Hayward’s darkly comic novel of adolescent anxiety reveals an unforgettable family caught in a state of mourning.
Meet Jim Morrison—not the lead singer of the Doors who died a rock ’n’ roll death in 1971, but a chubby seventeen-year-old living in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, who was born days after the singer’s death. Jim, or Jimmy, as most people call him, has been living a largely invisible life, overshadowed by his older brother, Mike, popular and charismatic, and his father, Fort, a stern and unyielding engineer. Jimmy spends his time avoiding gym, transforming his uneventful days into scenes from his favourite movies and occasionally going on banana diets (special banana carrier required).
But everything changes the night the library explodes, with pieces of books and catalogue cards falling like snow from the dark sky. Jimmy is first on the scene with his father and it’s soon clear that Mike had been in the library when it exploded, possibly meeting a girlfriend after hours. Mike’s death upends the Morrisons’ suburban life and any sense of normalcy is destroyed. Their mother, Filomena, is nearly catatonic with shock, and Jimmy must become his much younger brother’s nanny, taking him to preschool every day and uncomfortably hanging out with a gang of mothers, watching them breastfeed and talking about peanut allergies.
Life gets even more surreal. The cause of the library explosion remains mysterious, and Jimmy tries to help his father unofficially gather evidence at the site. Add to this his duties surrounding his mother’s idea to have a birthday party for his dead brother, and Jimmy finds himself busier and, bizarrely, happier than he’s ever been.
With generous humour and characteristic energy, Steven Hayward weaves a story of the undercurrents of family life and the unpredictable ways our paths can unfold.
Praise for Steven Hayward’s Don't Be Afraid:
“Rarely has loss and grieving been handled with such deft tenderness, sly humour and almost inexplicable beauty … The book is handled with a curious lightness. Hayward never lingers over the grief under which his characters are so clearly labouring. Instead, there is a sharp focus on the surrealism of life and the heightened sense of ridiculousness that often accompanies grieving … Don’t Be Afraid will break your heart in both sympathy and empathic celebration. It is both an elegy and an enthusiastic affirmation, darkness and light. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll wish more books were like this.” —The Globe and Mail
“Hayward’s winning, tenderly funny novel starts as a story of loss and, somewhere along the way, transforms into a tale of self-actualization, leading Jim, an uncommonly wise narrator, to realize that when it comes to grief, there are no hard-and-fast rules.” —National Post
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Photo credit: Tim Trunnell
Born and raised in Toronto, Steven Hayward currently teaches creative writing at Colorado College in Colorado Springs. A frequent contributor to the Globe and Mail and the Literary Review of Canada, his first novel, The Secret Mitzvah of Lucio Burke, won Italy’s prestigious Premio Grinzane Cavour prize.