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The Teardown by David Homel

Winner of The Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction in 2019


Phil Brenner has fallen into a slump. All of his life’s achievements have somehow crept into disarray. As a freelance journalist, his career pinnacles keep receding in the rearview, as he struggles to stay relevant in a culture that prizes identity over experience. He feels unfairly cast aside by younger generations, designated the very “white male of privilege” he spent much of his youth rallying against. As a husband, he’s estranged from his wife, whose job supports the suburban lifestyle he never wanted. As a father, his two daughters repel any attempt he makes to connect.

But when a chance arises to cover the refugee crisis in Eastern Europe, Phil seizes the opportunity to reinvent himself into the person he could be, if only he can bring himself to tear down the tired notions of who he has become.


A few days later, the telephone rang in Phil Benner’s house. It was an untoward and unwelcome sound. As he reached for the phone, one of the few landlines left in existence, he briefly emerged from his exhausting hyper-vigilance over Dana, Lynne, Lynne’s unnamed daughter, Megan, Amy, and everything else the world had to offer. It was his long-lost editor Susan, the one who had commissioned his Balkan pieces that had aroused part of the women’s movement against him. He figured she had struck him off her list because of the controversy, even if controversy was said to sell papers. Though some kinds apparently do not.
But now here he was, having a restaurant lunch with Susan, and trying to take the shallowest possible sips of wine. It was a lost cause. Magnanimous, she ordered a second glass for him. He was freelance and she was not, which meant she had an expense account, and that after this lunch she had her responsibilities back at the office, and besides, if he was going back to the Balkans, he’d better bump up his drinking skills to a higher level, or the locals would massacre him.
Susan was actually going to give him work. The subject was refugees.

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Véhicule Press