Mariam Petrosyan - a carefully constructed narrative that borrows heavily from “Lord of the Flies” by way of “House of Leaves” and “Peter Pan”. Petrosyan slowly and carefully leads the reader step by step through suspension of belief to the House’s inner workings, which manifest in increasingly fluid sentences and offbeat vocabulary

Image result for Mariam Petrosyan, The Gray House
Mariam Petrosyan, The Gray House, Trans. by Yuri Machkasov, AmazonCrossing, 2017.

The Gray House is an astounding tale of how what others understand as liabilities can be leveraged into strengths.
Bound to wheelchairs and dependent on prosthetic limbs, the physically disabled students living in the House are overlooked by the Outsides. Not that it matters to anyone living in the House, a hulking old structure that its residents know is alive. From the corridors and crawl spaces to the classrooms and dorms, the House is full of tribes, tinctures, scared teachers, and laws—all seen and understood through a prismatic array of teenagers’ eyes.
But student deaths and mounting pressure from the Outsides put the time-defying order of the House in danger. As the tribe leaders struggle to maintain power, they defer to the awesome power of the House, attempting to make it through days and nights that pass in ways that clocks and watches cannot record.

Petrosyan’s award-winning debut novel, translated from Russian, is a vividly imagined tale of epic proportions.
The House, which sits overlooked on the outskirts of town, is a boarding school for disabled children and teenagers. Isolated from the Outsides, the residents of the House are enmeshed in a carefully constructed world of unspoken rules and thorny histories. The meandering narrative moves back and forth in time, alternating narrators and tenses, to paint an intricate portrait of a social order that appears ultimately dictated by an unknown force, understood by its inhabitants to be the House itself. When student deaths begin to pile up over the course of the narrative, readers can identify with newcomer Smoker as he tries to understand the mysteries of the House and the source of its power over its inhabitants. Petrosyan has created a painstakingly three-dimensional, fully inhabited world. Slowly but surely, the plot reveals itself through a gradual process of unraveling, leading readers down a sprawling rabbit hole of intrigue and mysteries, accompanied by a dizzying array of quirky denizens. Petrosyan’s prose is wildly imaginative and beautifully wrought, overflowing in Machkasov’s translation with rich sensory details that combine with an offbeat sense of humor to form a fully realized world. This dense, heady tale should be enjoyed by seasoned readers of literary fiction and magical realism. Although it is being marketed in the U.S. for teens, it will perhaps find its most natural audience among adult readers.
An impressive—and impressively massive—feat of imagination and translation. - Kirkus Review

  • "Her greatest strengths here are her world-building and linguistic creativity, although one has to wonder how much of a role translator Yuri Machkasov plays in casting that spell. Beginning with a straightforward, realistic style, Ms. Petrosyan slowly and carefully leads the reader step by step through suspension of belief to the House’s inner workings, which manifest in increasingly fluid sentences and offbeat vocabulary. (...) The plot isn’t exactly straightforward either, which is, perhaps, the point." - Leigh Anne Focareta, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
  • The titular house in Armenian writer Petrosyan’s massively absorbing and sometimes frustrating novel is a boarding school for physically disabled students on the outskirts of an unnamed town. The distinctly supernatural house is a three-story “gigantic beehive” made up of dormitories, classrooms, and other less formal spaces, each with their own set of rules and secrets. The students—known only by nicknames bestowed upon them by their peers—divide themselves into tribes based on their assigned dormitories, and these close-knit groups work to uncover the mysteries of the house and its history while also trying to avoid war between the factions. Rich with startling details and vivid worldbuilding, the novel unfolds in alternating points of view as characters learn about how the house operates differently from the largely unknown world outsides and collectively wonder about what will happen after graduation, when they must reenter a world that they no longer know. Much of the novel consists of the students telling fairy tales to each other about the “Outsides” and what they know of the house’s past and their own place within it, building a personal mythology as a way of explaining the strange world in which they have found themselves. The witty dialogue, sharply drawn characters, and endlessly unfolding riddle of the house’s true nature buoy a narrative that sometimes seems as meandering as the hallways of the house itself, a series of entertaining anecdotes rather than a cohesive whole. But the intellectually and emotionally rewarding conclusion confirms this fantasy novel’s undeniable power. - Publishers Weekly

    Speculative fiction isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Tea drinkers, however, will happily drown in Mariam Petrosyan’s oversized samovar of a novel, “The Gray House.” Written over a period of 18 years and clocking in at 800 pages, the novel practically dares readers to step inside and stay awhile.
    Those who rise to the challenge will find a carefully constructed narrative that borrows heavily from “Lord of the Flies” by way of “House of Leaves” and “Peter Pan.” The lost boys in question live in a facility for children and teens with disabilities. Dumped there by families who can’t — or won’t — care for them, the children are loosely supervised by a handful of indifferent teachers and counselors under the half-hearted leadership of an eccentric principal.
    Left to their own devices, the boys create an intricate culture for themselves, complete with tribes, nicknames and an ethical code called “the Law,” which is obeyed without question. This culture revolves around the House itself, and its mythology — which spans decades — is so intricate that even careful readers might miss important details. Whether you’re willing to read it again for nuance depends entirely on whether you have accepted the House ... or, perhaps, whether the House has accepted you.
    Ms. Petrosyan is an Armenian who writes in Russian. Her greatest strengths here are her world-building and linguistic creativity, although one has to wonder how much of a role translator Yuri Machkasov plays in casting that spell. Beginning with a straightforward, realistic style, Ms. Petrosyan slowly and carefully leads the reader step by step through suspension of belief to the House’s inner workings, which manifest in increasingly fluid sentences and offbeat vocabulary.
    “The Law” isn’t explained so much as it’s absorbed, as the reader is gradually initiated into its secrets. The glacial pace used to accomplish this might frustrate some people, but anyone who likes nonlinear narrative will be captivated as the story zig-zags through time.
    The plot isn’t exactly straightforward either, which is, perhaps, the point. The House’s residents have no reason — or desire — to return to a world that stigmatizes their wheelchairs, prosthetics and other physical and mental differences. It’s logical, then, that the House’s normal rituals and routines become anxious and frantic in the weeks leading up to graduation, occasionally leading to events Shirley Jackson would appreciate.
    When the adults finally catch on to the pattern and try to prevent it, the children--and the House--take matters into their own hands. This storyline, however, is just one of the House’s many rituals and shouldn’t be considered a traditional horror story.
    The boys themselves are a mixed bag of snarly and sensitive. Smoker, the most relatable of the bunch, is the reader’s ally in trying to navigate an environment that makes no sense to him. Sphinx and Black engage in the constant bickering anyone who’s ever been at the bottom of a social pecking order knows about all too well. Blind holds the key to many of the House’s mysteries, but he’s not telling.
    Even Ralph, the lone counselor who suspects there’s more to the boys than meets the eye, never fully understands what’s happening around him until it’s too late.
    This reviewer’s favorite, however, is the mischievous trickster Tabaqui, who frequently bursts into song, and whose inner monologues include poetic passages that could stand alone as good literature.
    Although they refer to themselves as dogs, rats and other animals, each boy is, for better and worse, all too human.
    “The Gray House” won’t please everybody, but its intended audience will savor each page and flip right back to the beginning after finishing. Hats off, then, to Mariam Petrosyan for a surreal ride through an unconventional universe. - Leigh Anne Focareta

    Mariam Petrosyan was born in 1969 in Yerevan, Armenia. In 1989 she graduated with a degree in applied arts and worked in the animation department of Armenfilm movie studio. In 1992 she moved to Moscow to work at Soyuzmultfilm studio, then returned to Yerevan in 1995.
    The Gray House is Petrosyan’s debut novel. After working on it for eighteen years, she published it in Russia in 2009, and it became an instant bestseller, winning several of the year’s top literary awards, including the Russian Prize for the best book by a Russian author living abroad. The book has been translated into French, Spanish, Italian, Polish, Czech, Hungarian, and Lithuanian.
    In interviews Petrosyan frequently says that readers should not expect another book from her, since, for her, The Gray House is not merely a book but a world she knew and could visit, and she doesn’t know another one.
    Petrosyan is married to Armenian artist Artashes Stamboltsyan. They have two children.


    Catherine Colomb - In these luxe locales, readers encounter upper-class characters with faltering incomes, parvenues, and even ghosts. Throughout, Colomb builds a psychologically penetrating and bold story in which the living and the dead intermingle and in which time itself is a mystery

    Image result for Catherine Colomb, The Spirits of the Earth
    Catherine Colomb, The Spirits of the Earth, Trans. by John Taylor, Seagull Books, 2016. [1953.]

    Swiss novelist Catherine Colomb is known as one of the most unusual and inventive francophone novelists of the twentieth century. Fascinated by the processes of memory and consciousness, she has been compared to that of Virginia Woolf and Marcel Proust. The Spirits of the Earth is the first English translation of Colomb’s work and its arrival will introduce new readers to an iconic novel.
    The Spirits of the Earth is at heart a family drama, set at the Fraidaigue château, along the shores of Lake Geneva, and in the Maison d’en Haut country mansion, located in the hills above the lake. In these luxe locales, readers encounter upper-class characters with faltering incomes, parvenues, and even ghosts. Throughout, Colomb builds a psychologically penetrating and bold story in which the living and the dead intermingle and in which time itself is a mystery.

    "Originally published in French in 1953 as the second entry in an unofficial trilogy, this new Seagull edition provides the first English translation of the Swiss author’s extraordinary work. . . .As the translator John Taylor observes in his introduction, the novel’s frequent use of elliptical devices imparts a distinct supernaturalism to the text, as though its characters exist as something between ghost and angel. It is this multidimensional indeterminacy that makes Colomb’s work a compelling example of Francophone literature that is both thoroughly 'French' and distinctly Swiss." - Times Literary Supplement

