Intimate Dialogues

Intimate Dialogues

By Kate Forrest

A review of Intimate Dialogues by Hélène Rioux

Published on May 1, 2009

Intimate Dialogues
Hélène Rioux

Guernica Editions
$15
paper
67pp
978-1-55071-295-7

“‘Oh! If only I had a cat to keep me company!'” These words set off yet another fruitless discussion between a bored and eternally bickering couple. In each of the very short stories that compose Hélène Rioux’s Intimate Dialogues, an unnamed man and woman disagree over something – where they should go on vacation, what colour they should paint the kitchen, whether or not they should get a cat – and in each, they end up doing nothing and going nowhere.

The portrait of a self-absorbed couple that emerges from these pages borders on caricature. Both characters are petty, prickly, and lack any sense of perspective, least of all about their own relationship. On a rare occasion, they see eye to eye on the break-up of two friends but fail to grasp the irony of their observations: “It was high time those two separated. They could never agree on anything. In the long run, hearing them argue was becoming tiresome.”

With Jonathan Kaplansky’s translation, English readers can appreciate Rioux’s 2002 collection for the first time. Unfortunately, the writing distracts with awkward dialogue and some unmistakably Gallic turns of phrase. Kaplansky’s most egregious (and unintentionally hilarious) blunder may be his translation of “promiscuité,”(meaning overcrowding or lack of privacy) with the faux ami “promiscuity.” Those who understand French would be better off reading the original version, though the stories’ humour does shine through in the translation.

Readers are invited to chuckle at the endless disputes and to recognize themselves in the protagonists, and they will likely do both. The dialogue is fast-paced, the humour is light, and the simple structure of the stories is pleasing. Gradually, though, the scenarios grow repetitive, and hearing the couple argue does indeed become tiresome. By the end, this window into a stagnant relationship feels all too intimate. mRb

Kate Forrest is a Montreal translator, editor, and piano teacher.

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