Water Wings was first published by Knopf Canada, as part of the New Face of Fiction series, in 2001. It started out many years before that as a short story called “Wave,” in which a girl named Hannah pines for her father, who died in a boating accident. The book moves back and forth in time, and reveals how the family had fractured long before the father’s death. It begins:
The windshield is dirty, smudged with the tiny bodies of spent insects. Early on Hannah had been taught that insects were beautiful, even ordinary flies, though they began as swarming maggots. It was her father who had pointed out the metallic blue and green of them, their huge eyes and their legs that bent at the knee, things she may never have noticed on her own. How long since he’d died? Nine, Hannah was when it happened, so fourteen years without him. Funny to think. After that there was only the three of them: Hannah, Vivian and their long-haired mother Darlene. And yet all this time the ghost of their father had hovered like a transparent umbrella, there but not there, just as he’d been there but not there when he was alive.
The anniversary of his death passed silently last month, as though it were any other day. Blue Thursday this time. The day and the colour camouflaged, changing every year. Hannah woke as usual to a radio song, ate cereal, showered, went to work at the flower shop, came home, watched television, and readied herself for bed. It was not until then that she saw him. Just a glimpse. He appeared briefly in her mirror, his face replacing hers. He had his mouth open in song and he was wearing his mock-serious opera face. And the he was gone and her own face was there. She said aloud, “He died today.”