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Thirteenth Issue
Volume 7, No. 1
 





features

O Mordecai, Where Art Thou?
By Juan Rodriguez


fiction

Quebecite: A Jazz Fantasia In Three Cantos
Reviewed by Kelly Murphy

A House By The Sea
Reviewed by Ian McGillis

The Speaking Cure
Reviewed by Mark Heffernan

The Applecross Spell
Reviewed by Eleni Zisimatos Auerbach

Universal Recipients
Reviewed by Eleni Zisimatos Auerbach

Black Bird
Reviewed by X.I. Selene

A Sunday At The Pool In Kigali
Reviewed by Edward R. Smith

Song For My Father
Reviewed by Mary Soderstrom

The Heart Is An Involuntary Muscle
Reviewed by Kim Bourgeois

Another Book About Another Broken Heart
Reviewed by Poppy Wilkinson

Without Cease The Earth Faintly Trembles
Reviewed by Jessica Ticktin


fiction at a glance

After All!
Reviewed by Margaret Goldik

Moosehead Anthology #9: Career Suicide! Contemporary Literary Humour
Reviewed by Ian McGillis


non-fiction

Respectable Burial: Montreal's Mount Royal Cemetery
Reviewed by Margaret Goldik

Shoshanna's Story: A Mother, A Daughter, And The Shadows Of History
Reviewed by Elizabeth Johnston

Louis Riel
Reviewed by Philip Hawes

Tables For One: A Spanish Journal
Reviewed by Sarah Rosenfeld

Practice Imperfect
Reviewed by Joan Eyolfson Cadham

Ha! A Self-murder Mystery
Reviewed by Anne Cimon

Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages
Reviewed by Jill Rollins


non-fiction at a glance

Womankind
Reviewed by Margaret Goldik

A Love Of Reading: The Second Collection
Reviewed by Margaret Goldik

Entering The War Zone: A Mohawk Perspective On Resisting Invasions
Reviewed by Margaret Goldik

Drive I-95: Exit By Exit Info, Maps, History And Trivia
Reviewed by Margaret Goldik

Crooked Smile
Reviewed by Margaret Goldik

Four Hundred Brothers And Sisters
Reviewed by Margaret Goldik

After Notman: Montreal Views - A Century Apart
Reviewed by Ian McGillis



poetry

Snow Formations
Reviewed by Bert Almon

In The Worshipful Company Of Skinners
Reviewed by Bert Almon

Bamboo Church
Reviewed by Bert Almon

An Abc Of Belly Work
Reviewed by Bert Almon




young readers

Emma's Story
Reviewed by Carol-Ann Hoyte

The Mole Sisters And The Fairy Ring
Reviewed by Carol-Ann Hoyte

The Mole Sisters And The Way Home
Reviewed by Carol-Ann Hoyte

Learning With Animals
Reviewed by Carol-Ann Hoyte

Sink Or Swim
Reviewed by Carol-Ann Hoyte

Suki's Kimono
Reviewed by Carol-Ann Hoyte

Peter's Pixie
Reviewed by Carol-Ann Hoyte

A Friend For Sam
Reviewed by Carol-Ann Hoyte

Sam's First Halloween
Reviewed by Carol-Ann Hoyte

Tales Of Court And Castle
Reviewed by Carol-Ann Hoyte

Think For Yourself: A Kid's Guide To Solving Life's Dilemmas And Other Sticky Problems
Reviewed by Carol-Ann Hoyte

Nellie Mcclung: Voice For The Voiceless
Reviewed by Carol-Ann Hoyte




Black Bird
Michel Basilieres
$34.95
cloth 311 pp.
Alfred A. Knopf Canada 0-676-97527-5
fiction

Fiction vs. history

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New Document Black Bird commences with a caveat:

Readers with long memories or a command of Canadian history will complain that the following pages contradict known facts. Facts are one thing but fiction is another, and this is fiction.

This author's note bears analysis, since its premise, that a knowledge of Canadian history impairs one's ability to appreciate fiction on its own terms, informs Black Bird as a whole. Whether or not they have "a command of Canadian history," readers are also historical beings who already inhabit a world, and one that is never wholly detached from that of fiction - the constitution of meaning in art does not occur in a pure sphere, for there cannot be sense, not even in fiction, without socially, temporally, linguistically, and culturally situated beings. The idea of readers turning off their historical selves in order to appreciate fiction is idealistic and, moreover, impossible. While it is understandable that an author who chooses terrorism for some of his content and the name "James Cross" for one of his characters may have some qualms over misrepresentation, such an injunction against cultural memory is both naïve and narcissistic.

The hermeneutic anxiety evident in the author's note later takes the form of an insupportably intrusive narrator. Instead of allowing the characters to act, to speak or to move freely through time, the narrator rather explains these personalities into being, as if to prevent the readers from having the wrong impression. The first chapter, which largely details the Desouche family's complex web of relationships, reads more like the author's preparatory notes than the novel itself. For example, readers are informed that "while Marie was convinced of the necessity of political action, considering their problem the fault of the English, Jean-Baptiste felt the answer was internal and spiritual." Copious interventions like this one reduce the book's scope for reader inference and interpretation.

The philosophical viewpoint expressed in the author's note has other consequences. This paradigm, where fiction is wholly removed from "facts" or "known events," would imply that readers come to novels empty: they do not then constitute meaning together with the writer, but rather, receive meaning from the author. This outlook would account for Black Bird's numerous didactic passages, in which the narrator passes judgement on Jean-Baptiste's poetry, explains Quebec linguistic politics, or points out errors in felquiste thinking, for example. The question is not whether the portrayal of the Montreal Anglophone literary community as incestuous and ignorant is accurate, or whether Michel Basilières knows Canadian history. The question, rather, is whether total narrative control is a desirable aesthetic choice, given that the effect is an expedient, expository style that reads like an arts grant application.

Perhaps the greatest sign of hermeneutic anxiety occurs at the novel's close. Jean-Baptiste has a creative breakthrough.

He vowed he would never again write down a single thing in a realistic mode, because whether it had ever actually happened to him or not, everyone would think it was the literal truth.

By coincidence, the first words of Jean-Baptiste's projected work also happen to be the first words of Black Bird. Thus, it becomes extremely tempting to read Jean-Baptiste's literary convictions as Basilière's artist statement. This is an unfortunate parallel, for the double insistence on art for art's sake, first in the guise of fact (in the author's note) and then as fiction (in Jean-Baptiste's closing thoughts) comes across as the book's moral, message, or meaning, and an outmoded and disingenuous one at that.

X.I. Selene is a graduate student at the Ecole de bibliotheconomie et des sciences de l'information at the Universite de Montreal.