    Catherine Colomb’s The Spirits of the Earth starts with a bang, plunging the reader into the world of the Swiss upper classes with barely a chance to draw breath.  There’s a tragedy on the very first page, as a child called Abraham is said to have fallen to his death from a walkway at the top of his family’s spacious château, and worse still, loud voices are accusing his uncle, César, of being indirectly responsible.  The story then moves on (and back, and forwards once more) describing the two families inhabiting the château at Fraidaigue on the shores of Lake Geneva and the Maison d’En Haut up in the hills, slowly explaining the family history.
    César is the focal point of the novel, albeit one whose thoughts and feelings are hidden from the reader for the most part.  Despite his position as the eldest son of a wealthy family, he has been usurped by his two younger brothers, who married at an early age and installed themselves in the two large family properties.  César, seemingly content to spend his days in the family vineyards, or lying on the beach by the lake, gazing vacantly into the sky, divides his year into two halves.  In autumn, he climbs the path to the Maison d’En Haut to spend six months with his brother Alphonse, returning in spring to enjoy the hospitality of Eugène’s household at Fraidaigue.  However, the eldest son’s wanderings act as a sword of Damocles for the other two (and their wives), who are constantly preoccupied by one question – what will happen if César marries and demands his share of the inheritance?
    So far, so V-lit, but that’s not the case here at all.  In the book’s blurb, Colomb is compared to Virginia Woolf, and The Spirits of the Earth certainly has a fair amount in common with some of Woolf’s stream-of-consciousness style.  The novel doesn’t progress quite as simply as it appears from my summary above, instead becoming tangled in a thicket of mixed-up dialogue and description, where we’re occasionally unsure as to who is actually talking, or thinking.  At times, we’re not even sure if the characters are alive or dead; certainly, Abraham appears fairly frequently for someone who is supposed to have plunged to his death…
    Even more complex, though, is the way the writer plays with time, her narrative refusing to flow in a calm, stately manner, instead moving with a frenetic, circular motion.  Events, and characters, appear and reappear, seen from different angles at different times, with details gradually added to the picture.  In his informative introduction, Taylor quotes Colomb herself:
    Doesn’t memory constantly intervene, creating a parallel life, bringing along hundreds of recollections, fleeting visions, and daydreams until, suddenly – you don’t know why – everything vanishes and for an instant subsists only the image of periwinkle growing around a grave or, in a parlour, white rose petals slowly dropping off, and plunking down on the beige felt tablecloth embroidered with gold thread?    p.xviii (Seagull Books, 2016)
    Within this seemingly random structure, an order of sorts does appear, allowing a portrait of César to emerge from the chaos.  The rhythm of the book comes from the regular movements of the wandering bachelor, defined by the seasons, and there’s certainly a hint of the regular flow of Woolf’s The Waves here.
    One of the strengths of the book is its construction of the main characters, and even if we usually stay on the outside, we get a clear picture of their motives and fears.  Eugène’s wife, called simply Madame by all around (and nicknamed ‘Semiramis’ by the bitter César) is a classic matriarch, an imposing figure of a woman who can crush opposition by her shadow alone, and the sight of her cleaning her fingernails can cow the most contrary visitor.  Her husband, by contrast, is a weak figure, a hen-pecked little man hoping the sky won’t fall in one day, following in his Amazonian wife’s wake and secretly regretting his impetuous decision to marry young.
    It’s César, though, around whom the story revolves, and if he is initially drawn as a crazed outsider, he soon wins our sympathy as we realise his secret hopes for a happy future:
    He was vaguely daydreaming about a cheerful future; all in all, he was happy that Eugène, who had been the first child to marry, had taken Fraidaigue; he, César, would not have wished to have Fraidaigue because of the demolished tower from which the turtledove had fallen.  The frightened children were listening to their father demolish the tower, then he set off in a boat, crossed back and forth all night long in front of the château and its painted windows, caught a bad cold and died.  Not a single blade of grass grew where the tower had stood.  He, César, would marry Gwen and take the Maison d’En Haut.  But then what about Adolphe? (p.113)
    The tragedy of the story is that the inheritance, as substantial as it is, won’t suffice for three sons (their sister, Zoé, is nowhere in this race for a legacy…), meaning that the happiness of one brother contributes to the misery of another.  As Adolphe and Eugène fret (and Madame plots), César attempts to assert himself and finally get what he deserves.  Sadly, his own hesitation and the vagaries of fate combine to push him down once more.
    While hard to date, The Spirits of the Earth appears to be set in the interwar period, and there’s certainly a modernist feel to the novel.  The family is in decline, the crumbling tower a symbol of the loss of status and power, and the vineyards have been decimated by a harsh winter.  Colomb fills her work with minor characters, particularly women, who are destined to remain alone and unloved, and she doesn’t shy away from describing physical flaws in details, with many characters given flab, greasy skin and dirty thinning hair…
    …and yet there’s also a lively feel to the novel, with the reader pulled along in a breathless race along the comma-laden sentences:
    Charlotte waddled fast and heavy after her, loosening the cobblestones along the way, and forcefully placed on her cousin’s shoulders – how skinny she was! – her own Boyard coat that was moth-eaten even before the countess had tossed it to her after rummaging in a chest as big as a whole region of Europe, nothing but her big Russian derrière with its thousands of fatty folds showing as she threw furs and woollens down to the governesses standing in a row at the bottom of the staircase, and when she turned around, her poppy-red, terribly wrinkled face could be seen, she dealt out two or three more slaps and sat down to drink some black tea. (pp.54/5)
    The lack of sections and a paucity of paragraph breaks make it hard to put the book down, particularly when time, place and point of view can shift mid-sentence, leaving you floundering until a familiar detail emerges like a rock to cling to in the midst of a stormy lake.  Taylor discusses the challenges of translating the novel in the introduction, particularly regarding Colomb’s interesting use of verb tenses, and bringing this story into English would definitely have been a formidable task.  Initially, I was a little concerned about some of the obvious Gallicisms, particularly in terms of word order (I’m not a huge fan of making the new text sound foreign), but in this book, with a text which deliberately distances the reader, it actually worked very well.
    Colomb wasn’t a writer I’d heard of before receiving Taylor’s message, but it just shows (again…) that there are a lot of very good writers out there whose work is waiting to be discovered – and translated.  With the usual aesthetically pleasing Seagull Books treatment adding to the appeal, The Spirits of the Earth is a book many readers (those who enjoy something a little less plain) will enjoy.  She wasn’t a hugely prolific writer, only producing four novels, so perhaps we’ll see more of her work in English in coming years.
    Of course, I know just who to ask about that… - tonysreadinglist.wordpress.com/2016/12/15/the-spirits-of-the-earth-by-catherine-colomb-review/


    Isabel Waidner - Gaudy Bauble stages a glittering world populated by Gilbert & George-like lesbians, GoldSeXUal StatuEttes, anti-drag kings, maverick detectives, a transgender army equipped with question-mark-shaped helmets, and pets who have dyke written all over them. Everyone interferes with the plot. No one is in control of the plot

    Placeholder image
    Isabel Waidner, Gaudy Bauble, Dostoyevsky Wannabe, 2017.  
    The Quietus
    Minor Literature[s]

    "I'm besotted with this beguiling, hilarious, rollocking, language-metamorphosing novel. The future of the queer avant-garde is safe with Isabel Waidner." - Olivia Laing

    Gaudy Bauble stages a glittering world populated by Gilbert & George-like lesbians, GoldSeXUal StatuEttes, anti-drag kings, maverick detectives, a transgender army equipped with question-mark-shaped helmets, and pets who have dyke written all over them. Everyone interferes with the plot. No one is in control of the plot. Surprises happen as a matter of course: A faux research process produces actual results. A digital experiment goes viral. Hundreds of lipstick marks requicken a dying body. And the Deadwood-to-Dynamo Audience Prize goes to whoever turns deadestwood into dynamost. Gaudy Bauble stages what happens when the disenfranchised are calling the shots. Riff-raff are running the show and they are making a difference.

    Playing with syntax and polysemy has long been the hallmark of narrative experimentation in a bid to subvert coherence and clear distinctions between various literary genres. In a similar shot, Isabel Waidner’s Gaudy Bauble juggles with dichotomies instead, somehow counterfeiting the ambiguities in the sexual identities we are so keen on wrapping and delivering as unitary, compact versions of ourselves. But as its sassy narrative zigzags, the trap of making such stereotypes or binary divides line up or, even worse, interchangeable is dodged. As a matter of fact, what happens to the characters in this experimental narrative could easily be relocated in the midst of a Balkan flea market or a furniture store that advertises its kitsch items as “baroque” – their flashiness is likely to remain the same regardless of the context because they seem to know exactly how to work out different ways they can interact with each other without denying their own self-determination.
    In Gaudy Bauble, characters themselves happen and everyone – and everything – gets to be a protagonist: clothing imprints, transgender infantry paradeing in question-mark-shaped helmets, butch fibreglass animals, GoldSeXUal StatuEttes to name just a few. It’s as if no one is actually calling the shots, so the plot becomes just a pretext, a background against which all these unapologetically “gaudy” figurines seem bound on displacing heterosexual identifications and placing queer manners of speaking, looking and acting instead.
    Charmingly enough, Gaudy Bauble tackles a very specific trope in gay culture, namely the animal identifications (the gay body types such as Bear, Wolf, Otter, Cub) used as shorthand for one’s sexual identity but also as a way of setting the terms of desire and attitude towards other gay bodies.
    Had there been a lesbian equivalent to the historical, hysterical, galvanising, generative, prolific, prohibitive, empowering, limiting, liberating, inclusive, exclusive, offensive Gay Zoo? Had there been a Lesbian Zoo? There were lesbian taxonomies sure. But neither Blulip nor P.I. Belahg had heard of a Lesbian Zoo. Blulip, have you? No. No. You?! We could have been fruit flies. Jellyfish.  Carnivorous plants. We could have been crystals. There could have been a Lesbian Toxicology. Mineralogy. There probably had been. There probably was.
    Such animal metaphors (“An Ursula was a lesbian-identified Bear, or a Bear-identified lesbian. Was it true that post-identity Britain did not know what a Bear was?”) may provide the perfect occasion for leaving aside one’s humanity, especially when you desire an honest differentness in your self-conception. But as this text also hints, there is no counterpart to this menagerie when it comes to lesbian culture that is somehow still congealed around the butch/femme binary even if it’s not so keen on admitting it. However, there aren’t any regrets either as lively queerness is also supposed to function as a meeting point between ingenuity and repression of desires that stonewalls stereotypes of any kind.
    Waidner’s attention to details mostly pertaining to aesthetics is almost clinical and language rolls with punches to the point that it may come across as a little bit suffocating. Flamboyant names, punctuation marks that seem to leave the text for a career in fashion, a prize (such as Deadwood-to-Dynamo Audience Prize) that leaves you scratching the more technical part of your brain, unicode and chemical structures splintering the text every once in a while, glittery ornithology that borders transhumanism – they all bear the semblance of wanting to go beyond the divisive identifications brought by class, gender, race, even if only for a second or two.
    Belua’s head detached from her broad-shouldered body and volplaned onto the workbench. The head ran past a row of turpentine bottles and hid behind a pot of paint. Belua apologised for the late night visitation. Headless, she spoke from the heart. Belua proceeded further to disintegrate. Her shoulder duplex disengaged from her collarbone. The latter landed on the floor. Finally, Belua’s broad torso bifurcated, and Belua was gone.
    After all, this could be a diagram experimenting with the contours of a queer utopia, a space where difference is not instrumentalised against its bearers and identity is means to an end and not a scope in itself or an exercise in self-absorption based on the exclusion of others (or the Otters in Gaudy Bauble).
    Coming across a character named Ursula and a reference to bald heads covered with glitter might also bring to mind another utopian narrative concerned with (among other things) traditional gender roles and how they coerce those already disenfranchised, Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed. Reading the heart-breaking ‘EINE GANZ VORZÜGLICHE LEICHE, UN CADAVRE EXQUIS, AND BELOVED’, a piece on living with AIDS without having to die of it, might bring to mind another memoir of disintegration, David Wojnarowicz’s Close to the Knives. It also evokes the queer necropolitics currently at play in the US: HIV/AIDS funding could be gutted by the introduction of the American Health Care Act of 2017, thus literally condemning HIV positive queers to death. On this particular front, the entire narrative is an inquisitive beast, overpopulated with references that may require a second, even third reading.
     Gaudy Bauble is what happens when the margins/marginalised suddenly decide to chew on the centre by means of an avant-garde smouldering with differences in language and sexuality the uselessness and toxicity of binaries as mechanisms of definition are, once again, gleefully exposed.
    - MH  http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/vanguard-collectibles-isabel-waidners-gaudy-bauble/


    Isabel Waidner, Frantisek Flounders: a novella and prequel to Bubka, 8fold 
    Admittedly Frantisek was angling when the flounder descended on her. That isn't to say that she caught the flounder, pulled the petal or plucked the blossom; she'd categorically speaking lost her pluck, she'd been without pluck for the longest time, and still didn't catch on, didn't catch on the day, couldn't have pulled a petal nor plucked a blossom and certainly not one of the magnitude; Said blossom must have been preying on her - a pining petal, a looming bloom - no other approach gets to the bottom of it, it was the flounder personally, who caught Frantisek out. Giving credit where credit is due, vupti!, the flounder leapt into her lap.

    Isabel Waidner, Bubka, 1st Instalment, 8fold, 2010.

    the mythical chapter Pelican Pilot appears as an accidental insert in some of the editions.

    A deceptively slim volume, Bubka, The 1st Instalment creates a whole world, condensed to the size of a marble. Scrupulously adhering to an unorthodox logic, the plot revolves around spheres and circles, before, via triangles, spiralling out of control. The character Bubka, proprietor of a kiosk, and her customer Gotterbarm are beleaguered by what appears to be a group of aspiring actors, who mimic them to a more or less faithful degree. The ensuing episodes add up to an excess layer of symbolism, a non-verbal metalanguage, which not only threatens to take over the narrative of Bubka and Gotterbarm, but in return asks to be deciphered…
    The novel Bubka is published by 8fold as a serialisation. Isabel Waidner is a writer based in London 

    Bubka was launched as part of prologue

    Fantômas Takes Sutton (3:AM Magazine, 2016)
    New Romantic & Tender Hearts (Berfrois, 2016)
    Avant-Ice (Minor Literature[s], 2016)
    Camp Crystal (Queen Mob’s Teahouse, 2017)

    Interview: Swimmers’ Club

    Isabel Waidner contributed to the Dictionary of Lost Languages (2015) alongside Sarah Wood, Ali Smith, and Olivia Laing. As part of the Indie band Klang, she released records on UK labels Rough Trade (2003) and Blast First (2004). Waidner co-edits T.A.M. (an underground lit journal). She teaches at Goldsmiths (University of London) and Roehampton University. www.waidner.org @isabelwaidner



    Albert Mobilio - The 50 short–short stories are based on old–time games played in parlors, basements, and fields with balls, brooms, blindfolds, and cards. As winners and losers emerge from dodge ball, word games or balloon contests, so does the theme of our inner life as ceaseless competition.

