Aurora Montrealis / Monique Proulx; translated from the French by Matt Cohen.
Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, c1997.
I've really enjoyed many of Proulx's works before; her Wildlives was a top read of 2012 for me. So I was eager to read this collection of very short stories, all showing a different facet of the great city of Montreal.
And I did enjoy it, overall, though there were some flaws that kept it from reaching the level of a favourite read. Proulx takes many different perspectives in this book -- from young people to older, all classes, male and female; there's one story from the perspective of a middle-aged black man, followed by one narrated by a young Native character. Neither of these worked for me. They made me uncomfortable reading them somehow. I'm glad she was thinking of diversity in her presentation, but I just didn't feel convinced by the characters, and thought perhaps they didn't ring as true as some of the others.
There were also a couple of stories in which Quebec separatism was a strong theme. It shows the core beliefs and attitudes of the "yes" side, which is important, I think. But there was a noticeable lack of characters from English Montreal as the teller of a story, despite the wide variety of angles for the stories. I'd have liked to see even one, as Anglos are also a vital Montreal community. But then I suppose English writers can take that on.
Anyhow, there were a lot of her regular themes woven into this collection, which I enjoyed seeing again, and her writing is always interesting. I also liked that many of the stories were very brief, allowing just a glimpse into a life, as if you are just passing by this person and will only ever get a peek into their thoughts. It allowed me to pick up and put down this book in between other reading and still feel like I was following along nicely. I think this is a clever way to approach a big city made up mainly of small neighbourhoods.
If you like short stories, give this one a try. I'd recommend her novels as a first experience of her writing, though; Wildlives (which I've mentioned) or The Heart Is an Involuntary Muscle, the two I've read so far, were both a little more engaging than this collection.