Even though Réjean Ducharme is one of Quebec’s most important authors, less than half of his work has been translated into English, perhaps due to the challenge involved in capturing his unique style. He plays with words as artfully as a circus juggler– dextrous, confident, never once letting the ball drop. Neither does translator Will Browning.
The story, told from the protagonist Rémi Vavasseur’s perspective, begins with his retreat to a rundown house in rural Quebec. His wife Mammy has recently left him after her miscarriage of twin girls. She has gone abroad, trying to lose herself in the company of an unlikely travel partner-Rémi’s former mistress, Raïa.
Rémi’s only news of the women comes from their sporadic letters. At first, the tone of this correspondence is so similar to Rémi’s own musings, a question arises: shouldn’t these disparate characters have different voices? But perhaps it’s not surprising that their voices are similar; they are after all three sides of a triangle. By the end the voices do become more distinct; Rémi even remarks that the last letter “is not a mirror, it doesn’t reflect on me.” The real success of the letters lies in their creation of suspense. Will Mammy return? Will Raïa? If so, where does that leave Rémi’s new love interest, Mary? Not to mention Mary’s daughter, Fannie, whom Rémi quickly comes to adore.
Ducharme draws lines between these characters as if using an Etch-A-Sketch, creating a design only to shake it loose and start all over. From the beginning, though, Fannie’s importance is clear. Rémi says of her, “For it all comes back to you, you who are my law…” Fannie is both a replacement for Rémi’s lost twins and a vehicle for his escape. Rémi plunges into her little girl’s world. Sometimes he sinks: “I played with Fannie all day long. Completely gaga.” Sometimes he swims: “No one can give me more and I don’t want anything more.”
At its core Go Figure is a love story, and Rémi’s love is one of possibilities, extending to little girls, dying men, and all his lovers, both past and potential. Go Figure is also a story of loss and death. In addition to Mammy’s miscarriage, Rémi muses about his brother who died of leukemia, concluding, “It turns out we’re dead longer than we’re alive.” And Rémi says of Hubert, Mary’s dying husband, “He can teach us to keep our pride in check, and deliver us from fear by inspiring self-respect.
“All Rémi’s introspection is not without results. Insights are often delivered with a touch of humour: “It’s a small world. And it’s mean. Like everything that’s small.” Realizations are subtle: “I always do my best, always afterwards.” In the end Rémi doesn’t find peace so much as gather the pieces.
Go Figure is not a book to gobble up and forget. On the contrary, it leaves the reader with a taste for more. Not surprisingly, the pleasure of reading Ducharme is best described in the book itself: “It isn’t obvious. It doesn’t come looking for you; you have to discover it…” mRb