Monday, August 15, 2016

Stories of Dangerous Women: Take Two

Deathly Delights / Anne Dandurand; translated from the French by Luise von Flotow
Montreal: Vehicule Press, c1991.
111 p.

These 8 stories are prime examples of the feminist macabre, if I can call it that. They all have a sense of eroticism and death closely linked; there are women who make things happen, good or bad, but whichever it is, they are the ones making the choices. They are women who are at their limits, with anger, desire, or a deep longing of some kind.

Anne Dandurand is an actor, producer, and feminist activist alongside of being an author. These elements show in her writing, and they make the stories lively and complex. Her writing style is literary, sarcastic and full of dark humour. It's an enjoyable collection, easy to read even if a bit dark at times. Each of the stories stands alone, and really should be read, as Mavis Gallant always recommends with short stories, one at a time with a break between them when you put the book down.

I think my favourite story was one called "Lost Hearts Salon", about a hairdresser who provides perfect murders for her clients who are suffering domestically; there is a police lieutenant who has just about figured this out...but his response is rather unexpected. I thought it was a well balanced and pleasing tale, with the perfect elements of surprise and rightness in it. But all of the stories have their own interest, and I'd recommend finding this collection if you do like your short stories told with a bit of a slant. The tone reminds me of another Montreal book I read a while ago, Sean Dixon's The Last of the Lacuna Cabal -- it has the same feel of young, powerful women travelling the city dispensing justice and feeling driven by intense personal circumstances.

The Perfect Woman / Suzanne Harnois; translated from the French by Jonathan Kaplansky
Montreal: Varia Press, c1999.
142 p.

This book is quite obscure, but we had it on the shelves in our 2nd hand bookshop many years ago now -- I grabbed it, and I've been meaning to read it ever since.

It's very similar to the one above. It's a collection of short stories, in this case, 10 stories. It also features feminist themes. The Perfect Woman is an ironically perfect title for this set of stories about women who are not what one expects them to be. Each of the stories opens with a quote from a literary work that condenses the theme into a brief statement, which really works.

The perfect wife, a mild and pretty German immigrant, turns into a powerful defender when her husband's ex reappears to make their lives unbearable. Her past serves her well as she takes care of the situation, practically yet in quite an unforeseen way.  Another wife, unaware of her husband's affair, has matters taken care of by her clear-eyed best friend. Husbands, wives, children, relationships, they are all entangled. The women in these stories just want things to be peaceful and secure -- but the means they go to in order to maintain equilibrium rather defeat the purpose.

I enjoyed this one even more than Deathly Delights. The writing is assured, the characters are engaging, and the stories, while also about heightened emotions and a lot of death and despair, are not quite as macabre as Dandurand's work. I appreciated the varied settings, ranging from Montreal out into other parts of Quebec, and the cohesiveness of the collection. While I really liked the story "Olga", I also found that "Autoroute" was very touching, with a conclusion that was satisfying at first glance but which Harnois shows will never be enough for the protagonist. It was a powerful story of loss and loyalty.

The feel of this book also reminds me of a more recent collection of short stories set in Montreal, though in this case written in English, Mireille Silcoff's Chez L'Arabe. They both focus on the interior lives of women facing important changes, though Silcoff's characters generally respond in a less permanently decisive manner.

I've enjoyed reading these two Quebec novels which unexpectedly spoke to one another strongly. The 90s were a good time for strong women apparently; the feminist values of the writers shine through and the variety of women that appear in these stories cover a range of life situations and personalities. I recommend reading both if you can find them.


  1. I am woefully under-read on French literature out of Quebec. I think I would very much enjoy The Perfect Woman. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

    1. I hope you can find it in a library system somewhere - I really liked it, and as I flipped through it again while reviewing it, I kept stopping to reread bits :)

  2. Both of these sound very appealing to me, Melwyk, thanks to your wonderful reviews.

    1. It's so funny how books connect with each other unintentionally. I've owned both of these for a long time, and then read them back to back. They were a good match!


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