Tom Connor’s Gift (mad grief, mad love, and a crooked road home) by David Allan Cates

Tom Connor’s Gift, by David Allan Cates
Winner of an Independent Publisher Book Award

A recently-widowed doctor, stunned by grief, retreats to a cabin on Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front. Inside she has a puppy and a stack of letters from an old lover. Outside, there’s a bear. As she revisits her letters, we come to see, through Tom Connor’s eyes, the dusty, broken alleys of Central America during the war years. The two narratives taken together explore themes of life-long love, about what we can see only when we are ready to see, and how hope can grow in the darkest of places.

Book Information

Dimensions: 6 x 9
Price: $19.95
Release Date: October 15, 2014

About David Allan Cates

David Allan Cates is the author of four previous novels, most recently Ben Armstrong’s Strange Trip Home, winner of a Gold Medal in the Independent Book Publishers Award. He’s published numerous short stories and poems, and his nonfiction has appeared in magazines such as Outside and The New York Times Sophisticated Traveler. He’s the executive director of Missoula Medical Aid.


Tom Connor’s Gift is the gift we all seek, the gift of love in the face of grief, violence, loss, and heartbreak. In a deeply felt and vividly told story, David Cates connects the interior lives of a farm woman in the wilderness grieving her husband’s death and her long-lost lover—a wandering man torn by the beauties and terrors of Central America.”
— Annick Smith

Tom Connor’s Gift is a fearless and instructive odyssey into the rustic places of the heart that still baffle and dictate our lives.”
— Rick DeMarinis

Tom Connor’s Gift is a gift all right—hilarious and moving—a two for one: two voices, two stories, two struggles to come to terms with love and longing, in prose that is vivid, urgent, brave, and true.”
­— Dinah Lenney

“Put a widow in a cabin at the edge of Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front with nothing but memories and a marauding bear outside to keep her company and what do you get? A tenderly-told tale of grief, recovery, and a message of love from the past. David Allan Cates’s Tom Connor’s Gift is indeed a gift to readers looking for a novel that will ask them to slow down and think about questions like “How do we endure suffering? And how—when life has flung us far and wide—how do we get home again?”
­— David Abrams

Tom Connor’s Gift is a wonderful book, standing on its tiptoes, stretching out its fingers to brush against a magical realism that is transformative.”
­— Mark Metcalf

“David Allan Cates evokes the human heart out of the landscape, blending the two with so much subtlety and skill that the very world in this novel shimmers with yearning. Tom Connor is as complex and fascinating a character as I have read in contemporary fiction, and Cates has an uncanny ability to evoke the beautiful and terrifying, the feverish and gritty Central American world Connor travels through. Tom Connor’s Gift is a journey into the heart of two continents—and the continent of the human heart—an exploration of dissolution and loyalty, naiveté and cynicism, grief and renewal. In this novel, they all find their place.”
­— Kent Myers

“Sadness and madness, grief and delirium. Tom Connor’s Gift delivers us precious monsters: our first true love and our true lasting love. Coursing between anecdote and musing, this is a novel only grownups can understand. It is smart and ecstatic and will break your goddamn heart.”
­— Bryan Di Salvatore

“David Allan Cates’s Tom Connor’s Gift is extraordinary. The prose is ravishing, the characters are surprising and irresistible, and many of its scenes are so intensely moving that they bring tears of gratitude and pleasure. The book praises long marriage and long friendship, but what I especially appreciate about its vision is how sexually liberating it is for both men and women. Cates is a fierce and fearless writer! One finishes this novel feeling wiser, more alive, and spiritually refreshed.”
­— David Huddle


David_Allan_CatesI’ve arrived at the back door of the cabin already, and I need to turn around with my armload of wood and use my hip to bump the door but it has latched and won’t open. Irritated, I turn a little too sharply and try to lift the latch with my hand even though I’ve got both arms supporting the wood and my cold fingers balled up in fists. I can’t seem to do it, and finally I have to let the wood drop. I should have bent down and let it roll off my arms but because of my anger I just let it go and try to jump back—a trick I don’t quite manage, as one of the pieces hits my shin on the way down. I unleash a string of cuss words at the top of my lungs. My shin is pounding in pain and I know I’ll have a bruise and probably another bleeding scrape, but I find the echo of my voice off the cliff weirdly amusing.

I cuss again, just to hear it again, then bend to pick up the wood that has scattered around my feet. Crazy grief is a good drug, bending the banal to strange. Things like peeing outside, drinking water, and cussing off canyon walls get interesting fast but it’s all a distraction. The fact is I’m so sad since Mark died I don’t know what to do in the world of human beings. I don’t know who I am beyond a woman bending in the pre-dawn darkness to pick up the firewood she’s dropped. I bend and feel the cold sticks with my cold hand, and I concentrate on that, and think as I lift each piece, this is real, this is real, this is real, just that, just this—which is when I see the bear.
I’m trying to be truthful so although that slipped out—which is when I see the bear—I have to stop because it’s not true. What is true but harder to write is that’s when I feel the bear. But I don’t know how I feel it. Hadn’t I been feeling dinosaurs in the air earlier? Wasn’t I breathing dinosaurs, feeling them on my skin? I didn’t feel the bear like that, or maybe I did, but I didn’t feel its breath or its claws or its heat. While on my knees picking up wood I simply felt the air change, as though lightning were going to strike—but even as I say that I know that’s something I’ve heard about, never felt. So maybe I smelled it—the bear was so close, I must have smelled it. But I can’t say what the smell was. Only that it made all of the tiny hairs on my body stand and from my knees even before I lifted my head I knew what I’d see.

But that’s not true, either. I didn’t know what I’d see. I only knew there was something there, and even knowing something was there—a dinosaur?—I was still surprised to actually see it. I have a puppy (where did he go?—from running circles around me when I stepped outside to suddenly long gone) and once I walked the puppy past a statue of a bear in a park, and the puppy trembled and wouldn’t go near. He’d never seen a bear in his life, much less been hurt by one, and yet he knew to be afraid of the shape of that statue. I marvel at that, but here I am, on my knees smelling a scent that has my hair standing up—and when I look up there’s his head turned around the tree looking at me from no more than a few steps away, as though he’s been there since I came outside and peed and walked to the woodpile. I want to tell you he had an engorged tick on his chest and his fur silver tipped and ragged and wet on one side, and he had two toes on his left forepaw and details like that but it was dark and I could see only how he was standing upright with his head turned and his face trained on me. He looked like a big cartoon character with tiny eyes reflecting the light of the heavens—or more likely absorbing the light from the heavens, because even so close I couldn’t see his eyes. What I saw was their lack, their empty blackness. I might have stopped breathing then. At least long enough to become aware of my heart trying to jump up my throat.