In 1984, Jolene Iolas, a student in upstate New York, encounters Martin Sloane's art while visiting a Toronto gallery. Flush with the confidence of youth, she strikes up a correspondence with the older artist, and eventually the two become lovers. Introduced to a constancy of love she has never known, Jolene relaxes into the rituals of being someone's other half. She learns Martin's story and cherishes it as her own. He becomes a fixture in her life, a star in her sky.

And then, he vanishes. There is no hint of his fate, no chain of cause to be followed. Over a long fall, the shock slowly hardening into fact, Jolene sheds her life, losing everything, including her oldest friend, Molly, to inexpressible grief.

Ten years pass, Jolene slowly learns to stop trying to make sense of it all. But before she can fully return to life, the opportunity to confront a ghost arises. Word has come from Molly, of all people, that someone named Sloane has been exhibiting artworks identical to Martin's in Irish galleries. Jolene travels to Dublin, where she reluctantly reconnects with Molly and together, they find themselves lost in a jumble of pasts as they try to piece together what happened to Martin Sloane.

An exquisitely crafted novel, Martin Sloane is about the mysteries of love and art, the weight of history, and what it means to bear memory for the missing and the dead.

Excerpt

It was a lie that brought Martin Sloane to a picture house on O'Connell Street one night in the fall of 1936. (This was how I began, finding my way into his story, trying its doors.) He was eight, and it was the first time he'd ever gone anywhere by himself. It was a twenty-minute walk from his house and by the time he reached O'Connell, night had fallen and the wide boulevards were blazing with electric light. The hotel-lined street was busy with horse-taxis, news-hawks, chestnut carts; its caf‚ storefronts full of customers. Martin imagined that back at home the windows of his house were glowing orange with safe nighttime light.

He walked toward the cinema, the heavy coins in his pockets enough for the movie and a bag of steamed nuts. No one noticed him: although only a child, he was simply a part of what he walked through. A city dweller. Head up, cap clenched in one hand, he went down the middle of the thoroughfare, on the grassy strip that separated the two avenues. At that moment he thought his happiness complete, thought that it must have been like the happiness of being older, the way he imagined anyone might have felt, walking to the Grand Central Cinema at six o'clock at night to see the early show of The Informer.

In this he was in league with his father, who the previous week had walked over the river, in the middle of the workday, to see the picture. He'd come home red-faced with excitement.

You Irish with your bogeymen, Martin's mother had said.

They must see it, said his father.

Not these children, Colin. She is too impressionable, and he is too young.

The papers had argued back and forth over the film's merits, some saying it was scandalous and a temptation, others that it told a sore truth. It was the story of an Irishman, the drunkard Gypo Nolan, who'd sold out his friends to the British. Now it was as if the Mail and the Herald were arguing in the Sloane kitchen over dinner and it soon became a forbidden topic of conversation. But his father had certain conversational gifts. He convinced Martin's mother that her objections were about picture houses in general.

No, Colin, she said, it is about this film.

You mean to say, said his father, that you don't object in principle to the viewing of motion pictures?
If they are wholesome, then no.

I don't believe it, Martin's father said, staring at her in disbelief. I thought for certain you were against the pictures in general.

Not at all, said Martin's mother, happy for common ground. Send him to see O'Shaughnessy's Boy, down at the Grand Central. It has that nice Mr. Beery in it.

And so, the following Sunday night, Martin's father gave him directions to the Grand Central Cinema, at the bottom of O'Connell beside the river, and there, Martin paid his half-shilling. And, following his father's instructions, he went in to the parlour beside the one showing O'Shaughnessy's Boy where people were gathering for the six-o'clock showing of The Informer.

When the lights went down, rain began to fall in the street. Martin sat in the darkness, the voices of the actors intermingled with the quiet pattering hiss outside the thin cinema walls, and he was transported by it all, by his illicit visit to the movie hall, by the sensuality of Gypo Nolan's drunken sin. The movie ended in heartbreak, the big man trying to outrun his fate, and when Martin went outside, the city had been transformed into mirrors of light. In the Liffey, the centre of town shone upside down in a cold radiance. He could see the buildings in the slickened car windows, on the street, against glistening rainjackets passing along the sidewalks, as if the whole place had sunk under the sea.

