Un bleuet loin du fjord

Friday, September 30, 2011

The very first English review of Arvida: the book.

Pour les ceusses qui cherchent la version en français, c'est ici

Today I feel like Miguelito, character by Quino (if you're reading this, there's a good chance you don't know what I'm talking about, as the comic artist is practically unknown in the anglosphere, and the title of this post has nothing to do with it either). It's not my style to write long posts on a Friday night when I still have lots of recommendations letters to do for students, but I spent the last weekend in Montreal because I had two tickets for the Habs game (pre-season) and I hadn't gone to a hockey game since the finals of the Q in '91 (back when the teams were only in Quebec), year when the Sags won the president's cup against the Drummondville Voltigeurs (and their annoying fans) in a sweep, in the days when my uncle Doggy (or Dougie, or Doug, actually Douglas, but I like to spell it Doggy as a parallel to a Pitou I have never known and to distinguish him from a former Neil Patrick Harris character, NPH now being a geek hero like Wil Wheaton) was manager and when Jos Canale who speaks English, French and Italian all at once was the coach. His job is now occupied by Marc-Étienne Hubert, a former classmates from back in the little school as my great-aunt Henriette, who used to take us to the Sags games in those days, would say. I had a disgusting fries and a Coke in her memory at the Bell Centre (they don't make fries like the Centre Georges used to).

All this to say that this acute nostalgia attack, which runs in the family, has been triggered by the reading of the book called Arvida, written by my dear cousin Samuel Archibald, that I finished on the Greyhound bus ride between Montreal and Ottawa, which was delayed by the traffic caused by construction that in itself would be worth quite a few books of mob stories. And actually, contrary to his claims, that's not his real name, but obviously a pen name. Francophone Archibalds from Arvida don't exist. There were Archibalds in Arvida, but they spoke English, and were true Scotsmen, like my great-uncle Elmer (quite a character in fact, and there is not a single mention of him in the book). Some say that the French-speaking Archibalds in Arvida were really misspelled Archambaults, but it's not true. They are descendants of old French nobles who fled the Revolution, whose names were the De Saqueue. So you should call the self-professed geek de service à l'UQÀM by his real name: professeur De Saqueue. There's tons of fiction in this book, yet, there are very strong family resemblances. Very familiar things as well, in stories where we don't directly recognize ourselves, we recognize the region, its inhabitants, our childhood friends, acquaintances of relatives and everything. I could read it to a much different degree than all these literary critics and wannabes, jizzing over the words, that simply cannot grasp and understand what I find in the text. To them it's literature, it's a quasi-mythical place, its full of colours and deep thoughts and what not. I, however, often know where the line between fiction and fantasy lie. I've known these stories from well before they were bound on paper. I know the oral traditions. It's quite weird to see a reference to oneself and one's family in "literature".

So, the stories are familiar but so is the style and language. Disconnected at times (by design), jumping from a popular register to fancy, intellectual vocabulary. I recognize my own style in there (I remember getting points docked by the English teacher in Cégep for using "ere five years have past" in the same level evaluating text as "ain't", I think she just didn't know what "ere" means) as well as the style of my older brother and a little of my younger brother's style, though I have read little of his school writings (i.e. his almost complete works). I was reminded of the Underwood typewriter from my grandma's place (and Sam, you fucking idiot, how could you not make the connection between Proust and your own grandmother's name, you unworthy grandson?), and the other Underwood typewriter my other grandma also had (the one that we don't have in common, who lived in Port-Alfred, another no longer existing town swallowed in old municipal mergers that long predate the 2002 mega fiasco mergers). That typewriter was however, upstairs, not downstairs, as the basement in Port-Alfred was off-limits to us kids. We would go play with the typewriter upstairs when the ground floor piano was taken over by my Bergeron cousins and that the mechanical sewing machine got boring.

Anywho, back in the olden days, when Sam had read a handful of Stephen Kings and Guillaume gone through half a dozen of Agatha Christie's whodunnits, Sam, with an electric typewriter (that wasn't an Underwood as far as I know) that he had brought to our basement, had started a collaboration with my older bro, a magnificent blend of horror (of which Sam was an unquestionable master) and crime fiction (of which Guillaume had a precocious and uncanny expertise). He had just started the foreword, with grandiose flattering words on their undeniable, unparalleled talent, and how the book that was about to be written would be the greatest accomplishment in literature ever. They have yet to start the first sentence of the actual story. Since then, we all spent the rest of the millenium in the clouds and in our minds, without ever producing anything but ever dreaming of putting something down on paper. In my case, it was a fantasy novel, which, back in sixth grade, had for title "Devetar the knight", a redemption quest sort of story of a fallen wannabe knight whose kingdom had been taken over by an evil dragon, lord master of the land of evil that was called the Decrolaur (that's the name of the country, not the dragon). In concept it was of mix of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, Perceval, the Round Table, a few bits here and there from Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, our Das Schwarze Auge games of the time and my perception of what Dungeons & Dragons was based on the drawings by Nicolas Rouleau (another classmate, like Marc-Étienne Hubert, but he didn't play atom league hockey). Guillaume has always wanted to write a crime novel. He hasn't done it yet (but he is much further along than I am). But now our dear cousin has actually published a book (not quite a novel, not quite an anthology of short stories), based on family tales and his own imagination, which, like ours, is quite fertile (well, mine used to be). He has an undeniable gift for writing that is not unknown to us. But he has this advantage that he is a child of divorce, and was in fact in part raised by his grandma, so he fits the tortured writer and artist profile better than we do, good kids raised by doctors who have never known real childhood hardships.

I played the piano for twelve years, out of love of music but never really out of passion. Like the Salieri of Amadeus, all I really had is the ability to recognize the genius, not the divine gift itself. Musical talent in the family belongs to our cousin Éliane, who had a particular affinity for jazz piano. The other night, I dreamt of Sam, our family and Arvida, where I was in fact baptised at the same time as my cousin, who is two and a half weeks older than myself, and he started school one year earlier by the draw of the calendar, but I caught up with him in the last quarter of grade 4 to skip it. In my dream, Sam was playing the piano with an incredible virtuoso while I recognized to have only been able to clumsily hit the keys with my fingers.

Well screw it. Your fucking fucked up book, really fucked up in places (Jigai is pretty disturbing, and I've seen Japanese shit like Legend of the Overfiend so I'm prepared for disturbing Japanese shit and its derivatives), full of nostalgia, damned lies and unforgivable omissions is a challenge. Another quest for the Grail. I hope to have a little bit more mention in your next book, 1994, or the sequel to Arvida you promised. I will one day finish my own compilation of short fantasy stories of the non-epic kind (to be different, bloody unending chronicles and stupid trilogies of my dick), in order to put on paper these lost figments of my imagination, these never begun D&D adventures, these unfinished childhood games. I want to join the ranks of those failed authors while achieving this nerd pipedream of writing a piece of shit copied half-unknowingly on better stories between Star Wars and Lord of the Rings

OK, enough verbal written diarrhea. I'll end up wanting to be a two-bit Jack Kerouac. And I took a long break in between. It doesn't help.

Yeah, I know I'm vulgar, I write too long sentences and go on really long tangents. It's intended. I also know I didn't quite review the book. That won't be my style in this book I may never (and probably never will) write.

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