Fiction

Bonbons Assortis/Assorted Candies

Bonbons Assortis/assorted Candies
Michel Tremblay

Talonbooks
$17.95
paper
160pp
0-88922-541-9

As indelibly as Mordecai Richler staked a claim to the Jewish Montreal of Mile End, Tremblay’s novels, plays, and autobiographical writings have made the Plateau, a working-class French Montreal neighbourhood, an archetypal literary setting. It speaks volumes that his work is as resonant in places as far-flung as Scotland as it is to residents of the city he writes about so obsessively.

Readers approaching Tremblay’s work for the first time could be forgiven for feeling intimidated at its sheer profusion, but fear not: you can dip in just about anywhere with equal confidence. These two new translations (Assorted Candies and The Black Notebook) one the last in an autobiographical childhood cycle and the other the first in a new fiction cycle, are proof.

Assorted Candies sees Tremblay revisiting the rue Fabre of his youth, and as is true of the best writers, he seems to remember everything. In “The Wedding Present” his family’s attempt to project a genteel front in the face of poverty finds its perfect symbol in the gift Madame Tremblay chooses for the daughter of the family across the street, whose ownership of an electric mixer is proof of their inconceivable wealth. It is, frankly, a used peanut dish, and young Michel is the sacrificial lamb sent to present it, with poignantly funny results. Elsewhere we get two irrefutable arguments for the existence of Santa Claus (who apparently drinks in Normand’s Tavern), a remembrance of the magical day when the author’s older brother came home with the first 45 rpm record anyone had ever seen, and a First Communion story that will ring all too true to anyone who remembers sitting restlessly through Mass as a child. Throughout, Tremblay’s knack for recalling and accessing his boyhood self is uncanny. Assorted Candies is short but sweet. mRb

Ian McGillis is books columnist for the Montreal Gazette and author of the novel A Tourist’s Guide to Glengarry. His memoir Higher Ground will be published by Biblioasis in 2017.

Leave a Reply