Authors: Wayne Johnston
FINALIST FOR THE GILLER PRIZE
FINALIST FOR THE GOVERNOR GENERAL’S AWARD FOR FICTION
FINALIST FOR THE COMMONWEALTH WRITERS PRIZE FOR
BEST BOOK (CANADA & THE
GLOBE AND MAIL
BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR
NEW YORK TIMES
NOTABLE BOOK OF THE YEAR
“Almost five hundred pages of effortless narrative, powered by indelible images of eternal polar ice and the birth of the twentieth century in teeming Manhattan, exert an inexorable pull.”
“A captivating narrative that delves into both the noble and the seedier aspects of the human need to discover and explore.… Johnston’s ability to illuminate historical settings and situations continues to grow with each book, and this powerful effort is his best to date.”
“The sustenance offered by
The Navigator of New York
is not easily found in these thin and knowing days.”
“Wayne Johnston’s new novel is chock-f of fine writing and intriguing historical detail.… Johnston has again proven himself a national treasure.”
The London Free Press
“The book is an intricate blend of mystery, adventure and drama … a brilliant creative achievement … a compulsively readable work, rich in authentic details.”
“Material like this—with its tantalizing themes of truth, falsehood, ambition, envy, and the queasily shifting nature of reality—is pure gold for a fiction maker. In the hands of Newfoundland writer Wayne Johnston, it becomes a shape-shifting epic of magical proportions and dazzling complexity.… Some of the most powerful and imaginative writing being produced in English today.”
Quill & Quire
“The Navigator of New York
is a morally complex novel that holds a telescope of themes: love and betrayal, honour and deception, truth and falsehood.… It is a major artistic achievement and confirms Johnston as one of the significant Canadian writers to mount the world literary stage in recent years.”
“Johnston has a gift for the vivid and meticulous recreation of lost times and places.… He navigates with the assurance of a born explorer.”
The Vancouver Sun
“A huge and immensely readable novel about explorers of the landscape and the heart.”
“Beautiful [and] evocative.… Johnston is an accomplished storyteller, with a gift for both description and character, which he uses masterfully here.”
“Better than about ninety per cent of most contemporary fiction. Johnston is a great novelist in the making”
“A remarkably good book.… It is a worthy successor to
, and reinforces Johnston’s right to be considered one of the major figures in Canadian fiction.”
“Wayne Johnston … is redefining the historical novel.… [His] rendition of the obsession and self-serving dishonesty of the explorers, the sound and feel of life at the North Pole, a brand-new New York on the cusp of greatness, and a young man having his life revealed to him piece by piece makes for compelling reading. He just keeps getting better.”
The Seattle Times
Also by Wayne Johnston
The Story of Bobby O’Malley
The Time of Their Lives
The Divine Ryans
The Colony of Unrequited Dreams
VINTAGE CANADA EDITION
Copyright © 2002 1310945 Ontario Inc.
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review.
Published in Canada by Vintage Canada, a division of Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover in Canada by Alfred A. Knopf Canada, a division of Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto, in 2002.
Distributed by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.
Vintage Canada and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House of Canada Limited.
National Library of Canada Cataloguing in Publication Data
The navigator of New York / Wayne Johnston
PS8569.O3918N39 2003 C813′.54 C2003-902243-9
APHNE SAID, NOT LONG AFTER MY FIRST
birthday, my father told the family that he had signed on with the Hopedale Mission, which was run by Moravians to improve the lives of Eskimos in Labrador. His plan, for the next six months, was to travel the coast of Labrador as an outport doctor. He said that no matter what, he would always be an Anglican. But it was his becoming a fool, not a Moravian, that most concerned his family.
In what little time they had before he was due to leave, they, my mother and the Steads, including Edward, tried to talk him out of it. They could not counter his reasons for going, for he gave none. He
not counter the reasons they gave for why he should stay, instead meeting their every argument with silence. It would be disgraceful, Mother Stead told him; him off most of the time like the men who worked the boats, except that they at least sent home for the upkeep of their families what little money they didn’t spend on booze. This was not how a man born into a family of standing, and married into one, should conduct himself. Sometimes, on the invitation of Mother Stead, a minister would come by and join them in dressing down my father. He endured it all in silence for a while, then excused himself and went upstairs to his study. It was as though he was already gone, already remote from us.
Perhaps the idea to become an explorer occurred to him only after he became an outport doctor. Or he might have met explorers or heard about some while travelling in Labrador. I’m not sure.
At any rate, he had been with the Hopedale Mission just over a year, was at home after his second six-month stint, when he answered an ad he saw in an American newspaper. Applying for the position of ship’s doctor on his first polar expedition, he wrote: “I have for several years now been pursuing an occupation that required arduous travel to remote places and long stretches of time away from home.” Several years, not one. He said that for would-be expeditionaries, such embellishments were commonplace.
He signed on with his first expedition in 1882. A ship from Boston bound for what he simply called “the North” put in at St. John’s to take him on.
First a missionary, now an explorer. And him with a wife and a two-year-old son, and a brother whose lifetime partner he had pledged to be. My aunt’s husband, my uncle Edward.
Father Stead had been a doctor, and it was his wish, which they obliged, that his two sons “share a shingle” with him. My father, older by a year, deferred his acceptance at Edinburgh so that he and Uncle Edward could enrol together. The brothers Stead came back the Doctors Stead in 1876. In St. John’s, Anglicans went to Anglican doctors, whose numbers swelled to nine after the return home of Edward and my father. On the family shingle were listed one-third of the Anglican doctors in the city. It read, “Dr. A. Stead, Dr. F. Stead and Dr. E. Stead, General Practitioners and Surgeons,” as if Stead was not a name, but the initials of some credential they had all earned, some society of physicians to which all of them had been admitted.
Three years after their graduation from Edinburgh, Father Stead died, but the shingle was not altered. Until his death, the two brothers had shared a waiting room, but afterwards my father moved into
father’s surgery, across the hall. From the door that had borne both brothers’ names, my father’s was removed. It was necessary to make only one small change to the green-frosted window of Grandfather’s door: the initial
was removed and the initial
put in its place.