability and skill, that compels you to keep reading.”

Read the whole review here.

This past week was great and gut-wrenching experience for me. The great part was being nominated for the Winterset award and getting to hang out with fellow nominees Craig Francis Power and Russell Wangersky: two excellent writers shortlisted for their debut novels. It was awesome (and humbling) to be able to share the stage with them, hear them read and talk candidly about their work, and “pretend” with them that we all knew what we were doing at Government House in St. John’s.

I don’t know of any of Russell’s flubs in protocol but Craig forgot his tie and I accidentally skipped the receiving line and crassly called the lieutenant-governor “John” instead of “your honour.” But we muddled through the ceremonies, tried not to embarrass ourselves, and enjoyed the fancy food and drink.

Those were the great aspects. The gut-wrenching part was not waiting to hear who won: not for me anyway. My attention was focused on not letting food poisoning from the day before get the better of me. I would much rather have been nervous than worried that I was going to harf smoked salmon in the middle of John Crosbie’s speech to us writers whose “creative lying” and “nefarious ways” he is glad to support!

It was truly an honour to be grouped with writers like Russell and Craig, to get a nod from writers like Kenneth J. Harvey, Libby Creelman, and Randall Maggs, the judges of this year’s award.

If you haven’t had a chance to read Russell’s or Craig’s novels, you should put them on your summer readings lists. You won’t be disappointed. They are two astonishingly original voices with unique prose styles and fresh fictive visions of the world (St. John’s in particular). And they are both wickedly funny!

The Toronto Star had this to say about Russell Wangersky: “It’s as if the wickedly observant Alice Munrow and the bawdy Al Purdy had produced a love child, by way of a gritty newsroom.” And Newfoundland poet Patrick Warner has said of Craig Francis Power’s debut novel Blood Relatives that it “brings Newfoundland to light in all her dark comic glory.”

So, a cyber toast to my fellow nominees and an especially hearty e-congrats to Russell, this years BMO Winterset Award Winner!

If you’re interested in hearing any of us read just click on our names below. (These readings were originally aired on Sat. March 26th on CBC’s Weekend Arts Magazine with Angela Antel).


Russell Wangersky, reading from his BMO Winterset award-winning novel The Glass Harmonica.

Craig Francis Power reading from him award-winning novel Blood Relatives.

Samuel Thomas Martin reading from his short story collection This Ramshackle Tabernacle.


Finalists Announced For 2010 BMO Winterset Award

March 2, 2011 St. John’s, NL – The Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council (NLAC) is pleased to announce the finalists for the 2010 BMO Winterset Award are Samuel Thomas Martin, Craig Francis Power, Russell Wangersky. The award celebrates excellence in Newfoundland and Labrador writing. The winner will be announced at Government House on Thursday, March 24th.

The three finalists are: 

 ·         Samuel Thomas Martin, This Ramshackle Tabernacle, Breakwater Books, St. John’s, NL 

·         Craig Francis Power, Blood Relatives, Pedlar Press, Toronto, ON

·         Russell Wangersky, The Glass Harmonica, Thomas Allen Publishers, Toronto, ON

The winner will receive a prize of $10,000 and the two finalists will each receive $2,000.

Books in any genre published in 2010 were eligible for the award. A total of 37 works by Newfoundland and Labrador authors (either native-born or resident) were submitted by publishers from across the country. The jury consisted of authors Libby Creelman (St. John’s), Kenneth J. Harvey (Cupids), and Randall Maggs (Corner Brook).

The Winterset Award honours the memory of Sandra Fraser Gwyn, St. John’s-born social historian, prize-winning author, and passionate promoter of Newfoundland and Labrador arts. Her husband, journalist and author Richard Gwyn established the award in 2000. It is named after the historic house on Winter Avenue in St. John’s where Sandra grew up.

About the 2010 BMO Winterset Award finalists:

Samuel Thomas Martin is from Gilmour, Ontario but now calls St. John’s home. He received an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Toronto and his short stories and creative nonfiction have been published in both Canada and the U.S. When he’s not researching Norwegian death-metal or the B.C. drug trade for a new novel project, he enjoys hiking the East Coast Trail with his wife Samantha and their dog Vader.

Craig Francis Power’s debut work Blood Relatives was the winner of both the Percy Janes First Novel Award, and the Fresh Fish Award for unpublished fiction manuscripts. Craig lives in St. John’s.

Russell Wangersky’s 2008 book, Burning Down the House: Fighting Fires and Losing Myself, won three national awards for non-fiction, including the B.C. National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction, the Edna Staebler Award, and the Drummer-General’s Award. His 2006 short story collection The Hour of Bad Decisions was long-listed for the Scotiabank/Giller Prize; short-listed for the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize, first book, Canada and the Caribbean; and was a finalist for the 2006 Winterset Award. Russell lives in St. John’s where he’s a journalist at The Telegram.

