I Am a Truck

By Michelle Winters

I Am a Truck
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Finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize

A tender but lively debut novel about a man, a woman, and their Chevrolet dealer.

Agathe and Réjean Lapointe are about to celebrate their twentieth wedding anniversary when Réjean’s beloved Chevy Silverado is found abandoned at the ... Read more


Overview

Finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize

A tender but lively debut novel about a man, a woman, and their Chevrolet dealer.

Agathe and Réjean Lapointe are about to celebrate their twentieth wedding anniversary when Réjean’s beloved Chevy Silverado is found abandoned at the side of the road-with no trace of Réjean. Agathe handles her grief by fondling the shirts in the Big and Tall department at Hickey’s Family Apparel and carrying on a relationship with a cigarette survey. As her hope dwindles, Agathe falls in with her spirited coworker, Debbie, who teaches Agathe about rock and roll, and with Martin Bureau, the one man who might know the truth about Réjean’s fate. Set against the landscape of rural Acadia, I Am a Truck is a funny and moving tale about the possibilities and impossibilities of love and loyalty.

Scotiabank Giller Prize Jury Citation:
French or English, stick or twist, Chevy or Ford? Michelle Winters has written an original, off-beat novel that explores the gaps between what people are and what they want to be. For a short book I am a Truck is bursting with huge appetites, for love and le rock-and-roll and cheese, for male friendship and takeout tea with the bag left in. Within the novel’s distinctive Acadian setting French and English co-exist like old friends – comfortable, supple to each other’s whims and rhythms, sometimes bickering but always contributing to this fine, very funny, fully-achieved novel about connection and misunderstanding. And trucks.

I Am a Truck is a mystery of considerable depth. And it is also very funny. ”Atlantic Books Today

"At once charming, funny, bizarre and highly original with a feel-good ending reminiscent of Thelma and Louise’s iconic finale. "Canadian Living

Michelle Winters

Michelle Winters is a writer, painter, and translator from Saint John, N.B., living in Toronto. Her written and visual work stretches the limits of the probable, explores the lushness of the industrial, and anthropomorphizes with gay abandon. Her stories have been published in THIS Magazine, Taddle Creek, Dragnet, and Matrix, and she was nominated for the 2011Journey Prize. I Am a Truck is her debut novel.

Excerpt

Now

The Silverado was reported sitting next to the highway with the driver-side door open just eight hours after Agathe had kissed Réjean on the front step of their cottage and sent him off fishing in the rain with a Thermos full of coffee, four sandwiches au bologne, and a dozen date squares. It was pouring so hard that as they embraced, the rain smacked loudly on Réjean’s enormous back. He blew her a kiss as he reversed out of sight, and she smiled and touched her lips.

He was lying to her. She had known from the second he came home the night before and experimentally said, “Hé, sais-tu quoi?” As he told her the lie, she studied him, half-amused, waiting for him to crack. He was an awful liar, but he persevered artlessly in his tale of a fishing trip on Saturday with the men from work. Their twentieth wedding anniversary was next week and Agathe wasn’t about to challenge him on trying to cover up a surprise for her. In fact, she was relieved. Réjean had been so odd lately—distracted, distant…Only in bed was he fully engaged, and there they were trying something new. Their physical relationship had flourished over the years, despite the normalcy and tedium innate in all couples, and despite what Agathe considered to be the loss of her figure. As early as her twenties, her body had succumbed to a condition that afflicted generations of women in her family: a ballooning of her upper half, while her legs remained coltish and slim. As her top half grew, the weight strained her spine, giving her a subtle hunch that would grow more pronounced as the years wore on. But every new pound only enticed Réjean more as he kissed and bit and squeezed her extra flesh. For him, she would always be the girl who had awakened his soul that July day at the marché when they were teenagers.

Agathe had been watching the eaves for birds while her mother examined potatoes. When Réjean suddenly appeared, his eyes already on her, he saturated her field of vision. Agathe’s knees buckled and she slid to the ground. Édithe Thibeault was quick and sharp, tossing the bag of potatoes into the air and catching her daughter before she hit the ground. As the potatoes rained down, Édithe looked up and also set disbelieving eyes on Réjean. At only fifteen, he was close to seven feet tall, with a chest as big as a rain barrel and arms the size of a normal man’s legs. His hands were like a bunch of bananas. He was already working on the downy beginnings of his moustache. For her part, Agathe had just the year before peeled her way out of a rind of unremarkability, emerging that summer a very pretty girl. Her mother’s friends would comment that Agathe was now pretty enough to be a newscaster or a figure skater and that perhaps, her beauty would be the thing to finally put P’tit Village on the map. For Réjean, she became existence itself. He broke from his brothers and swept in, hands extended, and, without a word, pulled up both Agathe and her mother so that their feet briefly left the ground. His eyes locked on to Agathe’s until he turned to join his brothers, gazing over his shoulder at her. When she had finally lost sight of his back in the crowd, Agathe began to cry.