Martin's father was waiting in the car with the motor running in front of the cinema. He waved through his window, swiping it with his forearm so he could see out. In the car, his father handed him a towel. So? he asked.

It was good, Martin said.

His father pulled out into the slow-moving traffic. The horses drove down through the streets with their heads lowered. Were you frightened?

No. But I think we shouldn't have lied.

I suppose we could leave the country now, said his father, and he laughed to himself. This was one of the things Martin did not understand about adults, this laugh he sometimes heard. Let's not call it a lie, though, his father said. Let's call it a secret.

Now they were driving up Berkeley Street. His father's favourite sweet shop was here, and as they drove past it they could see the windows were fogged and there were people inside. We could both use a cup of chocolate, his father said. To warm up.

Donnellan's was popular with everyone, and Martin's father kept his face averted from the other customers. He ordered two mugs of chocolate and a fruit bun for them to share, and when he came away from the register, a table was open in the window. They sat, and his father asked Martin to tell him the whole story of the film.

But you've seen it, Martin said. You already know how it goes.

I have seen it, said his father. But I want you to tell it me, the way you remember it.

Martin thought back to the beginning of the story and began telling it, and as he told it, it was as if he were seeing the film all over again, except that the Grand Central was in his mind, his mind was the cinema. He told of Gypo Nolan's betrayal of his old friend, turning him in to the British for twenty pounds. The shock of watching the betrayer spend the money on drinks, and fish and chips. The way he teetered back and forth between remorse and pride. Then the trial, the lies Gypo told to cover himself, endangering even a neighbour, and afterwards, the mad run from justice. How it had electrified Martin to watch it, even the horror of Gypo, dying in the church at the feet of his victim's mother. Frankie, your mother forgives me! Certainly, in the end, Gypo had regretted his actions, but regret is not enough for the people around you, Martin had thought, people have to see that crime is paid for. In this way, life was not like religion, in which, as far as he understood, sorrow in your heart came first.

That was it, his father said when Martin was finished. He nodded and fingered his chin. That was very good. Now, tell me what it was about.

About? Martin thought for a moment, not sure of what to say. It was about not lying.

Stop worrying about that, said his father. If I say something's okay, it's okay. Now what was it about?
Martin chewed on a piece of candied peel, rolled the bittersweet scrap around in his mouth. It was about being kind to others, he said.

It was, a little. Something else, though.

He could come up with nothing. He felt his face begin to burn and he tried to think what Theresa, who was quicker of mind than he was, would have said. He knew she would be thinking of what their father might have wanted to hear, and after another moment, Martin said: It was about you shouldn't drink when you're flush.

No, Martin. His father looked disappointed. He tipped back the end of his chocolate and picked his hat off the table. He left a coin.

The two of them walked back to the car in silence, and Martin searched his mind for the hidden meaning of the film, but he was so distracted by the anxiety of disappointing his father that he couldn't think. Finally, driving up past the canal, his father spoke quietly.

Would you say it was about having a home?

A home, said Martin, agreeing gratefully.

Gypo doesn't merely turn in a friend, Martin. He gives up the only thing he belongs to, thinking he will go to America with his blood money. But instead, he remains, and he is lost in the only place he has ever belonged. That is as good as dying.

But he does die.

Yes, said his father, mercifully, he dies.

They turned down to where they lived. For his whole life he had passed these houses, walked over the stones in these streets. Every night, the lights in the distance would appear between these same houses, slanting down alleys. He had never known any other place than this. His father had always said that every star had its place in the sky, every person theirs on Earth. Except you could not take a star out of the sky. People, though, he'd said. People vanish from the places they should be, people go to darkness all the time. Outrunning their fates.

And that had been Gypo Nolan's lot.
Publisher: Anchor Canada