The three finalists will read from their works and answer questions from the audience at a public reading and reception: 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 23, at The Rooms (in the Theatre), 9 Bonaventure Avenue in St. John’s.

Media contact:

Janet McDonald (Communications Officer)

Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council

(709) 726-2212

1 (866) 726-2212 (Toll free NL only)

 The NLAC is a non-profit Crown agency created in 1980 by The Arts Council Act. Its mission is to foster and promote the creation and enjoyment of the arts for the benefit of all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. The Council is governed by a volunteer board of 13 appointed by government, reflecting regional representation of the province. This includes 10 professional artists who provide sectoral representation of the arts community; one community representative (with an interest in the arts); one business representative (with an interest in the arts); and one representative of the Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation (non-voting). The NLAC receives an annual grant from the Province to support a variety of granting programs, program delivery, office administration, and communications. It also seeks support from the public and private sector. It supports the following artistic disciplines: dance, film, multidiscipline, music, theatre, visual art, and writing. 

Cathy Smith, a contributing editor with the Christian Courier, penned a fantastic review of This Ramshackle Tabernacle, which appeared in the November 8th edition of the newspaper.

Check out the full review below! Or click here to read the review in PDF.

(Reprinted with permission).


Here’s a word of advice. Don’t read this book while on vacation in Cape Cod, scenic cottage country of the rich and famous. These linked stories by Samuel Thomas Martin kept forcing me to look elsewhere – at the ragged lives of the sexually abused, the drug-addicted, and the throwaways. They haunted me as I cruised Hyannis Harbour and viewed the Kennedy compound through binoculars.

Martin’s characters also come from cottage country, northern Ontario, but they are not rich or famous. Some are Christian, some are not. And some are the outcast, neighbours you see only if you steel yourself not to turn your face away, scabby lepers living banished lives among us.

Doug, a failed camp counsellor, wears his rage openly, but tucks his shame away. Drug addict Harold commits murder. Ben leBou stabs his abusive father. Upon his release from prison, he gets mauled by a grizzly, survives, sort of, and finally, calling out to God, tries to shoot himself in an agony of multiplied pain.

After you blink to reduce the intensity of this magnified focus on the sordid and horrific, you begin to discern that a heart of glory glimmers in the midst of all this darkness. God dwells here. Just as he did in the Old Testament, lodged in a portable temple among a stiff-necked and stubborn people, God has pitched his tent with these tainted characters from the Muskokas. His holiness is a tarp hanging over Doug and Harold and Ben whether they know it or not.

This camouflaged God, “shrouding himself in the tent of darkness, veiling his approach with dark rain clouds,” (Ps. 18:11) has not abandoned his creatures. He is a hunter, tracking and claiming his own. In the guise of perky lifeguard, Krysta, he offers Doug a redemptive gift of hope. God is also cloaked in the matronly neighbour who grandly welcomes a misfit kid with a black eye into her home as “Mr. Harold Witaker.” Years later, no one cares to know his name. On the street he is “guy,” “dude” and “princess.” Moments before he bashes in the head of the only other person who addresses him by his real name, Harold sees a great blue “God’s Eye” stained glass window. Its sad gaze pierces him, but he is finally seen and known once more. The baptism of tenderness he experienced as a child splashing around in the lake with a woman named Vicky has been confirmed.   

The organic wholeness of these stories is shaped by this deft crafting of relationships and imagery. Ben does not suffer alone. God is in the devotionals that he uses to roll smokes. God is in the room: “The unfinished walls warped and sagging like the damp nylon walls of a tent in the rain.” Divine immanence tabernacles with him even in his despair. Such dovetailed details lend a patient hand-rubbed lustre to the book. It is decidedly not, as I heard Angela Antle say in a CBC interview with Martin, a “sort of a lazy man’s novel.”  

In Shekinah, the defiant Ziggy, who crosses himself and gives God the finger in the same gesture, mutters, “Show yourself then.” In The Killing Tree, his nephew Bill had also asked for a sign. They are granted their wish. Ziggy and Bill are visited with a bewildering glimpse of resurrection glory in the powerful prayer of their friend Dan, “the old prophet who dwells in the wrinkled tabernacle of his eighty-five-year old body.”  What’s left is whether they will believe this “lacerating certainty of a miracle.”

Sam Martin’s stories are not for everyone. Although the first and last story bookend the whole with hope, not every reader will recognize the salvific embrace of the structure. The violent conflicts and raw language are intended to be disturbing. The edginess of a story like Becoming Maria, for example, where a sexually confused teen meets Jesus as her lover in a dream, is a risky business that will hinder the acceptance of this book in some Christian circles.