On returning from the market, Réjean asked his mother for a haircut and presented himself at the Thibeaults’ door later that same afternoon, hair clippings still in his ears, asking if Agathe would like to go for a walk.  He couldn’t have expected that once they reached the woods at the end of the street, Agathe would grab him and pull him to her, knocking the breath out of them both. They had to wait three years to get married.

They’d learned early on that Agathe was missing one of the parts needed to make babies, which made them sad at first, then overjoyed when they realized they didn’t want babies, only each other. “Il n’y a que nous,” they would say, making a tunnel between their eyes with their hands.

Réjean said that the fishing trip should be wrapped up by dinnertime. Even if the fishing part wasn’t true, he wasn’t so foolish as to lie about when he would be home. Agathe had nearly eight hours to work on her surprise for him.

From between the box spring and mattress, she pulled her bloc-notes and pencils. They had agreed this year they would make gifts for each other. She had been toiling solidly for two weeks while Réjean was at work. She brought her materials to the table, put on a pot of tea, and emptied the ashtray. Agathe had initially started smoking as a means of trying to control her weight, but her top half only continued to swell—along with a new love of cigarettes.

She flipped to her drawing on the pad. It wouldn’t matter that she was working from a photo in the newspaper; it looked enough like the Silverado that Réjean wouldn’t know the difference. Agathe was pleased with just how much her drawing resembled the photo, and planned to put the picture in a frame she had taken from a watercolour painting in the basement.

Réjean had never owned anything but a Chevy and revered the brand with a feverish loyalty. Every year, he replaced his current truck with the newest model, not because the old one was lacking or showing signs of wear, but because every truck that Chevy brought out Réjean would declare more phenomenal than the last. He often lost himself in grateful praise of the corporation for designing such a sturdy vehicle with such excellent handling.

“C’est un beau truck, ça. ”

Not long after they were married, the lumber work in P’tit Village began to dwindle, but Réjean had heard that it was plentiful in nearby English-speaking Pinto. They moved into a cottage in the woods there, and began a life of increasing seclusion, and the prospect of communicating only with each other in a town where no one spoke French. Agathe and Réjean understood English, but held it in heavy contempt—even if English made up half the French they spoke. At home and school, they had been taught that the Anglophone world was trying to oppress them, monopolize their culture, and eradicate their language. It was safest to agree. Being separated by language from the world around them strengthened their bond of exclusivity. Gradually, they retreated from the world altogether, existing solely for each other in the confines of their home.

“Il n’y a que nous. ”

The hours sped by as Agathe worked, capturing every realistic inch, the darks and lights, blending bits of pencil with the twisted end of a tissue and her fingers. Smudging the lines was her favourite part. It looked so real. In real life, things were smudgy. As she reproduced the positive and negative spaces of the photo, she imagined what she and Réjean might try out when he returned that night. Perhaps they could include the Silverado. She thought about a game where she was a truck driver and Réjean a trusting hitchhiker, until the sun went orange in the sky and she remembered dinner.

If Réjean was any kind of liar, he would bring home fish, even if it meant buying it at the store. She would need to assist the lie by anticipating fish and making something complementary. She would make scalloped potatoes. Scalloped potatoes were always appropriate.

She hid her drawing back beneath the mattress and returned to the kitchen, where she devoted herself to the extra-thin slicing of potatoes and onions, loading the first layer into the pan, nearly skipping to the refrigerator for more cheese.

When she heard Réjean pull into his spot in front of the house, she checked the kitchen for any pencil-darkened clues. But as her eyes passed the window and stopped on the spot where the Silverado should be, she found it occupied by a police cruiser. There were two officers up front, who talked for a moment in the car before making their way to the door and knocking gently.

“Good evening, ma’am. Are you the wife of Réjean Lapointe?”

“Ouah…”

“Does your husband drive a black Chevrolet Silverado?”

“Ouah…”

“Would it be all right if we came in?”

They stood inside the door, because she didn’t invite them to sit, and asked a lot of rude questions about Réjean and their relationship: Did he seem happy? Were they having any problems in their marriage?

“Beunh, non,” she replied emphatically, and told them about their upcoming anniversary and the surprise he was without question preparing right now.

“Has he been distracted or at all different lately? Anything unusual?”

Agathe reached for her cigarettes.

“Ma’am, your husband’s empty truck was reported not far from here, sitting on the shoulder with the driver-side door open. Do you have any idea why that might be?”

She did not.

