Du coup, j'ai fui la France. Éditions Hashtag
Only If We're Caught. Thistledown Press
What We Think We Know. Gordon Hill Press
“Gritty” is the word I would use to describe Theressa Slind’s Only If We’re Caught. This collection of fifteen short stories written in accessible language spans characters and topics such as a young child visiting a nursing home, a gravedigger who talks to ghosts, a woman coping with the loss of her child by wearing a hare mask, or a colleague who might have committed murder to get a promotion. Slind remains consistent in her writing from beginning to end. Her use of longer sentences to allow the reader to get into her characters’ mindset only to undermine it all suddenly with short punchy sentences articulating unforeseen plot-twists is a tour de force. The diversity of topics does not make this collection incoherent or leave it without overarching narratives and themes. Slind is particularly interested in exploring what happens to humans when life and death crash into one another. How does one grapple with loss, with mortality, or even monstrosity? For instance, her story “Amydgule” featuring a gravedigger who communicates with ghosts becomes a meditation on the relationship between life and death. The unexpected plot twist of this specific story conveys the rawness of life in a way that leaves readers wondering who or what could be buried in their backyards, as well as how far into monstrosity their own neighbours or colleagues could venture. “Crypsis,” the story that no doubt inspired the cover of the collection offers another look at what could happen when life and death meet. Here a mother always wears a hare mask as a mechanism to cope with or hide from the grief from her son’s death. Being given access to the character’s thoughts, the reader is made to trust them. This only makes the plot-twists more jarring, and allows us to share in the breaking down of the human mind. The juxtaposition of seemingly realistic and uneventful stories—such as “Their Fever Dreams Were Child Drawings” about a young child’s visit to a senior home—with ones invoking the supernatural with ghosts and vampires—like “Careful, Children”—is made possible by the consistent writing that remains true through every single page of the collection.
Aaron Schneider’s What We Think We Know does what its title suggests: it undermines the reader’s certainty and interrogates ways of knowing and ways of producing or receiving knowledge. Separated into three widely different parts —“The Cara Triptych,” “Taxonomies of Loss,” and “Life Maps and Assemblages”— this collection of short fiction uses meta-fiction to articulate epistemological issues. Schneider explores the various forms that story-telling can take, from stories written as a direct conversation with “you” the reader, graphs that analyze a character’s romantic relationships, seemingly disjointed slices of life introduced with an italicized sentence, to the fragmented mapping of an entire house room by room. The first section, “The Cara Triptych,” is a remarkable piece of writing that immediately calls attention to the practice of reading. The story “Sex (with Footnotes)” forces readers to interrupt their reading flow to read the footnotes in order to get the full narrative. Schneider closes the first section with Appendixes. These are multiple graphs that do not give out a straightforward narrative and force the reader to sometimes turn the book to read them. In a similar and yet different way, the mapping of “The House: North of Owen Sounds” calls attention to place, making the reader aware of where in their home they are reading. This last story also plays with the spacing between words and sentences in a way that fragments the reader’s experience of the story. Aaron Schneider’s collection of short stories is interested in subverting the potentially passive role of the fiction reader, forcing us to turn the book or receive information in deeply fragmented ways.
Anaïs Gachet’s Du coup j’ai fui la France is a true account written in French, of her permanent immigration to Montreal. She frames her departure as “fleeing” France and therefore has to grapple with reconciling her feeling of having run away, with her privilege as a white immigrant voluntarily leaving a wealthy and peaceful country. Aware of the importance of language, she opens her book on a well-structured discussion of the vocabulary of immigration and departure, trying to identify which words work for her, while acknowledging how complex and slippery the terminology is for anyone who is not a well-off white immigrant. In chapters about life in Montreal she often tries to convey her feelings of disorientation, framing herself as a “cultural other.” She even discusses some “anti-French” sentiment she perceives in Québec quoting some articles on the topic that almost go as far as to call this sentiment racism towards (mostly white) French people. She is quick to dismiss that extreme position and to acknowledge her privilege. However, combined with multiple instances of claiming to be a cultural other and her failure to acknowledge that French people make up a considerable part of the Montreal population and cultural force, the discussion cannot help but feel tone-deaf. This is particularly the case in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests and the discovery of unmarked graves for Indigenous children under “old” residential schools all over Canada. However, she also writes about her decolonization process when she writes about an Indigenous theatre company she works with in a way that I hope could encourage her French readers to begin a similar educational journey. Gachet’s book seems to be trying to make a larger statement about immigration to Canada by sharing testimonies from other French immigrants, but she undermines her own effort when she fails to share stories of people who moved to anglophone parts of the country. This book will only speak to a very specific and small minority of people in Canada.
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