Eddy Boudel Tan is back on the site today, this time to share an excerpt from his new novel, The Rebellious Tide! Here’s the story:
Sebastien has heard only stories about his father, a mysterious sailor who abandoned his pregnant mother thirty years ago. But when his mother dies after a lifetime of struggle, he becomes obsessed with finding an explanation—perhaps even revenge.
The father he’s never met is Kostas, the commanding officer of a luxury liner sailing the Mediterranean. Posing as a member of the ship’s crew, Sebastien stalks his unwitting father in search of answers to why he disappeared so many years ago.
After a public assault triggers outrage among the ship’s crew, Sebastien finds himself entangled in a revolt against the oppressive ruling class of officers. As the clash escalates between the powerful and the powerless, Sebastien uncovers something his father has hidden deep within the belly of the ship—a disturbing secret that will force him to confront everything he’s always wondered and feared about his own identity.
And here’s the excerpt!
Sebastien was twenty-five when they met.
Jérôme St. Germain had just moved back to Petit Géant after several years in Montréal. The people in town remembered him being a bookish boy, peculiar and reserved. They were surprised to see him return as an attractive young man with easy charm and a confident style. The town was happy to welcome an eligible bachelor.
Sebastien was freelancing for the local newspaper at the time, mostly shooting fundraisers and hockey tournaments. Jérôme found him peering through the viewfinder of his camera while on assignment at the local college’s graduation ceremony. The diplomas had been handed out, the mortarboards had been thrown. The young graduates now clustered together in spheres of optimism.
“I hear you’re the town’s star photographer,” Jérôme said with a smile. He appeared tidy and down to earth. His hair was a dense sweep of chestnut. Behind the thin frames of his glasses were two penetrating grey eyes tinged with blue like pools of rainwater.
“That is definitely an overstatement,” Sebastien responded. “I’m just the only guy in town who knows what an aperture is.”
The handsome stranger laughed. He crossed his arms and scanned the gymnasium, which was filled with electric blue gowns and bright faces. “I went to this school almost a decade ago. It hasn’t changed a bit. They still haven’t fixed that.” His head nodded toward a domed lamp hanging from the ceiling that was dark, unlike the others.
“I used to go here too. I remember you.”
Jérôme turned to him, surprised. “Aren’t you a few years younger?”
“You hosted an art show in the café to raise money for the class trip to Europe. You painted sea monsters. There was one that looked like a man with octopus tentacles instead of legs. I loved it.”
“I’m glad someone appreciated it. The genteel denizens of Petit Géant seemed more disturbed than anything else. I suppose that’s what I get for showcasing art in a cultural black hole.” He looked at the floor with a nostalgic expression before his eyes shot up to Sebastien. “No offense!”
He laughed. “None taken. I have no attachment to this place. It’s just a cage to me.”
Jérôme adjusted his wool blazer and looked at Sebastien with his rainwater eyes. “I have an offer for you.”
That afternoon, they went together to the same café that hosted the art show so many years earlier. Jérôme laughed when he stepped through the door, amazed how little it had changed. Sebastien didn’t know what to make of this man as they settled into a corner table, but he soon understood they shared something.
Jérôme explained that it hadn’t been easy leaving Montréal. The bohemian bars filled with artists and students teemed with ideas aching to be explored and expanded. Jérôme had found a place that felt like home. When his father fell ill and his mother became distraught, he knew the occasional weekend visit to Petit Géant would no longer suffice. He told himself it would be temporary.
When it was clear his father’s condition was only going to worsen before it got better, he accepted that his stay in town would be longer than he had hoped. He was a headstrong man, not one to sit on his hands. This was an opportunity for him to leave a positive imprint on his much-maligned hometown.
He decided to open a shop. Part gallery, part portrait studio, part camera store, it would be different from anything the town had ever seen. He wanted Sebastien’s help.
Although he had no wealth to invest, Jérôme treated him like a business partner. From branding to merchandising, all decisions were made together. They decided to name the shop Camera Obscura.
