Cities of Weather

By Andrea Belcham

A review of Cities Of Weather by Matthew Fox

Published on October 1, 2005

Cities Of Weather
Matthew Fox

Cormorant Books
$22.95
paper
283pp
1-896332-20-x

Montrealer Matthew Fox projects a vision of youth that’s grounded in harsh realism. Cities of Weather is an apt title for a volume that details the stormy emotions of those who, despite being surrounded by others, are locked in a state of isolation. Yet while his words are hard, Fox does not leave his characters without hope, or his readers without entertainment.

The majority of the stories swing between two principal settings: the urban core of anglo Montreal and the suburban fringes of a southern Ontario blue-collar town. The familiar scenario of the prodigal son’s strained relations with his family as he treads the line between childhood and his new adult life is the framework for many of the tales, though Fox applies enough amusing variations that the subject does not appear flogged. In “Limb From Limb,” a young man planning to come out to his undertaker mother is waylaid by an unexpected discovery in a coffin. In “Alphabet City,” a writer resents the posh posings of his Westmount mother, despite accepting that her money is what allows him to live as an artist. Fox often returns to the idea that while the city may allow for certain intellectual and sexual freedoms, it cannot loosen all bonds; the story “Prove That You’re Infected” is a case in point, a mournful narrative in the form of a letter by an ailing man who’s fled Montreal for Toronto and who’s pleading with his boyfriend to run away with him, even as his health deteriorates further. “Let’s widen the gap between me and my disease,” he writes; “between us and … school and work and friends and family and the rest of the boring necessities of life.”

The latter story is also an excellent example of the author’s preferred mode of storytelling, one that focuses on the psychology of characters rather than on their actions. Such an approach is fitting for stories that deal with individuals so wrapped up in their own dilemmas that they cannot activate the means of their release. The two main characters of “The Dead Roommates,” for instance, are so engrossed in their own flirtatious games – even in the wake of their friends’ deaths – that they might as well be dead themselves: on the day before the funeral, the two are busy not so much grieving as torturing each other with symbols and unsaid words, with “camouflage.” Fox has a knack for bringing his readers into his cerebral worlds and for sustaining their interest with his spot-on observations, so that when the endings come – typically abruptly – the withdrawal is jarring.

Fox’s playfulness is also demonstrated through an acid sense of humour. In a scene from “City of Weather,” a woman’s termination by her loathsome boss is described solely through this portrait of his hands:

Turgid, grotesque, puffy, knobby, fat, busy, and self-important. Like ten tubes of marzipan. They jabbed. They were to-the-point.

Another scene that would otherwise be dismal – wherein a grandson helps his Nonna adjust her colostomy bag – is made more bearable with her clever quip:

‘… When I changed you, you used to soak me. A little water gun, you were … And now I would love to get you back.’

Without such moments, the characters’ frustrations and largely unreconciled loneliness might be too much for us. Fox’s vision is ultimately satisfying, however, for the book ends with “Ordinary Time,” the story of a man who’s broken through the clouds and found the fulfilling balance of sexual confidence, complete creative expression, and family support. mRb

Andrea Belcham lives in Saint-Lazare, where many of her best neighbours are trees.

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