Life in the Court of Matane

Eric Dupont Peter Mc­cam­bridge, trans­la­tor

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews - KAREN RIGBY

QC Fic­tion Soft­cover $19.95 (266pp) 978-1-77186-076-5

A young boy imag­ines his life from a dis­tance in this pierc­ing story about es­cap­ing cir­cum­stances. When Eric’s fa­ther, a wom­an­iz­ing po­lice of­fi­cer, leaves his mother, a pro­fes­sional cook, Eric reimag­ines them as Henry VIII and Cather­ine of Aragon.

Tan­gen­tial, ex­pan­sive in its abil­ity to cap­ture youth at a cross­roads, and un­ex­pect­edly pierc­ing, Eric Dupont’s Life in the Court of Matane, trans­lated from the French by Peter Mc­cam­bridge, is an in­ven­tive novel set in 1970s and ‘80s Que­bec. The au­thor’s fic­tional name­sake, Eric, nar­rates his up­bring­ing from the van­tage of an adult re­flect­ing on the past, with a cap­ti­vat­ing voice that sharply trapezes be­tween a height­ened ver­sion of his par­ents’ di­vorce and life in the coun­try­side.

When Eric’s fa­ther, a wom­an­iz­ing po­lice of­fi­cer, leaves his mother, a pro­fes­sional cook, Eric reimag­ines them as Henry VIII and Cather­ine of Aragon. His step­mother be­comes Anne Bo­leyn, who re­jects be­ing ad­dressed as Ma­man, and com­pletes the por­trait as an in­ter­loper. Eric and his sis­ter—com­manded to for­get their real mother—em­bark on a se­ries of moves that land them on the Gaspé Penin­sula near the St. Lawrence River.

Through for­ays into Cana­dian wildlife, his­tory, pol­i­tics, Catholi­cism, Na­dia Co­maneci’s gold-medal Olympic per­for­mance, and boy­hood in­ci­dents, Eric de­picts him­self as a book­ish, iso­lated observer of his peers. Whether he re­counts the ar­rival of a Lao­tian fam­ily in Saint-ul­ric, the Que­bec sovereignty move­ment, in­ter­pre­ta­tions of bib­li­cal words, rules in Henry VIII’S court, the peck­ing or­der in the school­yard, or an imag­i­nary story fea­tur­ing Laika, the cos­mo­naut dog, Eric’s in­sights brim with in­tel­li­gence.

De­spite the hu­mor that comes from find­ing him­self up­rooted and dropped into what he be­lieves to be a back­wa­ter town, Eric’s story is one of un­re­solved pain. Here is a nar­ra­tor de­ter­mined to re­main on edge; the dis­tanced view of his par­ents, es­pe­cially of the ab­sent “Cather­ine of Aragon,” nearly turns them into myth. It’s this sub­layer of sor­row that ends up be­ing most strik­ing, and is per­haps best summed by this line: “The funny thing about mem­ory is that it al­ways ends up chas­ing its own tail.” The telling re­mark high­lights the cir­cu­lar na­ture of try­ing to make sense of a life while sift­ing through images, only to ar­rive at the im­pos­si­bil­ity of real es­cape.

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