-Fiction Award, Saskatchewan Book Awards
-Globe and Mail’s top 100 and top 5 first fictions
-Longlisted, Rogers Writers Trust of Canada Fiction Prize
Toronto Globe and Mail, Jim Bartley:
“Bernice Friesen’s art is finely honed and gracefully wielded, her darkly beautiful images inseparable from her thematic purpose.”
“It’s said of some novels that they beg to be filmed. The pictures Friesen makes are a cinematographer’s dream.”
The Winnipeg Free Press, Ariel Gordon:
“wholly convincing leaps of the imagination”
“a great success”
Pages and Patches, Devin Pacholik:
“Friesen is a master.”
The Book of Beasts
God was a little black-haired bastard named Charlie with wet sheet skin, bleeding gums, and fists full of iron oxide pebbles which he flung in James’s face, each sting becoming a freckle. His mother told him it was God who’d given him the freckles, and it was true because he couldn’t remember having freckles before Charlie started throwing stones. If freckles were so bad, at least they weren’t his fault. He convinced himself they were caused by wounds, like the blood he saw on Jesus’ side, flowing down the plaster of his mother’s crucifix like bubbled spit. It was easier to look at Jesus’ blood than at his own, and after he realized freckles were ugly — except on his beautiful mother — it wasn’t easy to look at himself at all.
Skinny, big ears, red hair messed like the knots of hay sticking out of a cow’s mouth. These were the things he heard about himself after he got into the habit of listening, when being seen and not heard became too boring. He told himself he didn’t care, began scratching his face. Get rid of the spots. Even if his mother said she liked them, that they were delicious, especially when she was a dog, and licked them off his nose — see the freckles on her tongue? They tasted salty, she said, were delicate and crunchy like little potato crisps. Sometimes he was a dog, too, and so he scratched anyway. And then his father told him to stop that scratching, sit still, and he would, almost, until every adult eye was averted, and then his hand would strike like the tongue of a frog, and he would stuff another jaffa cake in his mouth.
Everything was alive to him. Not just the neighbor’s cat and his grandfather’s King-Charles’ spaniel, not just the ladybirds and dragonflies and earthworms, but the turnips wincing as they were pulled from the ground in his mother’s garden. He made little playful screams whenever his mother tore lettuce apart for a salad, said ouch, ouch, when she chopped onions, misinterpreting her tears as sympathy for the poor vegetables. He refused to eat the tiniest grape from the vine, even though his father told him it would perish anyway. He kept it in a little baby-food jar in the fridge, and took it out to hold it in the palm of his hand and pet it like a kitten.
His first word, as a baby, had been meow, and he was a cat-sneak behind doors and beneath the tablecloth. His grandfather called his father a senseless dreamer — that acting, way back then, for God’s sake — who should never have married a child who was such a harpy, whatever that meant. It seemed to mean an Irish woman who wore her red hair too loose, her blouses too tight, and who didn’t care what she said in polite company — and Oxford was nothing if not polite in the late 1950’s….