    Games And Stunts

    Albert Mobilio, Games And Stunts, Black Square Editions, 2017.

    The 50 short–short stories are based on old–time games played in parlors, basements, and fields with balls, brooms, blindfolds, and cards. As winners and losers emerge from dodge ball, word games or balloon contests, so does the theme of our inner life as ceaseless competition. There is calculation, envy, humiliation and joy, and there is always the next round when everything might change.

    Image result for Albert Mobilio, Touch Wood,
    Albert Mobilio, Touch Wood, Brooklyn Rail/Black Square Press, 2011.

    As a writer, critic, and editor, Albert Mobilio has represented some of the best tendencies in experimental poetry over the past twenty years. Author of three previous books of poems, in his latest he pares down his chiseled writing style to bare essentials that at the same time function as gleaming ornaments. Primarily consisting of short, lyric poems whose dense surfaces are generated through accretion (“wheel’s teeth per inch; / wordage over blood pressure; / speed at which cylinders spin; / or nickels enough to fill / his fist”), the work in Touch Wood resembles a precisely sewn patchwork with edges both frayed and razor sharp. The poetic fragment arose in response to the twentieth century’s fundamental brokenness, and there is a sense of the bruised, of the suffering stapled to every happiness, pervading Mobilio’s poems: “My lovely intricacies dying / on a soiled vine; my bleak worm eating // away at life. Such vaporous declension / from the normative.” Thus, the book tips between contrasts: “the wrong way of thinking // is always next to the right one.” This isn’t the same as the struggle between beauty and art also waged in these pages. Like in a good film noir, a dangerous seduction duels with a clumsily frank masculinity: Mobilio knows the way a person wears ill-fitting and scratchy clothes—reluctantly, resignedly, and preferably not all day. Because deeper than any gender or even sex is the pulsing animal body beneath. The brain’s attempt to make sense of this unruly material world is a form of disfigurement called art, or as Mobilio perfectly terms it, “these bleary weirds.” - Alan Gilbert

    “So there are rays. Strong ones, others /only splinters.” These lines from Albert Mobilio’s eerie, minor-key latest collection Touch Wood aptly describe the delirious effects a reader may experience in the passenger seat of this existential ride through a psychic terrain of “sand banks, stung with grass.” Indeed, Mobilio’s syntax spills from line to line as a light ray filtering down through interstitial spaces of speech:
    you do it by letting likeness creep in,
    makes me resemble you &
    the other way round & it’s goodbye
    to truth, which
    feels quiet at first

    But in Touch Wood, as in the work of Carl Phillips, such refractions often culminate in full illumination. The afore-quoted “The Whole of It Is Winged” unfurls into clear music:
    Then implausibly so
    how easily we play this squeezebox,
    step wide & bow
    to beat the band, so many loves belong
    to us, our song is
    a perilous thrust, a pistol really,
    handheld & in consequence
    so much easier to aim.

    It’s that perilous thrust that provides the sultry menace behind Mobilio’s stanzas, lending a suitably noir feel to the Hitchcockian “Only Woman in the World,” where the speaker finds a cinematic opiate (“how red this redness gets”) in a woman whose contours are glimpsed “in a silent film-scene / […] fractioned / by blinds,” and whose “cast-off sighs” become “blossoms on the floor.”
    An enigmatic Cubist perspective on the angst of the everyday, the “blue-black of casual doom,” divides its abode with more explicitly narrative work such as “Kin,” which informs us “He’s my brother, but I made / him up: someone older, wiser,” before spidering into eccentric narrative within what at first seems to be a secure, Billy Collins-style conceit.
    Among rougher gems, the glorious suite “The Spelled Out Spark in Rooms” illustrates that the ray of the poet’s expression may travel as logically by its own laws as does light, but may prove equally unpredictable, illuminating “a sparkling disco ball or Descartes peering / through an ox’s eye.”
    Obsessively visual in its journey down the slyly humorous avenues of persona and the mechanics of everyday endurance, Touch Wood turns on a reader’s eyes like headlights on a late-afternoon ride through the abyss between our life’s milestone events, dispersing “particles of nowhere.” -

    The poems of Albert Mobilio’s Touch Wood remind me of a review I once read of Pavement’s first album, Slanted and Enchanted. The songs—and here I paraphrase—were like listening to a distant broadcast of a Buddy Holly tune, the music barely coming through the intermittent bursts of static. In a similar way, Mobilio’s poems delight in their clamor, even as snippets of the contemporary poetic equivalent of pop songs—narrative, autobiography, confession—whisper through the discordance: “standing: we was nearly lifelike, / even in the close-ups but how // things modify & where / the middle goes / when the edges fade” (“Conditional Tense”). Here one might misread “middle goes” as “middle age” after the deft Berrymanesque ventriloquism of “we was nearly lifelike.” Even without the misreading, the poem’s pathos peeks through the cracks in the minimalist lines, especially in its last stanza, which plucks the heartstrings like a pop song’s hook: “quick swigs, stars / on the radio, our body / an anchor amid seas.”
    On the cover of this sharply designed book, Mobilio’s name in a modern sans serif typeface stands in stark contrast to the cover art, a piece of wood seemingly ink-stamped in place, overlaying marks etched into the paint of the canvas. The book wholeheartedly engages such binaries and implicitly reinforces the old saw (pardon the pun) that good poetry is a poetry of tension—here, between signal and noise, mainstream and avant-garde, intimacy and distance. So even when the poems go a little heart-on-sleeve, they challenge one to navigate their indirections and opacities by focusing attention on the poem’s moving parts, how words and lines fit together like gears. They enact, in short, William Carlos Williams’s assertion that poems are machines made of words:
    pillar then pedestal &# yes
    you want to be saved, not tossed
    off, left to wrecks:
    wheel’s teeth per inch;
    wordage over blood pressure;
    speed at which cylinders spin;
    or nickels enough to fill
    his fist, then hers, then how
    many times clenched
    makes revolution happen,
    revolving doors stop. (“Touch Wood”)
    As seen in this excerpt from the title poem, each line, word, and phrase latches on to the next with a particular speed and efficiency. But unlike the poems of Italian Futurism, which such adjectives may conjure, the mechanisms of Mobilio’s poems have a grime or grit to them, often conveyed in the stutter of a linebreak; they oscillate between not wanting to be “tossed / off, left to wrecks” and “want[ing] to be saved.”
    The play of tensions may be most clearly seen in Touch Wood’s very different back-to-back sequences, “The Spelled Out Spark in Rooms” and “Letters From Mayhem.” The former presents Mobilio at his most clear—and, one might say, accessible. Here the signal to noise ratio tips toward scientific precision, each section of the nine-part sequence charting the transmutation of light to sight. More interestingly, and in a similar way as Sarah O’Brien does throughout her seeing-eye meditation Catch Light, “The Spelled Out Spark” invests the seen with a measure of the (transcendent) unseen:
    The mind’s eye begins with atmosphere & islets
    of dust. Sorts out the various
    kinds of dark—the blue-black of casual doom,
    the humid shade collecting under bridges
    or the charcoal hue that settles
    in hospital rooms after visiting hours. Beamish
    to lusterless, satellite to blacktop’s skid.
    Every fleck a sun, every sun a dial to be turned—
    If “The Spelled Out Spark” portrays the poem-machine at its most well-oiled, “Letters from Mayhem” portrays the poem as a contraption whose sometimes disconnected parts pound out a lovely discordance. Headed by a quotation from Nabokov’s “Signs and Symbols”—“His inmost thoughts are discussed at nightfall, in manual alphabet, by darkly gesticulating trees”—“Mayhem” is itself a kind of manual alphabet. The twenty-six section titles are an abecedary, beginning with “amen)” and ending with “zeroing in).” In contrast with the previous sequence, “Mayhem” approaches its subject matter at much more of a slant, focusing greater attention on the movement of language itself, a movement seemingly—seemingly—obfuscating a deeper confessional impetus. “[E]verything is difficult,” begins “zeroing in)”, “as / I am driven by purely // directional noise but cannot match / sensation with acts.” “I’ve been with her / on roofs and on the high rocks,” ends “effable).” “Wind ballooning // our skinny jackets, the moonlight / gone dirty through our tears.”
    Thematically, Mobilio is often concerned with just how, as the title poem says, “we lay down housed, / our animal griefs / intact inside such labor.” He is interested in the parts we play—how we construct and are constructed, the self being some off-kilter conjunction of the two—reminding one, perhaps, of Yeats’ consideration of mask and face. We are “lincoln logs,” both “Touch Wood” the poem and Touch Wood the book suggest—the house and that which is housed. Even as the apparently authentic face shines through the artifice, Mobilio asks, does it not become just another aspect of the mask, as poetic transparency is another level of the poem’s artifice? The poet engages these issues of the authentic and the artificial in motifs of robots and constructed identities, as in these “Lady Lazarus”-like stanzas from “Circuit Breaks”:
    by purest antiquity
    I’m quite the choked-up hoax
    My arms inclined to climb
    so physical to physical
    lasts long
    enough to rub within
    It’s dubious, this creature’s
    stumbling fate: denial is
    a prisoner’s
    Here Mobilio ultimately equates the machine of the poem, “a prisoner’s / lyre,” with the “hoax” the speaker feels he is performing. In its play of modernist precision and postmodernist fuzzy math, Touch Wood often equates the latter with an interiority unavailable publicly—a prisoner, housed. Unavailable, that is, except through the noise of lyric poetry, which here both transmits the signal and conveys the ways that interiority comes into the shared world distorted by language. It is when one accepts the inevitability of this distortion, these poems suggest, that one may see the possibility of beauty in it as well:
    Semi-private, semi-circling thoughts,
    the season seeps beneath my hat
    A head full of clauses when you
    talk as if stirring a drink
    with your tongue
    We’re mixing at the mixer
    Our brilliant bits ignite (“Social Struggle”)
    In the end, we are not just “semi-private, semi-circling thoughts”; that interiority should rather be seen as part of the complex situations we are nested within, “mixing at the mixer.” For Mobilio, we are not unlike Chaplin’s Tramp, caught in Modern Times’s factory machinery, both humorously and tragically. Yet the poet goes a step further: we are not just caught in the machine, we are of it. This is less a critique than a realization, for the poem is the machine in microcosm, and the poem, in its tensions, may be as beautiful as it is awful. As such it may also enable a certain acceptance of the rightness of the situation—an acceptance which is also a transcendence:
    the whole of it is winged, this science
    of speaking about large things
    in pocket-size
    you do it by letting likeness creep in,
    makes me resemble you &
    the other way round & it’s goodbye
    to truth (“The Whole of It is Winged”)
    With Mobilio, it is poetry itself—as a pocket-sized measure of our world’s large things, its awful tensions and awful beauties—that may somehow save us. “[E]ach of us flat against the glass,” the poet writes in “Despite Which Slid,” “the glass against / this cartesian forest in which we play / the stranger overly // delighted by our strangeness.” Not “his” or “her” strangeness, but “our” strangeness. As a whole, the poems of Touch Wood ultimately pray: may we always be so delighted. -

    Image result for Albert Mobilio, Bendable Siege

    Albert Mobilio, Bendable Siege, Red Dust, 1991.

    "Throughout BENDABLE SIEGE, virtually every line has the taut ripple of its own ongoing lyricism. One might miss a word here or there but only at one's risk. We're immediately in the realm of the irreducible"—Gustaf Sobin

    Image result for Albert Mobilio,Me with Animal Towering,

    Albert Mobilio, Me with Animal Towering,  Four Walls Eight Windows, 2002.

    “Mobilio’s poetry is the ultimate detox center for reality addicts,” wrote Robert Creeley. Infused with pop culture references spanning Tom and Jerry cartoons, Spinoza, and the confessions of a stag film actress, these poems revel in roughhouse lyricism. Mobilio is the winner of a Whiting Writers Award and the 1998 National Book Critics Circle Award for excellence in reviewing.

