Read This, Then That: Fearless Women (in Translation)

March 7, 2017

Usually in this column we talk about how two stories are alike, but in this case, it's the authors who are comparably incomparable. The Montreal women who authored Breakneck (Anvil Press) and  Testament (BookThug) worked in the sexier side of the city's labour force (exotic dancing, escort), lived well outside of society's expectations for young women, and passed away before their time.

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Read This:  Breakneck by Nelly Arcan, translated by Jacob Homel (Anvil Press)

Then That:  Testament by Vickie Gendreau, translated by Aimee Wall (BookThug)

 

Usually in this column we talk about how two stories are alike, but in this case, it's the authors who are comparably incomparable. These Montreal women worked in the sexier side of the city's labour force (exotic dancing, escort), lived well outside of society's expectations for young women, and passed away before their time.

The stories do bear some similarity, too. In  Breakneck, documentary scriptwriter Julie and fashion stylist Rose share in their many obsessions: their loft apartments in Montreal's Plateau neighbourhood, multiple and repeat plastic surgeries, and Rose's live-in boyfriend, Charles. The women's relationship is at times uneasy alliance, others a fierce rivalry, marked by a lightning strike to the roof of the apartment during their first meeting. Charles' sadistic sexual appetites push them further into competition with one another, until he himself comes into their crosshairs.

Testament shares in Breakneck's simmering anger, but lets it boil over; 23-year-old Montrealer Gendreau received a terminal brain cancer diagnosis and used this autofictional novel as a way to reckon with her coming death. Her protagonist, also "Vickie", pieces together her final year of life, and all of its joys and regrets, among imaginings of family and friends coping with their loss of her. Testament is her gift to them; a life too short, but more vibrant than some of our eldest.

Both books showcase Montreal's rich contemporary literary scene from two brilliant talents taken from us much too soon.

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For more literary followups, check out previous editions of Read This, Then That here.


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