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Ascension

Cover of Ascension

Ascension

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The acclaimed author of Finnie Walsh turns from small-town hockey to the extraordinary intrigues of circus life during the heyday of the Big Top through the story of Salvo Ursari, undisputed master of...
The acclaimed author of Finnie Walsh turns from small-town hockey to the extraordinary intrigues of circus life during the heyday of the Big Top through the story of Salvo Ursari, undisputed master of...
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Description-
  • The acclaimed author of Finnie Walsh turns from small-town hockey to the extraordinary intrigues of circus life during the heyday of the Big Top through the story of Salvo Ursari, undisputed master of the high wire.

    As the novel opens, it is the summer of 1976. Salvo is 66 years old and has decided he can never retire. Already famous thanks to his days in an American circus, he has made a living in recent times performing solo walks of extraordinary difficulty. And so he finds himself attempting to accomplish the most difficult feat of his career: to walk a wire strung between the twin towers of the World Trade Center, 1350 feet from the ground.

    Transylvania in 1919 is a place of poverty and persecution for the Rom people. Salvo follows his father to a village church, where the senior Ursari -- the only man who volunteers for the task -- is to climb the steeple to replace a large iron crucifix that had been removed for safe-keeping during the war. He restores the cross, but it is not properly attached and as they are leaving, it falls, killing a priest. When the villagers exact their revenge, Salvo's parents are killed and he is separated from his brother and sister. Thus begins nearly a lifetime of being forced to flee from suspicion and misfortune that takes the reader from Europe to the US to British Columbia's Fraser Valley and back to Manhattan.

    Ascension combines powerful storytelling -- including stories of the Romany people, poverty-stricken but resourceful, and rich in legend -- with great surprise and originality; Steven Galloway makes it clear why he is one of the hottest young writers in Canada today.

    Excerpt from Ascension

    "Once a newspaper man had asked him what it felt like to walk high above the crowd, with death looming beneath you and success a long way off on the other platform. Salvo had told the man that it was like being a bird, an eagle, but he knew that wasn't true at all. He was a man, nothing more. Still, he was a man who dared do things other men watched and admired and were jealous of. He walked for these people as much as for anyone. But today he was walking only for himself. That was the difference with these solo walks. When he was among them, he was one of them, but here he is timeless, one man on a wire far above it all, in a separate place. He was not free, but he was as free as he would ever be."

    From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpts-
  • Chapter One

    There is a steady wind, and it blows cold on Salvo Ursari's face and hands but does not deter him. He dips a hand in the pouch he wears at his waist, pinching out a clump of baby powder that he rubs onto both of his hands. Beyond the practical purpose of preventing the slippage of the seventy-pound pole he carries for balance, the powder has a distinctive odour that reminds Salvo of the past, of walks done half a lifetime ago, of his twin daughters when they had been tiny, shrieking infants, of his wife after bathing.

    Salvo smiles as one such moment floods into his consciousness. It is nearly forty years earlier, his daughters barely two years old, and his wife has just put them down for the night. Salvo is lying on his back, trying to stretch out a hamstring he has needlessly overexerted. Through a wince of pain he sees his wife's legs as she glides by him, pale, ghostly apparitions, and his eyes follow her as she moves across the room and sits on the ledge of the window. The streetlight outside illuminates her from behind, makes her glow, and Salvo is reminded how breathtakingly beautiful his wife can be.

    A gust of wind brings him back to reality. Now is not the time, he tells himself. You are not a young man and you had better keep your mind on the task at hand.

    At sixty-six, Salvo has been told he's out of his mind to attempt a skywalk between the twin towers of Manhattan's World Trade Center. Salvo partly agrees with this assessment, but it makes no difference. Of course he's afraid, of course he knows the danger -- few have suffered more than he as a result of walks gone bad -- but that is of no consequence. It is his fear that lets him know he's sane; the day he's not afraid is the day he won't go out on the wire. He knows he can do this walk.