    "Intelligence is the first gift here - active, troublemaking, rapture-prone, intelligence. The intelligence that animates Mobilio's celebrated essays and reviews is brightly present in these poems, glittering with quick dance steps, delirious with almost unkept promises. Every page is full of surprises, and I can't think of a poet who so consistently astonishes me with deft moves. There are prose poems here too: 'And the talk slid south' is a marvel, an incarnation of fiction as mis-hearing. I find myself reading as if I were a third person in his conversation. And that turns out to be a true description of what happens in Mobilio's work -- we find ourselves in reading." - Robert Kelly

    Whiting fellow Albert Mobilio's sophomore effort, Me with Animal Towering, heads off in several directions from his groundbreaking 1996 debut, The Geographics, the unacknowledged original from which so much fin de siŠcle wise-guy prose-poetry-for-prose-poetry's sake has been counterfeited. He still times perfectly his alternations between tough and schlumpy personae, gifted at finding sensuous details in the bins of dinged language out in front of literature's seedier bazaars: "Not only did I have marijuana, I told her, but I had some cocaine. She nearly trilled, her voice sounding like the bright clang of divine scales tipping in my favor." - Publishers Weekly

    Image result for Albert Mobilio, The Geographics
    Albert Mobilio, The Geographics, Hard Press Editions, 1995.

    This impressive first book manages the double ground of a nightmarish surrealism and a dryly perceptive wit. It's as if Humphrey Bogart were taking a good, if final, look at what's called the world.These are poems of a survivor, urbane, is an ultimate detox center for reality addicts as thinking becomes the only way out. - Robert Creeley

    "This extraordinary book is wise beyond comment or commendation, so true to its way it adduces its own lucid blurb, albeit unintended: 'These documents require better lips than ours.'" -- Nathaniel Mackey

    "This is the poetry of the world's prose. Mobilio's disillusioned poetics is the finest realism of our moment. His art includes that healthy aggressivity where the mind delights in violent freshness'that has been fresh a long time.' Sense here is a terrible partial ghost, and this book an uncanny feast" -- David Shapiro


    Bertrand Laverdure - Funny and sardonic, whimsical and tragic, this postmodern novel with touches of David Foster Wallace and Raymond Queneau portrays the global village of readers that the Internet created, even before the 2.0 revolution

    Bertrand Laverdure, Readopolis, Trans. by Oana Avasilichioaei, BookThug, 2017.

    It's 2006 and down-and-out protagonist Ghislain works as a reader for a publishing house in Montreal. He's bored with all the wannabe writers who are determined to leave a trace of their passage on earth with their feeble attempts at literary arts. Obsessed by literature and its future (or lack thereof), he reads everything he can in order to translate reality into the literary delirium that is READOPOLIS—a world imagined out of Chicago and Montreal, with few inhabitants, a convenience store, a parrot, and all kinds of dialogues running amok: cinematic, epistolary, theatrical, and Socratic. In the pages of READOPOLIS (Lectodôme in the original French), Laverdure playfully examines the idea that human beings are more connected by their reading abilities than by anything else. Funny and sardonic, whimsical and tragic, this postmodern novel with touches of David Foster Wallace and Raymond Queneau portrays the global village of readers that the Internet created, even before the 2.0 revolution.

    "Brilliant, playful, perfectly convincing, READOPOLIS has everything to place Laverdure in the ranks of the 'sickest literary greats.'" —Le Devoir

    "An intensely unapologetic hybrid work--zigzagging between a story within a story, epistolary novel, screenplay, and more--Lectodôme is delightfully intelligent and fantastical." --Voir
    Image result for Bertrand Laverdure, Universal Bureau of Copyrights,

    Bertrand Laverdure, Universal Bureau of Copyrights, Trans. by Oana Avasilichioaei, BookThug, 2014.

    From celebrated Quebecois author Bertrand Laverdure comes Universal Bureau of Copyrights , a bold, strange and addictive story that envisions a world where free will doesn't exist, and an enigmatic global corporation buys and sells the copyrights for all things on Earth, including real and fictional characters. Through this novel, which is part poetic narrative, part sci-fi-dystopian fantasy, readers become acquainted with the main character, a man who deconstructs himself as he navigates the mystifying passages of the story. Having no control over his environment, time continuum, or body, he is a puppet on strings, an icon in a video game and, as he eventually discovers within the bowels of the Universal Bureau of Copyrights, the object of countless copyrights. With touches of Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions and Sterne's Tristram Shandy, Universal Bureau of Copyrights packs a multitude of modern cultural references into an audacious exploration of identity and one's place in the world.

    Laverdure’s clever commentary on identity, ownership and control keep us guessing right up until the end. -The Times Literary Supplement

    Much like the viewer of the experimental film, I’m far from certain what it all means…. But the best books aren’t always the easiest ones.— Ambos Journal of Quebec Literature in Translation
    In many ways, Universal Bureau of Copyrights is the poetic, minimalist brother to Trifonova’s Rewrite.— Andrew Wilmot

    “Universal Bureau of Copyrights” is the first work of Quebecois writer Bertrand Laverdure’s to be translated in English – in this case, masterfully so by Montreal poet Oana Avasilichioaei. That this is actually Laverdure’s fourth novel says more about the divide between anglo and francophone literary culture in Canada than it does about the work of the poet-novelist Laverdure, who has established himself as a significant presence in Quebecois letters with his award winning work and with his blog Technicien Coffeur. Jay MillAR’s imprint BookThug, with its mandate of “extending the tradition of experimental literature,” is one of a few select publishers here in Canada with the vision to currently narrow this divide, providing a writer of Laverdure’s talent with the opportunity for a readership his work richly deserves.
    “Universal Bureau of Copyrights,” billed as “part poetic narrative, part sci-fi dystopian fantasy,” has Laverdure mining a vein of storytelling that reaches back beyond sci-fi to the works of Rabelais and Sterne, in which the narrative is foregrounded as a performance. Laverdure defamiliarizes the banal with his startling imagery and an assured touch with similitude, while he takes abrupt detours from the plot points that would lead to any conventional attempt at dramatic focus.
    Laverdure’s unnamed protagonist goes from one absurd, puzzling encounter to another as his body undergoes a series of unsettling transformations. In one chapter he is in Montreal, having a prosthetic leg fitted after a vicious squirrel attack, and in the next he is inexplicably in Brussels, at a bar with a young woman discussing the work of the performance artist Valie Export – while a “charming blue mascot,” Jokey Smurf, lurks nearby. Similar to an early Murakami novel like “The Wild Sheep Chase,” there is a noir-ish sense of menace developed through this series of misadventures, because we soon realize that what is occurring is part of a spectacle carried out for the amusement of others:
    “I see the exhaustion return to my host’s eyes. Again feel fatigue in my jaws. Not a good sign. I’m stressed out. Then I regain my self-control. These utilitarian characters, these video game clowns don’t deserve for us to dwell on them too much…”
    Beyond what plot there is, the “video game clowns” in Laverdure’s world are also being put to use in the service of allegory and social satire, betraying a trenchant critique of our current cultural moment.
    As the title suggests, that critique concerns authenticity and identity in a world where there is a distinct sense of cultural exhaustion, as the rapacious big data overlords at the Universal Bureau seek out the intellectual property rights of “every earthly grain of sand.”
    “Our shareholders – the Temp.Cop in our jargon – are the initiators of our gestures, behaviours and actions … To be in possession of oneself is impossible because several people buy stock options on our destiny right from our conception.”
    The character is finally decapitated, but authenticity, and actual agency over one’s fate are the ultimate casualties in the world of the “Universal Bureau of Copyrights.” Laverdure’s Swiftian eye for the savage ironies revealed in the amusement addictions of the Hive Mind provokes a new kind of laughter in the dark.
    - John Delacourt

     Universal Bureau of Copyrights is a surreal-poetic novel. The narrator moves between some real places -- Brussels and Canada -- but much of his journey is in the very unreal -- compounded by the fact that he finds himself drifting: "From delirium to delirium", blacking out repeatedly along the ways. Among the few recurring characters is 'Jokey Smurf', with his dependable red-ribbon-wrapped exploding box. The cartoon character fits with much of the action, which involves sequences that are far more dream- or cartoon-like than real -- the progressive loss of body-parts by the narrator, for one.
           How fictional is this world ? The narrator isn't entirely sure, only slowly seeming to understand that he's a player in it, and that he's being played.
           There's literal detachment (and not just of digits and limbs). There's a group of 'literary tourists' who appear:
    For the first time, all the members of the gang, who haven't necessarily read the book but who have followed, with guide and road maps, our hero's adventures, show up on the scene.
           The narrator begins to understand -- or think he understands -- and come to terms with his situation:
    Through careful consideration, I have calmly learned how to become a character. It demands constant application. I wasn't a character at the beginning of this book, but I have become one.
           The explanation behind much of this is already hinted at in the title, but the eponymous institution is only revealed and described deep into the story. It is an inspired idea:
    To summarize, every word, every material, every object, every letter, every spark of life, every idea, every character, has their copyright.
           And the Universal Bureau of Copyrights controls these. Here, hence: "Nature and culture are no longer separate; they are merged". Which is a pretty mind-blowing concept -- as also reflected in the narrator's account, which suggests his mind repeatedly being blown. Informed that: "You have no ownership over what constitutes you" isn't what precipitated his existential crisis, but that knowledge certainly offers only limited comfort.
           Universal Bureau of Copyrights is a sort of science-fiction thought experiment, spun out in surrealest form. Just as the narrator has little to hold onto (especially given the repeated lost of limbs ...), so the reader is in many ways left at sea. Laverdure playfully pushes boundaries of inaccessibility -- the closing chapter is in Mandarin (though a translation is provided in the notes) -- and the novel's final word is a parenthetical "etc.", suggesting anything but closure.
           This sort of thing isn't everyone's kind of fun but, aside from an over-reliance on characters losing consciousness in one way or another (always a cheap way out), Laverdure shows a nice touch to his bizarre fictional world. He doesn't try to explain too much, which might frustrate those who prefer their science fiction more traditional, but the way he gives readers so much space to imagine for themselves works quite well -- especially with the creepy foundational institution of the titular Universal Bureau of Copyrights, suggesting as it does a lack of the possibility of free will not just for the characters presented in these pages but to the entire world beyond as well, including the reader.
    - M.A.Orthofer

    The elegant English translation of Bertrand Laverdure’s novel, Universal Bureau of Copyrights (Oana Avasilichioaei, 2014), pivots on the contradictory premise that when imagination becomes reality and wild thoughts materialize, free will is lost rather than celebrated.
    In an alternate world, “every word, every material, every object, every letter, every spark of life, every idea, every character, has their copyright” (103), implying that “you have no ownership over what constitutes you” (105). You imagine something and it happens to you; a stranger imagines something and it happens to you. As the term “Copyright” suggests, both in the original and the translation, the legal authority for one party to reproduce is simultaneously the prohibition for another party to do the same. Creativity is institutionalized to be a safe place, yet reveals itself as a house of horrors.
    In the novel’s metafictional reality, the unnamed protagonist is subjected to imagination. In a picaresque sequence of events, he is systematically maimed, losing a leg, first his little fingers, then both his arms; his clothes disappear and, in a gesture of lost self-worth, he considers wearing a random sweater drenched in vomit. Metamorphosing through subtraction, loss of physicality becomes symbolic of his establishment as a character rather than as an independent human being. He is passively written, rather than writing himself. Being written means submitting to the whim of the writer, to imagination, to a future already copyrighted for him. He does not necessarily benefit from the writing, victimized by haphazard brutality: “I’m sure the main character’s stump should have grown back […] but you can bet your ass there’s some negligence in the writing of this scene” (45).
    Injury is consistently positioned as the concluding act of a chapter. If violence is the final thought in a world where imagination reigns and the character is conscious of the fact that he is being created by the writer, then Laverdure is passing harsh judgment on the creative process. In a peek “behind the scenes of the book” (64), imagination is posited as disease.
    Metafiction exposes the author’s craft and attempts to destabilize the power dynamic in favour of writer over written. Comically, a character costumed as Jokey Smurf recurs throughout as prankster and terrorist, sadistically offering an explosive gift box to unwitting targets. His character simultaneously stands for free will and fate, spontaneity and premeditation, independent individual and author’s pawn. Considering the Smurf costume, the protagonist asks: “Who takes the time to don the garb of Jokey Smurf? On the contrary, one would have thought Smurfs to be empty entities, remotely operated and inflated by a deus ex machina author” (64). And in the world of Universal Bureau of Copyrights he is correct. Jokey isn’t a one-dimensional addition to the novel. Rather, by wearing a costume, a character submits to playing a part in the narrative Laverdure creates while Laverdure questions the possibility of equality between author and character. - Klara du Plessis

