Hello, and welcome to the fifth and final stop on the Giller Light Bash 2015 Tour! Yesterday’s review was by Christine over at Padfoot’s Library, where she reviewed Martin John by Ankara Schofield. My post on Arvida by Samuel Archibald (translated by Donald Winkler) will wrap up the tour, but there is still a chance to join us at the Giller Light Bash next week. This amazing event not only helps to support Canadian literature, but also Frontier College. It’s a wonderful night for booklovers are we celebrate the Giller nominees while raising money for a very worthwhile literacy program – you can still get tickets here.
Like a Proust-obsessed Cormac McCarthy, Samuel Archibald’s portrait of his hometown is filled with innocent children and wild beasts, attempted murder and ritual mutilation, haunted houses and road trips to nowhere, bad men and mysterious women.
Gothic, fantastical, and incandescent, filled with stories of everyday wonder and terror, longing and love, Arvida explores the line which separates memory from story, and heralds the arrival of an important new voice.
What the Jury Had to Say:
Samuel Archibald’s stories come from over there: way, way over there. They live in the woods, hunting for creatures that may or may not exist, and they sometimes go surging down the highway at reckless speeds. At other times, they freeze, paralysed by the strange sounds that should not be coming from empty rooms in very old houses. This writing – so wise and funny and impeccably crafted – is the best kind of gossip: it tells us everything we need to know, the real dirt, about this place and about all the people, the true ‘characters,’ we meet wandering up and down the cryptic streets of a real but mythic Arvida. There is a lot of whispering going on in this town, a lot of information that strains credulity, a lot of laughter, a lot of suspense, a bit of fear. Arvida is just like life: a tender, sometimes terrifying, mystery unfolding before our eyes.
Every small town has its secrets. There are things that everyone knows, but no one discusses, and there are things that everyone suspects but no one is willing to have confirmed. Arvida captures that sense of a small town in a series of loosely interconnected stories, each holding a sense of place even as time itself is fluid. These are stories of memories, of long-told tales that have turned into fables, an each is compelling even as it may be discomforting.
Arvida is a small town originally build for the employees of a local smelting operation in the Saguenay region of Quebec and the hometown of the author. That sense of transition and impermanence resonates throughout the stories, even as people who are trying to leave are inextricably drawn back home. As much as these stories have a sense of the mystical to them, they are also uncompromisingly real. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a trigger warning for some stories. Having said that, there is a dark poeticism to these issues as if they sprung from the mind of Guillermo Del Toro.
While it’s impossible for me to comment on every short story in the collection, there are a few that still resonate with me. Each of these is able to take something conventional, something ‘normal’ before twisting it ever so slightly into the realm of magic. In the Midst of Spiders played in my mind as a short film as I read about the corporate “executioner”, letting go yet another coworker in an airport bar. Cryptozoology merges hunting and a flash of a mysterious cat-like creature with the Quebecois legend of loup-garou, as a young man becomes possessed by something he cannot acknowledge. House Bound could have been, in m view, a full length novel as it is so rich in detail and Villeneuve history – pay attention, CBC, as this could make a wonderful miniseries.
This collection of stories is filled with memorable quotes and turns of phrase that illustrate the razor-thin line between human nature and nature itself. A Mirror in the Mirror tells the story of a woman left behind as her lover uses her fortune to try his luck in Montreal, eventually fading away until she becomes only a shadow within the house upon his return. This story also contains one of my favourite quotes:
“One day, when she found herself there at dusk, she felt as if a giant hand were lifting her up in its palm, and she let herself be carried off by the wind. For a long time it twirled her about like a cloth ripped from a clothesline, like a poplar leaf, like a speck of dust, just above the lake. She saw herself mirrored in its surface, and for once she found herself beautiful.”
One final word about the translation: Canada has benefited from a wealth of wonderful translators who have provided beautiful English translations to rival their French counterparts. It is clear that Donald Winkler, a three-time Governor General award winner for translation, is high on this list, as his work with this book as part of the Biblioasis International Translation Series is outstanding.
Arvida may be named for a place, but it is the people and their stories about this place that will haunt you. There is a darkness to their tales, a twist that you may not see coming, but that will leave you compelled to keep reading. Familiar faces appear and reappear in these stories, and you never quite know what will happen next.
Arvida is published by Biblioasis, and a copy was provided to me for this event. All opinions are my own. It is available for purchase from your favourite indie or large scale bookseller. ISBN: 9781771960427, 213 pages.