I, too, tend to prefer a safe, inoffensive neighbourhood, my own sanctified Cape Cod, where no one confronts me with abuse, sexual aberration, stark raving loneliness, or naked human need. But God’s heart is bigger. He resides with the fallen. He summons me out into the streets and into the wilderness, to believe with Dan “that not one bird is shot from the sky that God doesn’t know about.” These stories invite me look my neighbour in the eye, and see God looking back at me.          

Cathy Smith is a Contributing Editor with Christian Courier. She lives in Wyoming, Ontario.

Ramshackle Tabernacle review[1]

Just prior to the release of This Ramshackle Tabernacle I was invited to do a couple of guest posts for Salty Ink. One was on the thrill of a new book: about sunburning my eyes reading Michael Winter’s This All Happened on a beach in Spain while my manuscript was sent off to press. You can read that one here.

The other guest post dealt with some heavier subject matter, addressing, in my own way, concerns about the excessive language in my stories and their dark subject matter.

That post, “Writing about God and using the F-word,” came back to me after a recent discussion about the book and its troubling content, and I thought maybe it might be worth a re-post. So here you go:


God: you love him or you hate him… or you think he’s a she. The F-word: a hatchet-chop of a word that can function as any type of speech. (Troy Duffy’s The Boondock Saints aptly demonstrates “the versatility of the word”). Both God and the F-word seem to polarize opinions: people on both sides saying you have to be for or against.

 But what if somebody wrote about God and used the F-word?

 Rudy Wiebe said in his memoir Of this earth that for him the F-word belonged to the sewer of language along with demeaning sexual jokes and innuendoes. On the other side of the country you have David Adams Richards’ early novel Blood Ties being critically trashed for consistent use of the F-bomb. But both writers come from faith perspectives (one Mennonite and the other Catholic).

 So, WTF (or What’s The Flipside to all this)? Sure the F-word is a turd in language’s sewer. It’s also an opening to that sewer, to that underground that is both linguistic and actual. When it comes to humanity, what we say often sign-posts where we are inside—and most of us are knee-deep in everyone else’s crap… and our own.

 Bleak? Yeah. But here’s the challenge to the writer: to wade into the muck of human lives and show the reader there’s more to this underground than she or he may think. There is more to language than the F-word, just as there is more mystery to God and life on this earth than either judgment or grace can tell.

 In This Ramshackle Tabernacle, I try, through connected stories, to get inside human lives using whatever linguistic crawlspaces are available—including the F-bomb. And I endeavor, once inside a life or story, to let the characters speak for themselves. This means wading with them through a lot of crap. But it also means following them as they search in their own ways “to achieve a saving grace,” as Hugh Cook has said of the collection.

Sometimes this is wrestling with God, cursing him, questioning, even fantasizing about him. Sometimes it is in finding the strength to stand-up to an abuser or working through a forty-year silence to say a first apology. Sometimes it is in trying to figure out how in hell to write about something other than hell.

That’s the trick: to see the flipside of f—k as the grace necessary to get beyond language and into the lives of characters who return us to ourselves other-wise, whether that other is God or the guy cussing you out across the street. The next trick—the double-or-nothing test of a story—is to make you, the reader, feel for that guy who keeps asking you what the f—k you’re looking at.

Finding the holy in the carnal, that’s what I’m interested in. That and redemption… but that’s another story altogether.

Stephen Patrick Clare, one of the guys behind Canada’s 100 Greatest Books  blog, has begun publishing Arts East, Atlantic Canada’s first and only monthly all-arts e-magazine!

Arts East supports and celebrates the work of local and regional artists with feature articles, Q&A’s, profiles, guest columnists, reviews, event listings, etc. 
And they have a spotlight on This Ramshackle Tabernacle in this months’ editon!

“Showcasing an impressive range of voices – from a mentally-ill teenager to bickering elderly couples – these stories are linked by shared characters and setting. It’s a book with teeth as sharp as its heart is tender. You’ll laugh out loud at ‘Becoming Maria’ or ‘Crafty Old Dragon’ but you’ll be riveted by the harrowing stand-out story ‘Shaver.’ There are shockers, like ‘Roulette,’ while stories like ‘Adrift’ simply strum a reader’s heartstrings. And that’s a real strength here: these stories are emotionally engaging. A deep empathy and sincere compassion punches through and unites all his stories. They are stories about outcasts and characters on edge, and the forces that can push them over or haul them back to safety. This Ramshackle Tabernacle is weighty; it lingers and swims in a rare and profound humanity” (Chad Pelley, author of Away From Everywhere).

Contact Arts East for an e-copy of the magazine at: Check it out!