Ris­ing Abruptly

Gisèle Vil­leneuve

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews - KAREN ACKLAND

The Uni­ver­sity of Al­berta Press Soft­cover $24.95 (200pp) 978-1-77212-261-9

Th­ese sto­ries are a lit­er­ary ode to climbers and the moun­tains that cap­ti­vate them.

The seven quirky sto­ries in Gisèle Vil­leneuve’s new col­lec­tion, Ris­ing Abruptly, all have moun­tains at their heart. Be­gin­ning when a young woman falls in love with a gen­darme, and end­ing with an older cou­ple on their fi­nal climb to­gether, th­ese are sto­ries about self-dis­cov­ery and, es­pe­cially, ob­ses­sion.

Four of the sto­ries are set in the Cana­dian Rock­ies, the au­thor’s home moun­tains. One story takes place in Bor­neo, where a man climbs Mount Kin­a­balu to es­cape the re­lent­less heat while he waits for his woman friend to re­turn home. The cousins, Rachel and Jeanne, ap­pear in two sto­ries: the first as pre­teens lost in a sud­den storm near their home in Mon­treal and the sec­ond, decades later, when Rachel trav­els to meet Jeanne in Nepal. Both girls lost a par­ent in the Hi­malayas decades ear­lier, and the link­age adds poignancy to both sto­ries.

Vil­leneuve writes with an ap­peal­ing sense of hu­mor. “Onion,” one of the longer sto­ries in the col­lec­tion, ex­plores the ro­mance be­tween a climber and an in­som­niac on a mis­sion to make the “per­fect pick­led pearl” onion. When she re­moves a cock­tail onion from her drink and sen­su­ally be­gins to eat it, “he couldn’t be­gin to imag­ine what she could do with a gherkin.” In this case, it’s not the climber who’s ob­sessed, but the pick­ler at home.

The au­thor knows the vo­cab­u­lary of moun­tains and climb­ing, but th­ese are not re­al­is­tic sto­ries. Hal­lu­ci­na­tions ap­pear at high al­ti­tudes. The prose is of­ten frag­mented, as if the char­ac­ters are con­serv­ing en­ergy for the climb. Di­a­logue is atyp­i­cally for­mat­ted and, es­pe­cially with char­ac­ters from east­ern Canada, sprin­kled with French. The clever word­play keeps the char­ac­ters emo­tion­ally at arm’s length.

The char­ac­ters’ re­la­tion­ship with moun­tains evolves through­out the sto­ries, cre­at­ing an arc that mod­els a ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ship: in­fat­u­a­tion, the con­flict be­tween in­de­pen­dence and com­mit­ment, and the ac­cep­tance of love cou­pled with death. Ris­ing Abruptly is a lit­er­ary ode to climbers and the moun­tains that cap­ti­vate them, and presents a fas­ci­nat­ing por­trait of pas­sion for the high peaks.

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