    Bertrand Laverdure has no fear when it comes to pulling from a variety of genres to create something new, unsettling and innovative. Newly translated into English by Oana Avasilichioaei, Bertrand's Universal Bureau of Copyrights (BookThug) is part sci-fi dystopia, part social commentary and all addictive storytelling. It imagines a world where free will is non-existent and copyrights to all things are bought and sold by the government — including copyrights for people.
    Today Bertrand joins us to take on the Proust Questionnaire, where in his trademark, candid voice, he tells us about the writer who gets it all, the literary death he envies and what's in the microwave.
    The Proust Questionnaire was not invented by Marcel Proust, but it was a much loved game by the French author and many of his contemporaries. The idea behind the questionnaire is that the answers are supposed to reveal the respondent's "true" nature.
    What is your dream of happiness?
    Teleportation on a daily basis.
    What is your idea of misery?
    Be stuck in a bucket of wet concrete that never solidifies, and be ignorant of philosophy.
    Where would you like to live?
    On a stage, in front of more than 8000 people that want my art and treat me like a prince.
    What qualities do you admire most in a man?
    What qualities do you admire most in a woman?
    What is your chief characteristic?
    Bold ambition.
    What is your principal fault?
    What is your greatest extravagance?
    I speak to robots, like in the movie I'm a Cyborg and That's Okay.
    What faults in others are you most tolerant of?
    Slip on the law (Breaking a rule? Bending the rules? Plus idiomatiques).
    What do you value most about your friends?
    What characteristic do you dislike most in others?
    Trojan horse friendship, faking kindness to get what you want from me.
    What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?
    I’m too much into self-promotion, I would have liked more to be the Salinger type.
    What is your favourite virtue?
    Loyalty, is there seriously any other real virtue?
    What is your favourite occupation?
    What would you like to be?
    A writer on a stage, in front of a large audience, with dolby surrounding system in a kind of opera theatre.
    What is your favourite colour?
    Screen green.
    What is your favourite flower?
    Orchid, like in the movie.
    What is your favourite bird?
    Junco, a black and white bird, neo-gothic, existentialist, Bergmanesque bird.
    What historical figure do you admire the most?
    Joyce (he gets it all).
    What character in history do you most dislike?
    Ford (he invented blind consumerism being a crypto-nazi).
    Who are your favourite prose authors?
    David Foster Wallace, Thomas Berhnard, Michael Delisle, Carlos Liscano, Julien Blanc-Gras, Marcel Proust, Gaëtan Brulotte, Pierre Michon, Richard Millet, Kerouac, Georges Perec.
    Who are your favourite poets?
    Jack Spicer, Ginsberg, Bukowski, Brautigan, William Carlos William, George Oppen, Christophe Tarkos, Charles Pennequin, Jacques Roubaud, Jacques Dupin, Ungarreti, Dickinson.
    Who are your favourite heroes in fiction?
    Le perroquet Laverdure in Zazie Dans le Métro (Zazie in the subway) by Raymond Queneau, for obvious reasons.
    Who are your heroes in real life?
    All the doctors who practice their craft in a war zone or in a serious epidemic situation, like Ebola. They are the epitomes of human being. Great courage, great dedication.
    Who is your favourite painter?
    The artist collective that do mural art: EN MASSE.
    Who is your favourite musician?
    The Handsome family.
    What is your favourite food?
    What is your favourite drink?
    Chablis, Sauvignon or IPA beer.
    What are your favourite names?
    Iphigénie, Northrop, Anasthasie, Eudor, Philomène and Mercurio.
    What is it you most dislike?
    What natural talent would you most like to possess?
    To play piano like a jazz superstar and compose as well.
    How do you want to die?
    In a revolution, shot by a military that defend the status quo, in a kind of Gavroche death in Les Misérables by Victor Hugo.
    What is your current state of mind?
    Right now, I’m waiting for my cabbage soup to heat in the microwave.
    What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
    To be a good writer.
    What is your motto?
    If you can say "good morning", you are most able to have the talent to say "good night" or "have a nice sleep". Talents are concomitant. - www.openbooktoronto.com/news/proust_questionnaire_with_bertrand_laverdure

    Bertrand Laverdure is an award-winning poet, novelist, literary performer, and blogger. His poetry publications include Rires (2004) and Sept et demi (2007). He has written four well-received novels, Gomme de xanthane (2006), Lectodôme (2008), J’invente la piscine (2010), Bureau universel des copyrights (2011). Lettres crues, a book of literary correspondence with Quebecois author Pierre Samson, was published in the fall of 2012. Most recently, he published a YA poetry collection, Cascadeuse (2013). Awards include the Joseph S. Stauffer Prize from the Canada Council for the Arts (1999), and the Rina-Lasnier Award for Poetry for Les forêts (2003). Les forêts was also nominated for the Emile-Nelligan Award for Poetry (2000), while Audioguide was nominated for the Grand Prix du Festival International de Poésie de Trois-Rivières (2003), and Lectodôme for the Grand Prix littéraire Archambault (2009). Find Laverdure on his blog, http://technicien-coffeur.blogspot.ca/, follow him on Twitter @lectodome, or connect with him on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/bertrand.laverdure.


    Jesse Ruddock - written in a style that somehow combines an easy-spoken blue collar minimalism with wordplay and lyricism. The oblique, hidden emotions of the characters are balanced in part by the ingenuity and playfulness of Ruddock’s language

    Jesse Ruddock, Shot-Blue, Coach House Books, 2017.
    Watch a trailer for Shot-Blue: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

    "Where's Your Boyfriend" in N+1

    "First Proof" in BOMB

    "Crankbait" in LitHub

    Rachel is a young single mother living with her son, Tristan, on a lake that borders the unchannelled north – remote, nearly inhospitable. She does what she has to do to keep them alive. But soon, and unexpectedly, Tristan will have to live alone, his youth unprotected and rough. The wild, open place that is all he knows will be overrun by strangers – strangers inhabiting the lodge that has replaced his home, strangers who make him fight, talk, and even love, when he doesn't want to. Ravenous and unrelenting, Shot-Blue is a book of first love and first loss.

    Shot-Blue is that rarest species, a genuinely wise novel.’ – Rivka Galchen

    ‘Jesse Ruddock understands the weight of things that cannot be said aloud. A sensitive book about lives lived at the edge of society, in the shadow of an idyllic panorama, given voice only in the silence of adolescence.’– Jenny Erpenbeck

    ‘Stunning and just so gracefully told. Ruddock’s landscape and characters are told by heart and her fierce and beautiful language makes you feel it.’– Naja Marie Aidt

    The road was like a portage: an opening that lets you in but makes no promise to bring you out on another side. Maybe the road narrowed to a dead end or was blocked by a swamp raised by a beaver dam. Maybe it led to a place they weren't welcome. She walked through the cut slowly and stopped, her dark hair falling across her shoulders heavily, and Tristan imagined that she meant to let her hair sweep the ground as it did. Most boys would have run out to meet their mothers. But he knew he couldn't understand. She was always telling him,you can't understand everything.

    Ruddock’s complex debut novel set in Canada’s north is a story of a tough but character-forming hardscrabble life and of the deep bonds and rivalries created among people who live together far away from urban civilization. In the first section, Rachel and her teenage son, Tristan, live out in the wilderness, determined to survive without help from anyone else. When Rachel doesn’t come home one day, Tristan continues to live alone for a time. In the second section, the land has been sold and Tristan has ended up back at his former home, now turned into a holiday lodge. He lives among strangers and works as a backwoods guide. He becomes closest to Tomasin, who also works there, and the relationship between them is tender, tragic, and perplexing. This poetically written book is full of riddles, of characters talking past each other and misunderstanding one another in the vein of a Shakespearean love tangle. Loneliness, the very human inability to communicate with one another in a way that reveals our deepest selves, is the point. The novel is a fine corrective to fiction that assumes that people are rational actors and that motive is straightforward or even discernible. Publishers Weekly

    Poverty, youth, and longing collide on an isolated Canadian island in Ruddock's searing debut novel.
    Rachel and her 11-year-old son, Tristan, are alone in Canada’s rugged north, working odd jobs when they can but most often isolating themselves on a small, wild island where Rachel’s father kept a hunting cabin. Trying to provide for her son, Rachel begins sleeping with local boatman Keb in exchange for money. After winter drives them to a town on a neighboring island, Rachel wanders too far from their small cabin and perishes in the cold, only being found when the ice on which she died thaws and she is washed to shore. This leaves Tristan alone in a harsh world that doesn’t show much compassion to the boy beyond getting him a job at a resort being built on the island he and his mother once called home. There, Tristan becomes just another nameless worker, all the while harboring a sense of loss for the place that was once his refuge. When a young girl named Tomasin arrives for the summer, she picks Tristan out and develops a crush that pushes both of them beyond their emotional limits. In haunting prose, the author has created a moving and tense look at what becomes of children when they aren’t or can’t be cared for and must fend for themselves. It explores the depths of human emotion and the limits we struggle to overcome.
    A moving, lyrical novel that explores the emotional pain of hardship on children.Kirkus Reviews

    ‘Much like Winter’s Bone, Shot-Blue is written in a style that somehow combines an easy-spoken blue collar minimalism with wordplay and lyricism. The oblique, hidden emotions of the characters are balanced in part by the ingenuity and playfulness of Ruddock’s language.’
    – Cleaver Magazine

    ‘[Ruddock] is talented, with a penchant for paradox and a yen for examining the backward logic that guides our daily anxieties.’Quill & Quire