“The good news is it doesn’t look like there’s been any foul play or an accident. It’s more like he just. ..walked away. We’re still trying to get a feel for the situation, ma’am. Most times these cases turn out to have a perfectly reasonable explanation.  Sometimes people have a strange way of sending a message—”

“Sending un message,” Agathe cut him off.  “Comme quoi, un message? Pour qui? Pour moi?”

The other officer stepped in. “We just want to make sure we have all the details before we start speculating on what might have happened, ma’am. ”

They told her to call if she had any information that might lead to finding him and promised she would be the first to know if they heard anything. As she closed the door behind them, she leaned her shoulder against it and studied the floor. Her mind had been so consumed with dislike for the policemen that she hadn’t considered how strange it was, Réjean’s truck at the side of the road, without Réjean. But now that the officers were climbing back into the cruiser, she was struck by the absolute impossibility of him leaving the truck of his own volition. This didn’t feel like part of a surprise; this felt like something going wrong. Her insides tightened. Réjean abandoning the Silverado? No. She couldn’t imagine him just walking away. Then, as she tried to picture it, her heart suddenly went cold.

The army man.

Réjean had seen Agathe and the army man together, she knew it. She now felt sure he knew she’d lied about it. She couldn’t tell, as they’d driven home in silence, whether she’d convinced him. But Réjean had been intensely preoccupied. Had he been plotting the whole way home how he would punish her? Was he trying to scare her? Or did he feel so betrayed by her indiscretion that he was willing to sacrifice the Silverado to be rid of her? No, Réjean wouldn’t do that. Or would he? She’d been trying to ignore his recent strangeness, even before the army man, but wished now that she had said something. She’d had so many chances. They both knew things felt different. But last night while they played gin rummy and she baked date squares, the few times Réjean was present enough to look directly at her, there was a distress in his eyes that had nothing to do with their anniversary. It had to do with the army man. She tried to picture what Réjean had seen, and how awful it must have looked from his perspective. She needed to let him know that it wasn’t what he thought.

The police officer’s words ran through her mind: It’s more like he just…walked away.

If Réjean was alive, she would find him. She ran to the bedroom and retrieved her bloc-notes, flipping her Silverado drawing over the coils of the pad. She would put up posters all over town. Someone had to know where he was. She concentrated on the empty page and pulled the cap off a black marker, thinking about the word for a moment before covering a third of the page in big block letters that spelled MISSING.

Awards

  • Scotiabank Giller Prize 2017, Short-listed

Reviews

“Winters does a lot on the page and packs a great deal of charm into this trim, very human little book… Quirky and fun, I Am a Truck feels like a departure from the typical Giller-nominated fare, and that’s a very good thing. Totally at home despite its smaller stature – both in publishing house and page count – this pick lends something fresh and unexpected to the hallowed list. ”Globe and Mail

“I Am a Truck, by New Brunswick writer Michelle Winters, features a Chevy Silverado in a short novel with the feel of a Coen brothers’ film…This is a story about driving, freedom, rock ’n’ roll and the joys of taking control of your own destiny—and destination. ”Toronto Star

"At once charming, funny, bizarre and highly original with a feel-good ending reminiscent of Thelma and Louise’s iconic finale, the book is. .. driven by mystery, emotion and wholly likeable characters. "Canadian Living

“This fast-paced, quirky, heart warming and hilarious novel captures the fast and loose crossovers of language and culture that make southeast New Brunswick unique. ”Geist

“Winters is an ace at slyly building tension; after a couple chapters we find ourselves in the middle of a detective story, wrapped in a love story, wrapped in a portrait of a part of French Canada that is unlike any other region in the country. ”Matrix Magazine

“Tightly constructed but character-driven, Michelle Winters’ I Am a Truck is a remarkably satisfying read. For a jury who clearly appreciates the art of driving off-road, this fresh voice deserved a nod of recognition and it could even snag a spot in the parking lot of the [Giller Prize] shortlist. ”—Buried in Print

"Highly original, laced with wit and love, and it might just be the strangest, yet most feel-good, story I’ve read all year. "—Reading Matters

"I fell in love with this short book from the outset and read it slowly because I didn't want it to end. "—Booklog for Charlotte

I Am a Truck is a mystery of considerable depth. And it is also very funny. ”Atlantic Books Today

"It’s snappy, it bounces along, it’s witty without being unserious, it’s strange without being absurd, it’s human without being cloying and it is genuinely moving despite its plotty, thrillery, conceit and literary style… I Am a Truck is a cracking work of fiction. "—Triumph of the Now

“The wonder-packed drama of I Am a Truck plays itself out in the impossible intersection of a Coen brothers movie, a James M. Cain novel and a Looney Tunes feature. Michelle Winters has created a fresh novel overflowing with mystery, emotional complexity and a new and welcome breed of goofy charm. ”—Stuart Ross, author of Snowball, Dragonfly, Jew

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