Pulled from the Pages: Midland by Ross Breithaupt

Midland cover on printing press background

It’s happening. It’s happening. At long last, I’m so pleased to announce that Ross Breithaupt’s debut novel Midland is now officially in print!

Midland follows twenty-year-old Rory Fleck on a journey of healing and self-discovery. Rory, traumatized brother’s death ten years earlier and by witnessing a fatal car accident, finds himself unable to move on in his life. He decides to take a summer away from his protective family to plant trees in Northern Ontario, camping out in a pup tent and hiding from the blackflies. He acclimatizes to the friendly group of tree planters in the camp, and he takes comfort in listening to music and writing therapeutic letters to his dead brother. But when Rory runs afoul of the crew boss Ty, he finds himself falling into a spiral of grief and headed toward a dangerous forest fire—trials that will force him to face the emotions he has been burying for far too long.

It seems to me that this novel, though set in 1987, somehow manages to speak to the current moment—the feelings of grief and trauma many of us have been feeling throughout the pandemic, the way in which the natural world has become an escape and a balm, the entertainment and solace many have found in the arts, and the sense that community can help and hinder in our healing. Rory’s voice is compelling and his journey profound—it’s a novel for anyone who has struggled with moving past a tragic loss.

Keep reading for an excerpt from this moving book.

* * *

Chapter 2

The sun was a cold ball, shrouded, silent at the edge of the early morning fog. The dull drone of the generator mingled with the snoring of tents that formed a wide half-circle around the ashes of last night’s campfire. Rory Fleck was incubating inside his sleeping bag. After a fitful night there were no dreams left to trouble him.

Without warning, a voice broke through the quiet: ‘‘‘Shine out, fair sun, till I have bought a glass, that I may see my shadow as I pass.’’’

After a moment’s pause, the gravelly voice navigated a U-turn: ‘Look alive, you motherfuckers! It’s 5:30!’ And then, abruptly, another sound—the unrelenting clang of spoon on saucepan. The voice again: ‘Get your sorry asses out of bed!’

Make it stop. Rory groaned and covered his ears, attempting to fend od the disembodied voice. It was Jerry the cook, and this wake- up call had already become a morning ritual.

Rory turned his head to check the time. Fuck me. It was true: 5:30. His body, down to its very marrow, begged him to stay in the warm cocoon of the sleeping bag. But his brain delivered the order to get up and moving. Rory’s brain knew that the only way he was going to survive these two months was to bite the bullet—hard—every morning. Robotically, he pulled his sleeping bag down and exposed his torso. Then he closed his eyes and began his morning visualization.

He imagined himself starting od on his run down the dirt road that headed towards the river. He felt a tingle of anticipation and tried rolling onto his side. Ouch…. Sweet Jesus! He had only moved a few inches and his body screamed. He managed to push himself up into a sitting position, raising the ire of the muscles that swaddled his neck. Every single part of him ached. The thought of two months of this job was overwhelming when two days of it had just about finished him. Before Rory could dwell on this thought, he was pulling on his sweatpants. He placed his running shoes just outside of the entrance to his tent. This was a signal to Jerry that he was awake. He made sure to zip the tent flap all the way up again, to keep the crazed blackflies at bay. He slipped on two cotton undershirts to cover his top half and, over these, his blue Gore-Tex jacket, then he covered his hair with the nearest bandana before fishing his Sports Walkman out from under his pillow. He replaced the cassette tape inside it (labelled SLEEPING) with another one (RUNNING). Then he sat cross-legged at the foot of his sleeping bag and took in a long, slow breath. He opted to start this tape with the same song he’d used to start Mike’s. He waited for it.

The troubled voice of Bill Withers entered in without accompaniment, ex nihilo. After four beats, the gentle pulling of guitar strings. Rory closed his eyes. From the kitchen he heard muffled conversation and the sizzle of bacon. He adjusted his breathing to the tempo of the song. He imagined stepping out of his tent once again to start his run, passing by the mess tent, waving to Betina. Then he let this thought bubble float up and away.

He saw himself running along the edge of the dirt road, arms and legs and lungs connected by that pulse of eighty-two beats per minute, the driveshaft of the song exposed: that repeated, unrelenting, unquestionable knowing. Rory thought about how much he, in fact, didn’t know. He wondered, for example, how many of the trees he’d planted would survive long enough to be harvested. Would any of them reach the height of these conifers that lined the road? No, of course not. This was just a Christmas tree farm. Then, another question bubbled up. All of this running, all these years. Was he running to or running from?

The next song started. It was ‘Free Man in Paris’ by Joni Mitchell. Rory lunged from his tent and started into his run for real, his breath a circle of vapour around his head.

* * *


Thanks for stopping by to check out this excerpt from Midland. I personally believe that this fantastic book deserves to be in lots of eager hands, so please don’t hesitate to order a print copy, or download a digital copy today!

Happy Reading,


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The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.