    In 2014, French “confinement artist” Abraham Poincheval spent thirteen days and nights living inside a hollowed-out bear carcass, restricting himself to a diet of worms, beetles, and honey. Through a succession of wacky and highly-publicized stunts, most of which have involved prolonged sojourns in perilously tight spaces, Poincheval has carved out a niche for himself in the Parisian art scene. The artist’s 2014 performance, In the skin of the bear, presented at Paris’s Museum of Hunting and Nature, drew inspiration from animal carcasses he encountered during a trek through the French Alps, the idea being to “become one” with the animal. Camped out inside the sterilized carcass, which had been fitted out with a system of tubes and cables for light, water, and waste disposal, Poincheval occupied his hours reading and live-streaming in his underpants. Last month, the artist performed his most recent piece, Stone, at the Palais du Tokyo in Paris, spending a full week entombed within a block of limestone. Although deliberately and even exultantly silly, Poincheval’s work raises interesting questions about how our sense of internal and external space—of where we end and the world begins—shapes our awareness.
    Reading Canadian novelist Jesse Ruddock’s poignant début, I found myself thinking (again and again) of In the skin of the bear. A dark, elegiac exploration of interiority and traumatic consciousness, Ruddock’s Shot-Blue engages similar themes, troubling the distinction between inside and outside, between embodied selves and the surrounding world. Set on Canada’s sparsely-populated Arctic frontier, at a remote fishing outpost and summer resort on the fictitious Prioleau Lake, it is a novel of environmental and emotional extremes. Caught between the wilderness to the north and the suffocating insularity of their own rural, resource-poor community, characters are held hostage to one another’s moods and impulses. Tristan, an orphan in love with a domineering, older girl, is a willing captive, prepared to suffocate in exchange for a little warmth:
    He felt close to a fire where the air is eaten up. He wanted to get closer, to gather the locks of flame, the coals, and the blackened spit below. He would pick up the smoke and carry it.
    Tristan can choose to stay and burn or, like his mother, escape into the wilderness and freeze there. Examining the forces of isolation that prey upon an impoverished community’s most vulnerable members—a single mother, an orphan boy, a lonely teenage girl with low self-esteem—Ruddock is deeply interested not only in our sense of where we end and the external world begins, but in intersubjective boundaries: our sense of where we end and others begin.
    The novel’s first section chronicles single mother Rachel’s struggle to care for her young son Tristan in a town where resources are scarce and sympathies scarcer. Courted by a brooding preacher’s son, a man “like poured concrete,” she quits her low-wage job at a local hotel, moving herself and her son to her father’s hunting cabin on an otherwise uninhabited island, far down the lake. Aside from the occasional visits of boatman Keb, with whom Rachel exchanges sex for money, mother and son live in near-total isolation. The intimacy Ruddock crafts is both sprawling and austere. Like two planets held together in orbit, Rachel and Tristan share the same room, meals, and routine but remain wholly mysterious to one another. A constant source of wonder and speculation, Tristan is the only fresh thing in his mother’s life, the only thing she is still curious about: hovering over him in the dark, she listens to him half-talking, half-singing in his sleep. She wonders why he doesn’t sing more and why he insists on sleeping on the floor (and not in the bed beside her). Tristan has no friends, no relatives, no teachers. Aside from Keb, his mother is the only person he knows—his only point of reference. As Keb’s daughter Marie observes, “he belonged to his mother, who kept her hand in his hair.” One evening it occurs to Rachel that “maybe she was the reason he never sang out. Maybe she was what he needed protection from.” She struggles to separate his life from her own, to give him more of what we all need and, by and by, regret: space. One winter afternoon, after receiving some troubling news, she sets off on a hike to clear her head. Losing her way in the snow, she wanders out onto the frozen lake and perishes. That winter, Tristan is forced to fend for himself, but when the lake thaws and Rachel’s body washes ashore, Keb the boatman comes to take him into custody.
    In the second part of the novel, set two years after Rachel’s death, Tristan is living on his mother’s island again, but circumstances there have changed: the little cabin has been razed and a vacation resort erected in its place. Paid in food and board, Tristan works at the resort as a manual laborer and “guide.” His long hair and soft demeanor make him a target for the other teenage workers, although Tristan mostly avoids them. Content in his own company, he spends his free time alone by the shore. But Tristan’s solitude is shattered when the new kitchen worker, Tomasin, sets her sights on him, laying claim to him and forcing her way into his life. Slowly, he begins to grow accustomed to her feral presence, wanting to trust her and, for the first time, to tell his own story. Unfortunately for Tristan, Tomasin is not interested in who he thinks he is.
    Do you know what you are? She asked…
    As a child, she had opened a “Grasshopper Hospital,” but when she could find no sick grasshoppers to attend to, she caught healthy grasshoppers instead, tearing off their legs before playing nurse to them on a slab of pitted brick. Here, Ruddock demonstrates her talent for drafting the shapes and contours of an entire personality in just one brief anecdote. Suffice to say, Tristan does not fare much better than Tomasin’s grasshoppers. At her behest, he boxes with a boy twice his size, sustaining a concussion and a broken nose before falling into a day-long coma.
    Following this incident, Tomasin’s interest in Tristan wanes as she gravitates more and more toward the alluring and predatory Stella, a young actress vacationing at the resort. In one fantastic, memorable sentence, Ruddock manages to capture not just Stella’s character, but a whole way of being in the world: “more subduing than a migraine, she somehow became whatever you were doing.” Stella takes pleasure in toying with Tomasin—treating her like a servant, bathing in her attentions, slowly wearing down her defenses. Tomasin’s fascination with Stella culminates in a sexual encounter with Stella’s twenty-three-year-old boyfriend and the thirteen-year-old Tomasin struggles to come to terms with the experience:
    this feeling: like her own blood was scratching against the walls of her veins, long scratches trying to tell her something: I’m trying to tell you, her blood was saying. I’m telling you, it said.
    But this is no crisis or turning point for Tomasin; it is merely another thing that happened. Because, in Shot-Blue, trauma does not register as an isolated incident, but as a condition. A chronic affliction of the senses, the body crying out from its own depths: I’m trying to tell you, her blood was saying. I’m telling you, it said. Like a droning in the ears, sickeningly low and constant, trauma is constitutive of characters’ experience of the world. For the novel’s young protagonists, adolescence is a fundamentally traumatic experience, unfolding as a sequence of emotional and physical violations at once thrilling and scarring.
    Also bent on self-destruction, and in many ways a foil for Tomasin, Rachel is physically marked by her own teenage trauma: her face rent by a long, ragged scar like “a wave stuck in breaking…like ground dug up by a dog.” For the sake of her son, who is her only tether, she curbs her self-destructive impulses. Still, even as an adult, her experience of the world is traumatic—defined by friction, a gradual wearing away:
    If she were a boat, she would scrape the dock and from the scraping shiver and threaten the only threat she had: to finally break.
    Rachel’s trauma is not existential but environmental. Rural poverty shapes her body and mind to its grinding necessities. Rowing from island to island, her one, consuming thought is of securing money or food. But in both cases, trauma is a psychic state: a generalized dysphoria—“nothing felt quite as it should”—that distorts characters’ perceptions of the surrounding world. As subtly pervasive as nuclear radiation, their moods seep into the novel’s settings, infecting ordinary scenes of nature with muted violence:
    The bass were stuffed from hunting in full sun. If you managed to catch one, its fight would lag and it would rise to the surface throwing up wan, shredded, half-digested minnows, little pieces of flesh that looked like they’d been run through a washing machine.
    Ruddock’s prose is saturated with spatial-corporeal metaphors that weaken or collapse the boundaries between bodies, their attendant sensations and surrounding space. Trauma is etched into the novel’s DNA: external space is not neutral or empty, but excruciatingly alive and always on the verge. The sun is a “skinned-knee”; or, for Marie, it is a far graver injury: a hole gouged in the sky, bleeding heat. Hearing a gunshot echo in the distance, she decides in a moment of poetic inspiration that the sky is shot-blue. Boatman Keb must “tourniquet” a mounting sense of dread. And in one hallucinatory passage: “the sun slipped its fingers in between the treeline and sky to split a space open like the gills of a fish, showing the red breathing ribbons.” Like Poincheval, Ruddock believes in the vitality of “dead” matter: rocks, animal remains, and even household objects are anthropomorphized, instilled with “thing-power.” The novel is littered with found objects that seem to vibrate with life—fishing lures, a bit of driftwood shaped like a bird’s wing, a dead hummingbird, or the hand mirror Tristan inherits from his mother:
    It was a rearview mirror snapped out of its shell, something she’d done as a teenager after her face was hurt and she wanted to see. She’d seen it shining on a wrecked car at the garbage dump, a cleared field near town that was scattered with trash and the bristly bodies of hungry black bears.
    The passage demonstrates the intensity and disperseness of Ruddock’s attentions: the mirror flickers with associations, referring from sign to sign—to a car to a dump to a field and finally to “the bristly bodies of hungry black bears.” For Rachel, it is a cherished, traumatic artifact, while for Tristan it is almost a talismanic object—in life, his mother had forbidden him from touching the mirror. After her death, without knowing how it came into her possession, he will hold it up to his own battered face to assess the damage wrought by an older boy’s fists: his nose crushed flat against a face so bruised and swollen that he can no longer recognize himself. A vital, unresolved thing, Rachel’s mirror exceeds even these meanings. The narrative that collects around it also instills it with a life, a character, all its own—connecting it, in an almost miraculous turn, to the bodies of starving bears.
    Just as the novel’s world is awash with human feelings, worldly things embed themselves in the psyches of its characters. Late in the novel, Tristan leaves Tomasin a “gift” rolled up in cloth: a dead hummingbird. She flings it away in disgust, but Marie, who is in love with Tristan, retrieves the bird, temporarily interring it in her sock and underwear drawer. As a consequence, “she would for the rest of her life, associate the smell of fresh laundry with a little bit of death.” The political theorist Jane Bennett posits an “out-side” populated by what she calls vibrant matter: “This out-side can operate at a distance from our bodies or it can operate as a foreign power internal to them, as when we feel the discomfort of nonidentity.” Trauma is an invasion of the inner world by the outer that casts bodies and selves into doubt. In the moments before her death, it does not occur to Rachel that she is dying: “She felt no pain, only doubt. She doubted her knees, doubted her hands.”  For Tristan—who wonders why his name is something anyone can say, even those who would hurt and torment him— nonidentity is a comfort, a refuge. He seeks the feeling out, withdrawing to the lakeshore to meditate:
    If he sat long enough, following each wave as it rolled forward and broke, bristled and dissolved, he forgot himself, he disappeared, and there was only the water wide across and deep at shore. Tristan liked that feeling. It was not like falling asleep. It was not like dreaming.
    Abraham Poincheval hoped that, by confining himself to a bear for two weeks, he might induce a similar state of self-forgetfulness. The whole project was staged around this desire: “to experience becoming animal.” The term, borrowed from Deleuze and Guattari, implies “a fascination with the outside.” It describes the movement toward nonidentity, contingent upon the loss of social identity, or “face.” A fable of isolation and belonging, Shot-Blue is, in a sense, all about becoming-animal: the unravelling of social identities and selves. As Stella observes: “we do what we do, we do it to those who get too close to our animal souls.” There is something ancient, primal and almost biblical about the story Shot-Blue tells. Rachel—whose face is riven by a deep scar—is neglected, excluded and finally driven from the fold, “disappear[ing] into dry air.” The novel’s last scene mirrors her death on the lake when another character drowns there, this time in late summer.
    Gazing into the lake’s outer distances, Tristan is tempted to climb down into the water and swim all the way out, but, rest assured, it won’t be Tristan who follows his mother into the “deep water.” As Stella observes, he has that rarest and most enviable of qualities, as rare in adults as in children and far better to have than confidence, or even kindness: self-possession. Indeed, this is a deeply self-possessed novel. Powerful and assured in its voice, it knows exactly where it wants to go and it gets there on the strength of its extraordinary language. Softening the distinction between poetic and narrative forms, the novel takes on the experimental logic of performance art. In other words, Ruddock builds up the conditions for nonidentity in and through language. Like the waves of Prioleau Lake, her hypnotic prose rolls, breaks, bristles, dissolves—folding its readers into an inexorable tide of feeling. With sparse dialogue and very little in the way of conventional devices, Shot-Blue is not driven by plot, but by a deeper, shrewder intuition. It is the novel’s emotional atmospheres that seem to give rise to “developments,” carrying its characters forward on a slow, ominous drift.
    Shot-Blue’s language is a language of becoming, of fleeting moods and flickering impressions, so it is no accident that much of the novel is set in adolescence, at the confluence of so many “becomings.” An intensely imaginative and lucid study of human feeling in all its depth and range, much like Poincheval holed up in his bear, Shot-Blue asks its readers to consider how it would be to feel differently. Its closing scene traces a final, dazzling line of flight, whereby death is revealed to be: only another kind of becoming. - Christiane Craig

    Jesse Ruddock’s debut novel offers many poetic and intimate moments. One of these occurs when a young girl named Marie, who lives on a remote northern island, finds a dead hummingbird wrapped in cloth on another girl’s doorstep. Marie knows that the hummingbird has been left there by Tristan, an orphan boy she secretly loves. So she hides the hummingbird in her underwear drawer, and “for the rest of her life,” she will “associate the smell of fresh laundry with a little bit of death.”
    This mixture of love and death is everywhere in “Shot-Blue.” Though there are several main characters, Tristan’s story is at the novel’s heart. He and his mother, Rachel, had been squatting in a small cabin, where Rachel was sleeping with Marie’s father for money. This cabin was soon burned down, and after Rachel dies of exposure, Tristan works for room and board at the lodge that has replaced his home. He is standoffish and strange and terribly alone, and the other children are intrigued by him and often cruel. Slowly, he forms an intense relationship with a 16-year-old girl who also works at the lodge. Meanwhile, Marie, another employee, yearns for Tristan’s attention, which he never gives.
    There are many shining depictions in “Shot-Blue,” as when the memory of Rachel’s eyes makes part of Marie go “gently unconscious.” Rachel’s face had been beautiful but scarred, and so, for Marie, “something amiss would from then on be a requisite for beauty.” A quiet and spreading sadness in these pages is conveyed in its softest details, as when a blue door reminds Rachel of forget-me-nots, “those timid flowers that spread like loneliness and took over everything.” 
    Despite these memorable lines, much of Ruddock’s prose lacks discipline. Her figurative language often verges on excessive and can get distracting. Her more brilliant comparisons are drowned out by others that are obscure and overextended. In one instance, a woman’s thoughts are “biting into her shoulder more sharply than any strap.” This metaphor just doesn’t resonate: Why would a thought bite into a shoulder? And, in a single passage, paint peeling from houses is first “shed in chunks like receipts”; then it “fell like snow when the wind had fingernails”; and in the sentence after that, “it floated down like leaves and melted on the ground, forming pools of warm blue-silver.” These images, though lyrical, don’t seem real; Ruddock appears to be straining for literary effect, which is entirely unnecessary, because her more straightforward descriptions of the natural world are simply breathtaking.
    Ruddock’s handling of her third-person narrative voice is also confusing. The perspective often shifts multiple times on a single page, without section breaks, from main character to minor character; instead of bringing us closer to each person, the narration has the effect of distancing us from all parties involved. Any emotional suspense is undone the moment the perspective changes. This narrative style left me unable to discern whose story “Shot-Blue” is supposed to be.
    But when Ruddock does allow herself to linger in a character’s perspective for a while, she shows what she is capable of. Especially from Marie’s point of view, Ruddock writes moments of startling intimacy, evoking the pain of adolescent longing: “Her love for Tristan stood in front of her like another person she had to shout over and climb around.” - Emily Ruskovich