By the time preparations for the grand opening were underway, they were spending nearly every morning, afternoon, and evening together. Their friendship was instantaneous. They shared a feeling of alienation—they were both outsiders in a town that enforced conformity—but Jérôme possessed an optimism that things could change.
It was late one night when they first kissed. It had been an exhausting day of painting the interior walls. Sheets of thick brown paper covered the front windows. Sebastien ran a paint roller down his friend’s back, smearing him from neck to rear with the same mint colour as the newly painted walls. Jérôme retaliated, and it wasn’t long before the two men were rolling across the newspaper-covered floor entangled in each other’s limbs. It was his first taste of a man’s lips, and he liked it. He let Jérôme do things with their bodies he had never done before.
“What got you into photography?” Jérôme asked as they lay on the floor beneath a blanket they had retrieved from the trunk of his car.
“My mother,” Sebastien said, wondering if the answer sounded childish. “We used to have a cheap thirty-five millimetre camera when I was a kid. We took pictures of everything over the years. There must be at least five big boxes full in her closet. Even now, she insists we print every shot to add to the collection.”
“Life passes by so quickly. Photos give us a way to remember it.”
Sebastien rolled onto his side and draped his arm across Jérôme’s stomach. “I love how cameras can freeze time. The shutter opens and the moment solidifies into something that will remain long after we’re gone.”
Jérôme leaned into him until their foreheads touched. “Where did you come from, Sebastien Goh?” he said with a smile.
The grand opening of the shop was a success: people actually showed up. Ruby arrived in her favourite red cheongsam. Jérôme’s mother pushed her husband’s wheelchair. They stayed for only twenty minutes, but he was happy to see them smile.
Half of the room was a gallery space displaying work from artists in the region, including several framed photographs of Sebastien’s. In the centre of one wall was Jérôme’s adolescent painting of the octopus man, which he had gifted to his new friend. Servers holding trays of delicate hors d’oeuvres circulated around the room while a quartet of jazz musicians performed in a corner.
“How fabulous,” Sophie said when she arrived with two friends. Sebastien kissed her on the cheek.
Sophie gushed about his new “project,” as she called it, but behind the smile was worry. Sebastien seemed different. There was something in the way he held himself that hinted at newfound contentment. It was unexpected. The weeks leading up to their latest breakup months earlier had been especially rocky. He was aimless and unfulfilled. She was sure he’d come back to her eventually.
Now, seeing the confident way he spoke to his guests and the smart clothes he wore, she felt the creep of uncertainty. Her eyes scanned the mint-coloured room and his new charismatic friend with suspicion.
Sophie found the photographs a month later. Sebastien had been careless. They were stored loosely in a desk drawer in the back room. He had asked her to watch the shop for thirty minutes while he and Jérôme picked up a set of new shelves. She wouldn’t have found them had she not been snooping, but she sensed something was being hidden from her.
The black-and-white photographs printed on glossy paper displayed the nude bodies of two beautiful men. Sebastien was alone in some of them, a suggestive look in his eyes and hair tousled even more wildly than usual. Both men appeared in most of the images. Foreheads touched. Fingers intertwined. Mouths met skin. They looked happy and in love.
Sophie’s hands shook as she reached for her phone. She didn’t know why she felt the need to capture these images and send them to her closest friend, Chloe. She would say she wasn’t thinking, that she just needed someone’s opinion, but she must have known what Chloe would do.
By the time Sebastien and Jérôme returned to the shop, the images of their secret affair were rushing through town like the torrents of a flood.
Eddy Boudel Tan is the author of two novels, After Elias (fall 2020) and The Rebellious Tide (summer 2021). His work depicts a world much like our own—the heroes are flawed, truth is distorted, and there is as much hope as there is heartbreak. As a queer Asian Canadian, Eddy celebrates diverse voices through his writing, some of which can be found in publications such as Gertrude, yolk literary, and the GL&R. When he isn’t plotting his next story or adventure abroad, he serves home-cooked meals to those living on the streets as cofounder of the Sidewalk Supper Project. He lives with his husband in Vancouver. Follow Eddy on Twitter (@eddyautomatic) or online (eddyboudeltan.com).