Que­bec writ­ers an­nounce them­selves with a dis­tinct­ness that dares you to ig­nore them

Montreal Gazette - - CULTURE - IAN MCGIL­LIS Will McClel­land will be read­ing from The Minted and per­form­ing with Lil’ Andy at the Rock N’ Lit event, on April 8, 2 to 4 p.m. at In­digo, 1500 McGill Col­lege Ave. ian­m­

I’ve said if be­fore, but it bears re­peat­ing: Ru­mours of the death of the book have been greatly ex­ag­ger­ated. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say they’re com­pletely mis­taken. A glance at the ev­er­grow­ing pile of ti­tles of­fered for crit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tion in­spires mixed emo­tions: glad­ness for the ev­i­dent vi­tal­ity of the form, but re­gret that so much goes un­re­marked for sheer lack of space and time. With that in mind, then, here­with a three-in-one mini-roundup. Two of the books be­low have been out for a while al­ready, all the more rea­son to give them a spot­light be­fore the tor­rents of spring rule out the pos­si­bil­ity. While genre-wise, the three couldn’t have less in com­mon — one is part-mem­oir, part film schol­ar­ship, one a po­etry col­lec­tion, one a fu­ture-dystopian-comic-fan­tasy novel — all an­nounce them­selves with a dis­tinct­ness that all but dares you to ig­nore them.

It’s hard to be­lieve it now, but The Shin­ing took a crit­i­cal shel­lack­ing on it orig­i­nal re­lease in May 1980. Stan­ley Kubrick’s lib­eral cin­e­matic in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Stephen King’s hor­ror novel — so lib­eral, in­deed, that King in­sisted his name not ap­pear in the cred­its — struck many re­view­ers as an un­wieldy mess, its nar­ra­tive lost in a wel­ter of over­state­ment and heavy-handed sym­bol­ism. The moviego­ing pub­lic thought oth­er­wise, though, and they have proven to be right: The film turned a profit and has steadily gained in stature ever since, prov­ing es­pe­cially fer­tile ground for a spe­cial­ized breed of cin­ema ob­ses­sives. In 2012, doc­u­men­tary film­maker Rod­ney Ascher re­leased Room 237, a com­pendium of nine Shin­ing-in­spired the­o­ries and in­ter­pre­ta­tions that re­tain just enough cred­i­bil­ity to keep from creep­ing into con­spir­acy ter­ri­tory. To their ranks can now be added Joli­ette-born writer and teacher Simon Roy. His Kubrick Red: A Mem­oir (Anvil Press, 160 pages, $18, trans­lated by Ja­cob Homel) does a deep dive into Kubrick’s meth­ods and aims (he and co-screen­writer Diane John­son wanted to craft a filmic em­bod­i­ment of Freud’s Das Un­heim­liche es­say, ap­par­ently) even as it ex­plores ques­tions of how we use art in our lives. The lat­ter is an es­pe­cially charged ques­tion for Roy, whose fam­ily back­ground is marked by dys­func­tion and tragedy: “To make suf­fer­ing aes­thetic is to avoid look­ing hor­ror di­rectly in the eye … to re­pel its deadly im­pact by plac­ing be­tween real hor­ror and my tor­mented mind a 140-minute movie. Make it ab­sorb the hard­est blows.” Roy has seen The Shin­ing at least 42 times. That might strike some as un­healthy, but it has worked for him in at least one way: With Kubrick Red, he has made some­thing com­pelling of his fix­a­tion.

No def­i­nite count has been made as far as I know, but I’d be will­ing to place a gen­tle­man’s wa­ger that the Mon­treal dis­trict bounded by Mont-Royal Av­enue to the south, Van Horne Av­enue to the north, Parc Av­enue to the west and St-Lau­rent Boule­vard to the east con­tains the great­est con­cen­tra­tion of writ­ers and aspir­ing writ­ers in the world. The quar­ter’s cafés are heav­ing with them; nov­els and sto­ries set there are by now so nu­mer­ous as to con­sti­tute a sub-genre. But Jon Paul Fiorentino’s Leav­ing Mile End (Anvil Press, 66 pages, $16) hints there might be a shelf life to all this, at least for those get­ting to a cer­tain stage of life. The ti­tle poem, with its faint struc­tural echo of Allen Gins­berg’s Howl (“Who wa­vered on Waver­ley … who would turn off your hy­dro …”) and its sprin­kling of Mor­ris­sey ref­er­ences, strikes a melan­choly note ap­pro­pri­ate to a med­i­ta­tion on the pass­ing of the ways of youth. The Un­friend­ing nails how so­cial me­dia has chipped away at our ci­vil­ity and let the pas­sive-ag­gres­sive hounds run wild: “My scathing re­view of that sa­cred cow al­most went vi­ral / I know you know this / Maybe you just for­got.” Best of all, Sec­ond Per­son strikes a right­eous blow for ev­ery reader who has ever found her­self ir­ri­tated by the use of the “you” voice. Let’s face it: in the whole canon of world lit­er­a­ture there can’t be more than five cases of this strat­egy work­ing. Which doesn’t stop le­gions from try­ing, time and time again. “You are wrong,” writes Fiorentino, and for that alone he is to be thanked.

For mil­lions of Cana­di­ans who were within range of a tele­vi­sion in the 1960s and ’70s, the Cana­dian Wildlife Ser­vice’s Hin­ter­land Who’s Who vi­gnettes have re­mained as indelible as the old Hockey Night in Canada theme song, and of all those one-minute fil­mo­gra­phies, none is more iconic than the one for the moose. Give this re­viewer a nudge and he could prob­a­bly still re­cite it whole­sale: “Their food is wa­ter­plants and the ten­der twigs and leaves of quite a va­ri­ety of trees …” Now, imag­ine that con­tent­edly munch­ing beast trans­ported into the fu­ture, granted a hu­man’s in­tel­lect, and feel­ing very an­gry in­deed. This is the world of Will McClel­land’s The Minted (Blue Leaf Press, 177 pages, $20). It’s mid-21st-cen­tury Canada, the an­i­mals on our coins have had enough, and The Moose — “The Bo­real Ter­ror­ist” among other so­bri­quets — is their mil­i­tant leader. Ur­ban dwellers had best be­ware: the ta­bles are turn­ing, the hunters about to be­come the hunted. McClel­land is tap­ping into some­thing very deep here: not just Cana­di­ans’ un­easy re­la­tion­ship with the wilder­ness as limned in Margaret At­wood’s Sur­vival, but the anx­i­eties and guilt felt by any con­sci­en­tious per­son around en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion and cli­mate change. That he has man­aged to do it in a way that is all at once in­for­ma­tive (the book, re­plete with fac­tual foot­notes, can serve as a be­gin­ner’s guide to Cana­dian wildlife and cul­tural touch­stones), scary (let’s face it, the an­i­mals have a good case) and ri­otously funny makes McClel­land’s achieve­ment all the more unique.


Jon Paul Fiorentino’s Leav­ing Mile End re­flects on the pass­ing of the ways of youth.

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