    Jesse Ruddock’s powerful debut, Shot-Blue, is at once charged with lyrical energy and grounded in a complex, human understanding of trauma, desire and loss. Set in a northern landscape of lakes and forests filled with miners, loggers, vacationers, and the people who eke out a marginal existence at the edges of the tourism and resource extraction industries, the novel follows Tristan, the son of Rachel, a waitress and occasional prostitute, through the loss of his mother and a summer working at a resort on one of the lakes. Shot-Blue is divided into two sections. In the first, Rachel quits her job and retreats to her father’s cabin on an isolated island. Ruddock keeps a narrow focus on Rachel, Tristan, their relationship, and Rachel’s attempts to care for both of them. The section ends when Rachel, having moved closer to civilization for the winter, learns that she has never had title to her father’s island, and that it is being taken over by men who are building a resort; she wanders out into the winter, dying of exposure on the lake ice. In the second, substantially longer section, the novel opens out, including the staff and guests at the now-finished resort where Tristan lives and works. Although the cast of characters is larger, the second section shares the same concerns as the first, revisiting and expanding on the same themes, and using the same incandescent language.
    And it is Ruddock’s language that is perhaps the most striking feature of the novel. Ruddock has an eye for detail and a gift for metaphor. Take for example this description of the boarding house that Rachel and Tristan leave behind when they move to her father’s cabin:
    It was painted white a long time ago and now the paint shed in chunks like receipts. The place was famous for this: it was a miracle the siding wasn’t bare. If you lived there, flaking paint was part of your weather. It fell like snow when the wind had fingernails. On still days, it floated down like leaves and melted on the ground, forming pools of warm blue-silver.
    When tourists casting off the dock at the resort catch fish, they “rise to the surface throwing up wan, shredded, half-digested minnows, little pieces of flesh that [look] like [they’ve] been run through a washing machine.” Ruddock gives even mundane moments resonance and depth. This description of Tristan staring out over the lake in the late evening is rich with echoes of his relationship with his mother and that still raw loss:
    Tristan walked to his lookout on the far side of the island facing west, where the sunset would be most indelicate. But he was late, the sky had already bled colour like dried flowers. There wouldn’t be more sunset now, only a fading of light. He thought about watching it happen, but he felt such unrest he couldn’t stay. He looked across the mulled water and thought about climbing down and getting into it and going all the way out. But he would never do it. He didn’t want the deep water and didn’t care if it wanted him. He didn’t even want to remember what it felt like. It was her lair now.
    Ruddock’s adroit and revealing diction, such as the use of “indelicate” and “mulled” here, complements her eye for detail and her use of metaphor. Ruddock’s language is consistently, often unexpectedly, beautiful, but this is not a pretty book.
    Shot-Blue is set in an environment permeated and defined by violence, its menace, allure and traumatic consequences. Rachel has a facial scar: “It nicked her left temple then ran down her jaw, tent-covering a depression where a full, round cheek should have been.” Its origins are never explained, but it marks her out as a victim, and suggests a past that has left her as emotionally wounded as she is physically scared. The burning of Rachel’s father’s cabin by the men building the resort is a kind of violence, and is perceived as such by Tristan who vows to burn the whole island in revenge. In the second section of the novel, the boys who work at the resort play a game in which they take turns punching each other. Tristan himself invites violence, letting the other boys punch him without attempting to defend himself. Tristan’s desire to be beaten, to be disfigured, is also the desire to connect with his dead mother by becoming, like her, the object of violence, by inviting it to mark, transform and erase him. The novel mixes love and mourning together with self-annihilation in a complex amalgam that testifies to the centrality of violence to the lives of its characters.
    As part of this violence, bound up with it and happening alongside it, is the transformation of people, particularly women, into objects to be exploited. Rachel remembers prostituting herself as a teenager:
    Rachel would sell herself to a friend. She didn’t think of it as selling sex. They were not good friends, but he would pay her, and they went like that, having sex in his bedroom, even when his parents were home, for about a year until he got a girlfriend. Another time, it was one of her brother Sheridan’s friends, who’d heard about what she’d done. He asked her, said he liked her, he wouldn’t tell Sheridan, and he would pay. At fifteen, she had no other way to get money. She knew those boys, and she wasn’t afraid of herself.
    Friendship and sexual exploitation overlap, suggesting that even close relationships are defined by a casual brutality. This pattern is repeated when Rachel realizes she needs money to buy the few extra supplies she and her son need to survive on the island. She starts an affair with Keb, a man who ferries tourist around the lakes in his boat. Like her friendships, the affair has emotional content, but is defined by Keb paying her for sex. In the second section, Stella and Emiel, two guests at the resort, toy with Tomasin, a young girl working there for the summer. Their games are more refined than Rachel’s exploitation, but they still, at their core, involve the reduction of the girl to an object, to a plaything that can be manipulated, possessed and then discarded at the end of the summer.
    This pattern is not limited to female characters. When Rachel dies, Keb feels responsible for Tristan, and finds him work and a place to stay at the resort. This is at once an act of kindness—Keb has no duty to protect Tristan: he is not the boy’s father and he was only the mother’s john—and an example of this pattern of exploitation: Keb keeps all of Tristan’s pay, cutting his kindness with selfishness, effectively saving the boy by selling him into servitude. Although this pattern is not limited to female characters, it is primarily limited to them, and Tristan is a special case. He is the only male character to love, first, his mother, and, then, when she arrives at the resort, Tomasin, without participating in their exploitation, as human beings rather than objects. Through Tristan, Ruddock registers the collateral effects of trauma, exploring how it spreads out from its focal point along lines of emotional connection, wounding those attached to it along these lines as surely as those who experience it directly. From one perspective, Tristan, with his defensive interiority and his desire for self-annihilation, is the effect of damage done first to his mother and then to Tomasin. This understanding of trauma, its impact, legacy and capacity to transform even those it does not immediately touch, speaks to the novel’s penetrating emotional sensibility. On the back cover, Rivka Galchen praises it as “a genuinely wise novel,” and she is exactly right.
    This is not to say that the novel does not have its flaws. Although Ruddock’s supercharged writing makes for some of the Shot-Blue’s best moments, it is not always a strength. In the second section, the novel widens its scope, introducing a handful of new characters. Of these, only Emiel, one of the resort’s guests, is given a detailed background, and these characters’ relationships to each other and to the concerns of the novel take some time to develop. When not sufficiently grounded in character and plot, Ruddock’s metaphor-driven and imagery-laden language can sometimes fall flat. And the novel drags somewhat through this middle portion. But the second section does slowly begin to echo and expand on the themes of the first section, and it picks up momentum as it moves towards a closing handful of pages that gather together the threads of the narrative into a spectacularly written and wrenching finale that is well worth the reader’s patience.
    I began this review by saying that this novel is about trauma, desire and loss. This might suggest that Shot-Blue is a poetic meditation, that it is, like too many novels that are poetic and meditative, easy, even anodyne, but this is book is not that at all. Its beautiful language is bound up with violence. Its poetry is gritty. Its truths are difficult, uneasy. And, although it is not flawless, it will reward you with some genuinely great closing pages. - AARON SCHNEIDER

    Foreboding and poetic but also consistently puzzling, Shot-Blue, the debut novel by Guelph-born New Yorker Jesse Ruddock, opens cinematically — with a bedraggled woman trudging on a narrow dirt road during mid-thaw. She’s carrying the boxed contents of her mobile home toward a boarding house one mile away in town.
    With her introverted pre-pubescent son Tristan in tow, Rachel eventually reaches the abandoned fishing cabin that she believes her father owned. The pair has landed on Treble Island, a “wild place” on Prioleau Lake (itself shaped like a cliff jumper’s headless body). Ruddock’s setting is all weather and hardship, where survival is questionable and bare subsistence the best outcome. Ruddock conjures Treble Island less as a point on an actual map than a site exemplifying what Margaret Atwood called the “malevolent north.” 

    Unexpectedly too, Treble Island is notable for being stripped of historical markers. No internet, television, or even telephone is referenced; the only vehicles in sight are boats; there’s no mention of an event in the outside world to ground the story in a particular decade or zeitgeist. As with a fable (or Samuel Beckett’s famous stage instructions for Waiting for Godot: “A country road. A tree”), Ruddock encourages readers to divest from expectations for realism. From that point, she unfurls an enigmatic tale of hardship, loss, and awkward fleeting connections.
    Though Rachel aims to provide for and instruct her troubled child, she soon disappears — evidently, nature (or one of the taciturn men she knows) has dispatched her.
    Fending for himself, Tristan begins to work at a tourist lodge that’s been constructed on the island. There, he meets other boys (who torment him), girls (whose mercurial natures confuse him) and adults (imposing figures of mystery, all of them). Locally regarded as unwanted, a weakling, or simply weird, he strives to make sense of a place that proves either uninviting or perplexing.
    In contrast to recent a-boy-and-his-mom novels such as Barry Dempster’s The Outside World and Michael Christie’s If I Fall, If I Die, Ruddock’s appears to showcase moody aesthetics over plot or characterization. As such it rewards devotees of lyrical description and modernist wordplay. Others might regard the author’s free hand with cloud, stone, tree, and water metaphors as too much of a good thing and hope for less whimsy and more straightforward plot development. -

    Last night I dreamed of persimmons. I’ve never eaten a persimmon, but happened to catch a cable TV rerun of Chopped Canada as I nodded off on my couch – just long enough to learn Susur Lee likes them ripe and that ice cream is rarely a good idea in the studio’s kitchen. Have at it, Sigmund.
    What did you dream about, Jesse Ruddock? I bet it was something profound, astute, hyper-vivid in LSD technicolour. Reading Ruddock’s first novel, Shot-Blue, it’s clear the Guelph native’s imagination paints only in her palette’s sharpest hues – smearing broad swaths, dark and moody and dense on the page.
    Shot-Blue’s small cast of characters is built to linger and they do, their portraits fortified with Ruddock’s rich setting: a constellation of islands floating somewhere that might be Canada’s oft-forgotten coast, gnarly and northern and not really the place for newly orphaned Tristan to orienteer his adolescent wilderness alone. Rachel, Tristan’s mother, isn’t long for Ruddock’s canvas, but manages in that time to slash through it stunningly – giving the novel its only definitive measure of clean tempo or closure.
    Chapter-less and drifting, Shot-Blue shadows Tristan through his home’s harshest seasons into a summer heated by the arrival of Tomasin, who comes in from out of town for a few months’ work. Their age says puppy love but Ruddock says no: kids are dangerous enough alone; together, in something like lust, they’re fearsome. Shot-Blue picks through Tomasin’s curious infatuation with Tristan, a boy blistered by grief but callousing quickly at the simple matter of staying alive. Cut the cast with Gary Paulsen’s hatchet, sprinkle some Susanna Moodie c/o Carol Shields, and sow Iain Lawrence’s Skeleton Tree for backdrop – this is a story out of Canada’s survivalist canon but told mostly through illusion, allusion and emotion instead.

