I fell in love with this short book from the outset and read it slowly because I didn't want it to end. The book is set in Canada, rather vaguely in the 1980s. It's intense because the characters love whatever it is they love so intensely. And it doesn't matter that the things they love are not, for me, particularly lovable. Lets start with Réjean:
Réjean had never owned anything but a Chevy and revered the brand with a feverish loyalty. Every year he replaced his current truck with the newest model, not because the old one was lacking or showing signs of wear, but because every truck that Chevy brought out Réjean would declare more phenomenal than the last. He often lost himself in grateful praise of the corporation for designing such a sturdy vehicle with such excellent handling.
The salesman who sold him these Silverados was Martin Bureau who rode the bus to work to hide the fact that he drove a Ford truck. In fact the only happy time in his life was when he was riding around in a muddy field in his truck. When his father Jack had finished a job, he had taken his two sons "to a nearby field and they howled with laughter, Martin included, as he drove doughnuts in the mud, the wet cows chewing disinterestedly in their direction." He had learned from his father that "the Ford embodied all that was right and true." And as an adult, "Once he reached a good, muddy stretch of ground, he found he was able to clear his mind and indulge completely in the pleasure of the Ranger's wheels churning through the muck."
And there's Agathe, married to Réjean for 20 years, who loves to smoke. Some time after Réjean unaccountably disappears, she was approached by a man looking for participants in cigarette testing. She was asked to smoke three packs of test cigarettes and rate her smoking satisfaction based on the following questions:
How did she feel about the taste, aftertaste, harshness, aesthetic appeal, smoke production, burn speed, length, duration, lingering effects in the throat and lungs, smell (while burning and on the breath afterwards), packaging and overall enjoyment of the test cigarettes? She didn't normally think about the individual components of smoking and found it compelling to fully immerse herself into the analysis of an activity she adored.
Agatha became friends with Debbie at her work who introduced her to rock and roll at a different level. One night Debbie took her to a live performance:
The sudden blare of the music hit Agathe like a wave. They had been listening to rock and roll at work and in the car since Debbie started, but never at this volume, filling a room this size, getting into every pore. It filled her up in a way that awakened all her nerves and made her stand taller. Rock and roll had a way of putting itself on you, so that you were wearing whatever was being sung. All the abandon and rage and torment and heartache. Everyone here was wearing it.
One of the many odd aspects of this book is that it has lots of French dialogue. Agathe and Réjean had left their French-speaking town in Arcadia to find work in an English-speaking town of Canada. While they understand English well, they converse with everyone using a mix of French and English. It is not a problem to understand if you've had high school French, but I imagine with no knowledge of the language, it would be frustrating.
One minor character is especially odd: the wine and cheese making wholesaler who acts like a mob boss. One chore his underlings have is to deal with a cheese and wine seller who talks too much; apparently this is quite unacceptable. That chatty merchant pays with his life.
The plot is perhaps the quirkiest part of the book: to describe any part of it would take away from the magic and would reveal how completely senseless it is. I'll just repeat: I loved this book.
Michelle Winters, I Am a Truck, Invisible Publishing, 2016, 160 pages (I read the Kindle version). Only available on Kindle, as Amazon is out of stock. This small press book is short-listed for the Giller Prize.
Hi Charlotte, *smile* here I am again with my comment!
I first heard about this book when it was reviewed by my friends on the Shadow Giller Jury who are reviewing the nominations at the blog of the late Kevin from Canada. I still haven’t read it yet, but I’m interested in the issue of the bilingual text.
It seems to me that if Canada is a bilingual country, then – especially in the context of these characters who move from a French-speaking place to an English-speaking one – it makes sense for the text to reflect that. And a Canadian book for Canadian readers ought to reflect that. If there are other monolingual countries nearby that struggle with it, well, that’s a shame but the book shouldn’t be altered for that reason, not if the bilingual identity is part of the Canadian experience of life, not if Canadians are speaking one language in public and another at home.
After all, (as I know from my own experience in a country where English was a minority language) speaking their mother tongue is exactly what people do even if they have competence in the other language. We speak our mother tongue for moments of intimacy, in anger, and often just because we’re tired and it’s easier, or because we feel that we can more easily say exactly what we think in the mother tongue.
*chuckle* And sometimes we need it for discipline! When I was teaching Indonesian to children from 5 to 12, all my lessons were in Indonesian. I never spoke English at all in class – except when some of my frisky 12 year olds needed a talking to (or counselling, as we say these days!). That I did in English. I wanted to be absolutely sure that there was no language barrier and that I was making my expectations absolutely clear!
PS I think my problems with commenting here will be fixed: last night the Post button was greyed out, but this morning it looks like it usually does.
Not sure what they did at Typepad, but “Anna” above must have taken care of it. I appreciate hearing about the problem.
I found the French/English aspect of the book quite appealing and I agree with you that it fits well for a Canadian book where both languages are important. And I loved your description of your own use of the mother tongue in certain situations.
I too came to this book through the Shadow Giller Jury. I always have a slight thrill when going to the kevinfromcanada website thinking about such a great guy. I noticed that Amazon now has copies though they were out of stock Oct. 23. It’s exciting that such a small press book is on the Giller shortlist.