michel basilieres: a great new canadian writer

i went to university about a million years ago. ok, fourteen. seems like a million. there were a lot of pros and cons about the experience as a whole. one of the pros was going to lonergan college.

school had taught me a lot of things up until that point; how to memorize, how to phrase an answer by incorporating the question asked, the elements of an expostitory essay, how figure out what a teacher wants to hear in order to get a good mark from them, and many other important life skills! but until i went to lonergan, i never really learned how to think for myself. i'm still learning how to do that. the students i met at lonergan college taught me that thinking for myself (contrary to popular belief) wouldn't be the end of the world. michel basilieres was the first person i met at lonergan that not only listened to me, but made me think i might have something to say. i may even be wrong a lot, but i began to find it very satisfying this whole thinking idea. and really, what was the alternative? i shudder...

sometime last fall after having seen another lonergan classmate, i was surfing the internet wondering what michel was up to so i googled him and one of the links that came up was for his (at the time nyp by random house) book black bird.

i spent the following months trying to remember the title of the book. eventually that whole thinking thing kicked in and i remembered and happily noticed that we had it on order at the store. so i put the one copy we had on order on hold for myself and made our book buyers bring some more in. (what are old friends for?) and then i kicked everything else that was by-the-bed aside and devoured it.

black blird

i knew it would be dark. the opening chapter is not only called "montreal-la-morte" but the chapter's first passage begins with the two characters of uncle and grandfather trying to dig up a grave in the middle of the unforgiving new winter permafrost in the mount royal cemetery.

slowly, while weaving through the personalities of the different members of the desouche family, michel unfolds before his reader the beauty and many contradictions of the city of montreal. the story begins with the recent passing of grandmother, so glad to be finally rid of her lifelong oppressor and husband, and then moves to the sudden marriage of grandfather to the young, meek, and pious aline, completely unaware of the strange house she is marrying into. she soon learns of the cruelty of grandfather, his disregard for her, his unwillingness to be anything to her; she is present for his kitchen and his bed. but even that he forsakes after aline befriends his pet crow, and once that crow experiences human attention and affection, it turns on grandfather and will not give him a moments rest. but at least, aline now has an ally.

in the meantime, jean-baptiste, lover of books, and very bad poet, is holed up in his room, trying to write, trying to read; trying to ignore his family. his sister, a secret felquiste, is producing a bomb to plant in a anglo area bar. the results of the explosion of her bomb will trigger many of the events that follow in this novel; a death in the family, the gathering of miscellanious body parts, epiphany, depression, guilt, kidnapping, resurrection, more death, change of heart, bonding, and miraculous escape of the spirit.

the desouche family made me love them, especially grandfather, one of the strongest and most movingly honest bastards i've ever met in a novel.

(on a personal note this book made me homesick for quebec which some will note is a miracle in itself).

and i have to recommend this book, not only for that reason but because there are new writers out there writing great canadian novels, and black bird is one of them. michel has written a darkly spiritual novel about family in quebec, a province which fosters one of the richest and most diverse cultures in canada, i don't often forget that, but i don't often celebrate it either, and buying and reading michel's first novel has helped me do just that.

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