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Be Ready for the Lightning
Cover of Be Ready for the Lightning
Be Ready for the Lightning
From acclaimed New Face of Fiction alumna Grace O'Connell, a suspenseful, poignant and provocative tale about violence, sibling love, friendship, heroism—all told through the lens of a young woman trapped in a hijacked bus.
On the surface, Veda's life in Vancouver seems to be going just fine—at nearly thirty, she has a good job, lifelong friends, and a close bond with her brother, Conrad. But Conrad's violent behavior, a problem since he was a teen, is getting more and more serious, and Veda's ongoing commitment to watch out for him is pushing her to a breaking point.
When Veda is injured as a bystander during one of Conrad's many fights, she knows it's time to leave Vancouver for a fresh start. She heads to New York, staying in the Manhattan apartment of old friends Al and Marie. Exploring the city, she swings between feeling hopeful and lost—until one day the bus she's on is hijacked by a sweet-faced gun-toting man named Peter. He instructs Veda and the other passengers to spray paint the bus windows black, and what ensues is a gripping and unpredictable hostage situation, the outcome of which will make Veda question everything she knows about herself and the nature of fear.
Told with powerful immediacy and warmth, at once unsettling and engrossing, Be Ready for the Lightning is a story of violence, its attractions and repulsions; of love, loyalty and friendship; and of a young woman finding an unexpected kind of bravery.
From acclaimed New Face of Fiction alumna Grace O'Connell, a suspenseful, poignant and provocative tale about violence, sibling love, friendship, heroism—all told through the lens of a young woman trapped in a hijacked bus.
On the surface, Veda's life in Vancouver seems to be going just fine—at nearly thirty, she has a good job, lifelong friends, and a close bond with her brother, Conrad. But Conrad's violent behavior, a problem since he was a teen, is getting more and more serious, and Veda's ongoing commitment to watch out for him is pushing her to a breaking point.
When Veda is injured as a bystander during one of Conrad's many fights, she knows it's time to leave Vancouver for a fresh start. She heads to New York, staying in the Manhattan apartment of old friends Al and Marie. Exploring the city, she swings between feeling hopeful and lost—until one day the bus she's on is hijacked by a sweet-faced gun-toting man named Peter. He instructs Veda and the other passengers to spray paint the bus windows black, and what ensues is a gripping and unpredictable hostage situation, the outcome of which will make Veda question everything she knows about herself and the nature of fear.
Told with powerful immediacy and warmth, at once unsettling and engrossing, Be Ready for the Lightning is a story of violence, its attractions and repulsions; of love, loyalty and friendship; and of a young woman finding an unexpected kind of bravery.
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Excerpts-
  • From the book I've never been shot. I've never even seen a gun up close, other than my father's hunting rifles up at the cabin. And those old .22s, with their wooden stocks, are more like something from Davey Crockett than Quentin Tarantino.

    He took Conrad into the woods to shoot sometimes—my dad, not Quentin Tarantino. Muffled booms from deep in the trees. It was just pop cans off stumps, and once, on a whim, the slowest, dumbest rabbit. Tears from Connie afterwards.

    They didn't invite me into the woods to shoot. It wasn't because I'm a girl. Just an assumption that I wouldn't have wanted to go. They were right. I wouldn't have.

    I get on the city bus that day in April after running three blocks down Fifth Avenue, along the side of Central Park. I've been in New York a couple of months already, but there's still a part of me, a dorky tourist part, that can only think I'm running down Fifth Avenue. I'm running beside Central Park as I go. A numbskull commentary of the obvious.

    I'm wearing my shoes that got ruined in the rain. They're half-slipping off my feet, but the bus is almost at the stop, so I run past souvenir stands and lemonade carts and a pile of seemingly discarded blue wooden slats telling me sternly, "Police Line Do Not Cross." It's unseasonably hot in Manhattan, and I'm sweating in my pits, down my back and a little where my bra meets my skin.

    On the bus, there isn't an open seat except where I would have to really squeeze in beside someone, which I don't like, so I just stand. I hang from the clammy pull-down handle, swinging and swaying around. I bump into a moustached man beside me and apologize.

    He says, "Don't worry dear," and my homesick heart gives a little jump, because that is something my dad would say, the dear. I can almost hear him saying it, the faded Irish lilt buttering the edges of his voice. When I'm away from them, I miss a version of my parents
    that doesn't really exist, a sort of cuddly perfect-family nostalgia. Maybe I'm not the only one; maybe this is why people leave, move on, put distance between themselves and where they're from—so they can miss a Vaseline-lens version of things.

    Central Park goes on forever. Just before we pass by the Met and its grand entrance, a crowd of kids gets off the bus with a woman herding them, probably a teacher. There's a playground peeking out above the stone wall of the park. I don't know why—I don't get sappy about
    kids usually—but it makes me smile.

    After the kids go, there's enough room to sit, but I don't bother. Neither does the moustache man. I feel attached to him, as if we are friends. I do this with strangers all the time. I do it with cars that I drive behind on the highway for a long time. I get sad when they exit.

    A tall guy, one of those slab-of-meat Russian types, gets on the bus and sits down in one of the spaces vacated by the children. He's talking loudly into a cell phone.

    "Yeah, I'm on the M1 now, I'll be there when I'm there, it's good. Doesn't matter, anyway, she wouldn't even let me pick him up, like picking him up is something so big, too big for me apparently. It's some bullshit, but what am I supposed to do? I got my mom to do it,
    apparently that was okay, even she wouldn't say no to my mom—"

    A professorial-looking man across the aisle makes a shh sound and says, quietly, "Could you keep your voice down? You're disturbing everyone."

    Without even moving the phone away from his mouth, the first man says, even louder, "Don't tell me to shh, I ain't disturbing anyone but you." The two of them glare at one another for a second, and I get tense all over. I hate...
About the Author-
  • GRACE O'CONNELL is the author of the national bestseller Magnified World and 2014 winner of the Canadian Authors Association Emerging Writer Award. She holds an MFA in creative writing, and her work has appeared in various publications including The Walrus, Taddle Creek, The Globe and Mail, National Post and Elle Canada. She has taught creative writing at the University of Toronto and now works as a senior editor at Open Book Toronto and writes a books column for This Magazine. The author lives in Toronto, ON.
Reviews-
  • @Margaret Atwood "Gripping, twisty novel! Killer 'Peter Pan,' hijacked bus, complex loves, more!"
  • Emily Schultz, author of The Blondes "Grace O'Connell is a writer of fierce precision and her novel is enthralling. It captures the random traumas of living, and dying, in New York City with poetry and adrenalin."
  • Claire Cameron, author of The Last Neanderthal "Be Ready for the Lightning is gripping, tense and full of fear, but also generous, true and full of heart. By holding a crackling tension between the two, O'Connell takes us on a captivating exploration around the boundaries of family love."
  • Elan Mastai, author of All Our Wrong Todays "A riveting story of an indelible life in all its vivid turmoil and everyday beauty. With wit, empathy, and wonder, Grace O'Connell has crafted a terrifically assured novel about how words can fail us and also how they can save us. I didn't want it to end."
  • Tanis Rideout, author of Above all Things "Tense and razor-sharp, Grace O'Connell's writing crackles. This book will stay with you long after the last page."
  • Zoe Whittall, author of The Best Kind of People
    "Be Ready for the Lightning is both a gripping page-turner and a heartfelt examination of what it means to be compassionate, even in the most extreme situations. Cinematic and timely, it's a book you will not be able to put down."
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