    Salvo is standing nearly fourteen hundred feet above solid ground. It is the highest walk Salvo has ever done, but height is unimportant; you're just as dead if you fall from forty feet as you are from fourteen hundred. Distance-wise, Salvo has walked two and even three times as far, which is tricky because the longer the wire, the greater the danger that it will snap. A very long wire will sag in the middle, and there are few things more difficult than walking the downhill slope of a wire. At least Salvo has the comfort of this being a solo walk. He alone is responsible for the outcome of today's endeavour.

    For his efforts Salvo will receive a sum of twenty thousand dollars, but the promoter's insurance company has steadfastly refused to extend coverage to Salvo himself; the policy only covers damage caused should Salvo fall onto someone or something below.

    The area beneath the wire has been cleared. From where Salvo stands with his toes curled over the edge of the building, the mounted crowd-control policemen are barely visible, the crowd itself nothing more than a dusty smear. He dislikes that the audience is such a distant entity. Without the immediacy of the audience, without their energy to feed on, the wire can be a lonely place. The only consolation Salvo has is that he has performed so many times he instinctively knows how the crowd will react, can picture the people far below as clearly as if they were fifty feet away.

    Salvo receives the signal to begin. He takes a deep breath, collecting himself, and offers up a silent prayer. He's seen enough on the wire over the years to know that skill and luck are not enough to get across. To survive he needs God on his side. At the very least he requires Him to be a benign presence; the last thing he wants is to have God against him.

    Hoping that he'll have only earthly challenges to deal with, Salvo picks up his balancing...

About the Author-
  • Steven Galloway teaches creative writing at the University of British Columbia. His first novel, Finnie Walsh, was nominated for the Books in Canada/Amazon.com first novel prize. He lives in Vancouver with his wife, dog and cat.

Reviews-
  • The Georgia Straight

    "One of the most suspenseful introductory chapters in Canadian literature. ... Once you're a handful of paragraphs into Ascension you're rapt; this is a book that comples attention, then holds it throughout.... His knack for a gripping story never falters."

  • The Gazette (Montreal) "Galloway shows a rare flair for inhabiting minds at moments of exhilaration and peril.... His attention to detail lends an uncanny veracity to the skywalk passages and the book has loads of neat lore..... Ascension is a novel that has stuck in my mind, and I don't expect it to leave any time soon."
  • Vancouver Sun "Steven Galloway negotiates a mesmerizing line.... Rising above all else soars the elegance of the storytelling. Galloway's balance on the narrative line is a pleasure to experience."
  • Denise de Montreuil, Times-Colonist (Victoria) "This is an rengaging read. Each episode, like the high wire, is tautly strung between two places of refuge."
  • Andrew Armitage, The Sun Times (Owen Sound) "Galloway is a master of suspense, dangling his readers by an elbow or foot from a sagging wire. Throughout his tale, his storytelling left me on the edge. His narrative is so gripping that I often had to pause and take a breath before carrying on. ... You simply will not put this book down until the final sentence."
  • Timothy Taylor, author of Stanley Park "Galloway is a born story teller. In Ascension, he takes us up to the high wire. The tale we find there -- through its setting and complicated characters -- is taut and compelling. Once you start, there is no safe turning back. You really must finish."
  • Madeleine Thien, author of Simple Recipes "What a gorgeous novel. Salvo Ursari is a great hero, a man who lives and perhaps survives our deepest fears. Steven Galloway has imagined a story that is as alluring and spellbinding as the wire itself."
  • Thomas Wharton, author of Salamander "Steven Galloway weaves his tale with the sure hand of a born storyteller."
  • Noah Richler, National Post "Will be remembered as one of the year's best books."
  • Quill & Quire "What makes Ascension worth the read is Galloway's storytelling powers; his is a self-possessed voice that seamlessly weds narrative and tone. . . . Galloway has the power to move and astonish, seemingly without sweat or effort."
  • Quill & Quire "Finnie Walsh is a terrific first novel, brilliantly conceived and inventively executed, with a power house of an ending that resonates long after the book is finished -- a stunning accomplishment from a young writer who deserves a close look."
  • The Georgia Straight "An eminently readable and warmly witty debut with a seamless narrative and a sucker-punch ending."
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    Knopf Canada
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