My favourite Montreal book...

Alley Cat

By Raymond Beauchemin

A review of Alley Cat by Raymond Beauchemin

Published on January 1, 2006

Alley Cat
Raymond Beauchemin

Let me tell you something about Beauchemins, since I know a few of them: Our family tree goes way back, seriously way back, further maybe even than that of Jacques Parizeau, fanning all the way to Louis Hébert, the father/homesteader/homebrewer of our nation. I take immense pride in this. It makes me feel rooted. And for someone born in Massachusetts of French-Canadian immigrants during the last Québécois diasporatic wave to the United States, never quite at home in the Irish-Polish-Yankee part of the state, who pronounced H “haitch,” who on his first day of kindergarten responded to his teacher in French, and who began tracing his family tree at 14, roots are important.

No one does Quebec roots literature better than Yves Beauchemin. I read
Beauchemin’s The Alley Cat (Le Matou, translated by la maîtresse herself, Sheila Fischman) when I was living in Boston, another city with deep roots. The novel starts off small, with the dreamer Florent Boissoneault and a mysterious series of packages, and like the roots of a maple forced down deep and wide in search of water, the world of the book grows deep and panoramic as the main characters dream and scheme. Quebec and Montreal are obviously featured prominently.

I remember, twenty years later, the struggles Florent and his wife Elise have opening an antique business (and who, tooling around the Eastern Townships or through the Montérégie hasn’t noticed the antique shops?) and restaurant. It was a revelation to me, having to that point known virtually nothing of Quebec literature. Here was a place I knew yet did not know.

How could I know it better? Read more, I suppose, and I did: Beauchemin’s L’Enfirouapé, Richler’s The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz and The Street, the screenplay to Denys Arcand’s Jésus de Montréal. But I needed more. I needed to sink my whole being into this place. So at 28 I pulled a Florent and acted on my own dreams. I emigrated from the United States.

The Alley Cat – now there’s a novel that moved me. mRb

Raymond Beauchemin has edited three anthologies of Quebec fiction in English: 32 Degrees, The Urban Wandereers Reader, and Future Tense.

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