    All big dreams and knitted brows, Shot-Blue is a serious and demanding book, contemplating widely in wandering prose. Ruddock is a poet (among other things) and we can call this her debut novel or we can call it what it is: poetry. She taps skills honed across medium – Ruddock a songwriter and photographer besides – to paint vividly a savage, inhospitable northern winter and the human collateral it claims.
    Beautifully drawn and lyrical, Shot-Blue moves fluidly, a beat past the norm of something so literary. Dialogue is sparse, and that is both a good and a bad thing for Ruddock’s debut: her characters speak not with but at one another, solitary lines so few that each begs the reader to weigh them carefully on delivery. There’s been no promise of anything light in Ruddock’s first go, but her style asks a lot and risks leaving you behind. Tristan, sketched gradually to great interest, is a character study himself: Ruddock offers a generosity to children most authors reserve for their post-pubescent set, a whole and dynamic personhood that’s no more or less interesting for its age, only governed by the circumstances it knows and encounters with time.
    Whatever comatose fantasies consume Ruddock at night, the author’s writing demonstrates she can sift through them deftly for meaning and present that subconscious contemplation on a page. Not always lucid, though consistently rich, Shot-Blue’s examination of loneliness skitters beyond easy digest but is braced in a story that makes its challenge worthwhile. Whatever Ruddock requests in presenting readers her riddled prose, it’s evident she’s done that work doubly herself in their clever crafting.
    In January, I counted Shot-Blue among 2017’s most notable forthcoming debuts; I was excited to read Jesse Ruddock’s first book, and facing lofty expectations, it didn’t wholly disappoint. But I’m jonesing harder now for Ruddock’s sophomore round: her art doesn’t need refinement so much as tethering, skills strong but wanting ground experience will sow, something Shot-Blue makes clear she can muster. - Terra Arnone

    Jesse Ruddock’s debut novel, Shot-Blue, feels like two novels loosely stitched together. They share a locale, and the author’s deep love of describing it, a handful of characters, and the lyrical strands of familial connection. These disparate chunks ostensibly live under the same narrative umbrella, but in both style and story they differ sharply to the detriment of the novel.
    Both sections of the book take place on a smattering of islands on Prioleau Lake, a remote wilderness populated by a handful of weathered locals. The first section revolves around Rachel, a single mother and sometimes prostitute, and her son Tristan, an odd kid unhealthily tethered to his sole parental unit. They stumble around the islands, picking up odd jobs—Rachel sleeps with local boater named Keb for cash—just barely skirting by. The second section finds Tristan, now alone, half-feral and living alone on the island he once called home. When a group of developers arrive to turn the island into a tourist resort, Tristan is forced to work alongside a handful of mainland youth and in doing so, slowly emerge from his shell.
    The first hundred or pages or so of Shot-Blue feel like an elegiac knot, a tightly woven mass of poetic landscape descriptions with a thin narrative threaded through the center. Ruddock’s writing ability is nothing to shake a tree limb at, and she paints the landscape of the isolated northern wilds as a character in itself. Rachel, and to some degree Tristan in the early goings, are ghosts of this forested, lakeside hinterland, damaged souls disappearing back into nature. As stunning as Ruddock’s descriptions are, their vague nature in the opening chunk make the characters slippery, the reader left to sort through the tangled knots of prose struggling for purchase.
    This changes when Tristan is left on his own and his one time home is torn down to make room for a glaring tourist trap. Tristan is a child of the wilderness, and as it is razed to make room for what might be called civilization, he is grudgingly forced to succumb to this new world. With no parents, and nowhere to go, Tristan becomes a guide for the new resort. Without his mother to hang on to anymore, Tristan becomes wary friends with a roughshod waitress, Tomasin, who finds her own solace in his strange, quiet commune with the natural surroundings. Ruddock’s writing relaxes as she introduces more characters, and where the opening sections of the book feel almost like prose poetry, the second feels like an alternate universe camp story, with Tristan the nebbish dork who learns a few life lessons. There are jocks and cliques and the type of boozy games only dumb teenagers partake in, and at times it feels like pitch-black adaptation of Moonrise Kingdom or any other kids-at-camp flick. It is, of course, more than that; it is a story about reemerging from the grips of childhood, and the sense of loss that accompanies it, of discovering who you are and how you fit into the world. Each character, to varying degrees, discovers themselves on the tree-lined shores of Prioleau Lake, Tristan with the greatest intensity.
    This is Ruddock’s first novel though, and you can feel it in how much she wants to do. She wants to write the lyrical environment novel as much as she wants to write the classic coming-of-age story. As beautifully as she’s able to write both, they feel disconnected, and the characters, and their individual storylines suffer because of it. Characters we were led to believe were important in the first half of the book, disappear without warning—Keb, so prominent early is barely a flicker in the later bits—and Ruddock fills their void with an overabundance of far less fleshed out new characters. She isn’t able to wrangle all of them, and as the book peters to an end, many of them are left stranded, without closure. As insular and claustrophobic as this book can feel, it doesn’t dampen the author’s ambitions. She may slip on the rocks of her own aspirations, but Ruddock is gifted stylist and with her skill, she can’t be faulted for reaching up towards the blanket of stars. - Noah Sanders

    Tristan is always alone. Sure, there are people around him, names and voices that float in and out of Jesse Ruddock’s debut novel. These characters bounce questions and attempts at intimacy off of Tristan’s young, dark sensibility. But other than his mother, gone early from his life, they don’t get far.
    Tristan’s childhood, lived in poverty alongside his mother, gives way to an adolescence in a fictional lake community called Prioleau, located somewhere northeast from Tristan’s home. The book takes place in the kind of non-era that only fishermen and the rural poor can render convincing. Life in Prioleau is dependent upon the whims of the ever-present lake, and the various relationships of the town’s denizens remain at the mercy of nature’s unexpected influences.
    Ruddock – a native of Guelph, Ontario, now based in New York – depicts Tristan carefully, always testing the character’s stoic responses against a surreal and sensitive internal poetry. A strange, chatty girl named Tomasin begins to break through to him over the course of her summer stay in the town, but the presence of a few other young men and women quickly push the two apart.
    Shot-Blue is very serious, self-aware, and literary. It never seems to land anywhere in particular, preferring to float slowly and poetically along. The author is talented, with a penchant for paradox and a yen for examining the backward logic that guides our daily anxieties. “Every time [Marie] cut cherries, the stain washed off, but that never stopped her from wondering if this time it wouldn’t,” Ruddock writes at one point, in an example of the way she seeks to make the familiar profound.
    The spare, quietly conflicted tone spills over into the dialogue, much of which feels evasive and strange. Characters talk through each other, always implying some level of alternate, undefined thought. An enigmatic conversation between Tomasin and her post-Tristan fixation, Stella, offers a good example of this: “You remind me of so many things it makes me sick.” “You’re supposed to keep your eyes shut to rest them.” “I died young, you know. But it’s not tragic.” Every spoken word feels heavy, dragging down the pace of the story. Following along becomes a bit exhausting and a bit confusing, perhaps the way life itself can be. - Jonathan Valelly

    A lot of young Canadian writers are loath to include in their stories themes that are (rightly or wrongly) associated with CanLit. They have been brandished for so long that we recoil when we see them, plastered on course syllabi and jacket covers like a marquee announcing a title fight: Urban vs. Rural. Humans vs. Nature. Jesse Ruddock’s debut novel, Shot-Blue, stands out because on the face of it she seems to be doing the opposite and unabashedly embracing Canadiana par excellence: the North.
    The North has been an inspiration for many Canadian writers and artists, but what is often depicted or dreamed of is land that is remote, uncharted and uninhabited. Yes, a majority of the country’s population lives within a short drive of the United States border, but what is often ignored is the history of indigenous peoples in the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut—real places that constitute the real North. Of course, North doesn’t always refer to these places and it can mean different things to different people. It can be a direction or a destination. It can refer to Iqaluit or Churchill just as it can to Barrie or, to some, Eglinton. It is this ambiguity which lends itself so easily to the idea of a North that is synonymous with the mythology conveyed by a Lawren Harris painting. The musician Glenn Gould was fascinated by the mythology of the North. In his documentary “The Idea of North,” he says:
    “I’ve long been intrigued by the incredible tapestry of tundra and taiga which constitutes the Arctic and sub-Arctic of our country. I’ve read about it, written about it, and even pulled up my parka once and gone there. Yet like all but a very few Canadians I’ve had no real experience of the North. I’ve remained, of necessity, an outsider. And the North has remained for me a convenient place to dream about, spin tall tales about, and, in the end, avoid.”
    It’s sort of a “sorry not sorry” in only the way Gould as the consummate Torontonian could deliver: admitting he knows little of the North but refusing to relinquish the power of its mythology in favour of its reality.
    Although Ruddock sets her story (and here I’m quoting from the back cover) “on a lake that borders the unchannelled North—remote, nearly inhospitable,” she isn’t guilelessly falling prey to any sort of mythologized North. (Even though the same can’t be said of the image of dancing Northern Lights on the book’s cover.) Nor is she relying on the reader’s unconscious associations of the North to convey the isolation, desperation and brutality of her characters. They would be just as alone in downtown Toronto as they would in northern Manitoba.
    Shot-Blue is a story of a young single mother, Rachel, who cares for her son on a set of islands in a remote land and whose determined self-reliance has her avoiding the few people with whom she comes into contact. When her son, Tristan, is left to care for himself, he is forced to confront the people his mother avoided, while working at a resort for vacationing southerners, a complex that stands on the ground where he once lived in a cabin with his mother. Here he works, fights and possibly loves. He becomes the object of affection for Tomasin, who works with Tristan on the island. She tells her friend that she wants to know him, that there must be more to him than she’s able to observe, but her attempts are frustrated by her inability to fully break through Tristan’s closed-off exterior. He’s surely affected by the separation from his mother, but he can also seem dim or obtuse. This is not to say he’s entirely imperceptive or unaware. He’s enigmatic and, for the reader, unforgettable, the kind of character you continue thinking of long after you finish the book.
    The story begins with a move from Rachel and Tristan’s trailer to a boarding house in town, where a friend offers Rachel a cabin on Treble Island where she can raise her son. They board a boat carrying passengers between the islands, presumably to take up the offer, but when the boat docks at Treble Island and the other passengers get off, Rachel tells the man driving the water taxi to head to a different island, where she and Tristan take up residence in the abandoned cabin that once belonged to her father.
    Ruddock’s skill is in not leaning too heavily on the ambiguous northern setting to convey the isolation and loneliness of her characters. Rachel, who tries so hard to be alone, is somehow never satisfied with her isolation and finds that even “dreaming is exhausting.” If she seems insatiable it may be because her loneliness requires other people, if only to mark the distance between her and them. It feels good to find company when you want it and spurn advances when you don’t. For this reason, she’s become grateful for the nights she works, work she’s been doing since she was fifteen and which she doesn’t think of as selling sex. “At fifteen, she had no other way to get money.” And presumably not much has changed.
    Her son, Tristan, equally prefers to be alone, staring at the flame of an oil lamp or sitting on the dock watching the water, but he is ultimately dependent on his mother to tell him where to go or what to do. When near the end of Book One an illness forces them back to Treble Island, the story shifts away from Rachel and it becomes clear that this is a story about Tristan and his crushingly sad attempts to find some anchor without his mother. His dependence on her has left him unwilling or possibly unable to make any decisions without someone else making them for him.
    Through nothing of his own doing, Tristan eventually returns to the island where he and his mother once lived, to work at a newly constructed resort. Here he finds other boys who are brazen, full of testosterone and eager to fight each other in their spare time. When Tristan is roped into fighting, he’s completely submissive. Ruddock shows restraint in these passages that is, unfortunately, not employed elsewhere in the novel. The reader is just as confused as the other boys as to why Tristan won’t fight back. The only thing both he and the readers feel are the bruises and cuts on his lip, the hard fall on the packed earth. It’s not clear whether he’s reluctant to act or simply unable. Not knowing only strengthens these scenes and his character as a whole. Too often, Ruddock is guilty of over-explaining her characters’ motives or thoughts, as though she lacks confidence in her own writing to convey these things without directly describing them.
    This tendency leads to another problem. Late in Book Two, the story shifts focus again, this time to Tomasin, who has grown close to Tristan. But this shift doesn’t feel as natural as the one from Rachel to her son in Part One. Much of Tristan’s character depends on others around him, and so when a rift comes between him and Tomasin, he’s left without anyone to draw him into the plot. Sometimes a character’s story finds its natural end, and this seems to be it for Tristan. But Ruddock doesn’t end the book here. Instead, Tristan is pushed aside and Tomasin (along with other, newly introduced characters) assumes a stronger focal point in the book’s final section. It could be that by continuing the story with Tristan at the edges, Ruddock is saying that he lacks his mother’s social dimension in isolation and that he can be more alone than her.
    When the book finally concludes, it’s a relief to find it’s an ending that belongs to Tristan. And though it could have had the same resonance without some of the intervening plotlines, it is faithful to the complexity and ambiguity of his character without trying to solve any of it. - Ben Wood