the truth of fiction: canadian queers

Could somebody please turn on the summer? I mean seriously. I’m sitting here wearing jeans, a shirt, a polar fleece and a pair of fuzzy slippers, with a mug of steaming tea, a huge polar fleece blanket wrapped around me, and a pashmina artfully draped around my head and shoulders because silly me, I forgot to pack my tuque. It’s June! What the bloody hell is going on? My fingers are so cold I can barely type! To make matters worse, I just got off the phone with Boi L, who’s sweating in the desert, and before that with Kona, the powerhouse behind the Vancouver women and trans bathhouse events, who had me thinking sweat and steam and nakedness. But no, right now I can practically see my breath.

Anyway, this post will be short and sweet. Inspired by some of your comments, I’m going to be trying to post interesting bits as they come to me, rather than mashing them together in a single post. I used to do that – I have no idea if I’ll be successful at doing it again, but hey, I can try.

In tonight’s post, I give you literature. A brief literary review, that is – of an intriguing collection of stories entitled This One’s Going to Last Forever, by Montreal-based novelist Nairne Holtz.

The first time she impressed was with her co-edited anthology of Canadian lesbian literature, No Margins: Writing Canadian Fiction in Lesbian, a natural next step from her ongoing pet project, canadianlesbianliterature.ca. Next, she put out her debut novel, The Skin Beneath, a work of literary fiction with resolutely queer characters, a twisted conspiracy-theory plot and plenty of highly believable relationship drama. (Take a look here for an interview I did with her a couple of years back right after the novel was launched.)

Well, Nairne has done it again. With This One’s Going to Last Forever, a novella sandwiched between two sets of short stories, she gives us a wry, observant take on Canadian queers that goes down like a dry wine – a bit bitter at first, with a pleasantly complex flavour that blooms on the palate and leaves a rich finish on the tongue. Her work never fails to be both cynical and hopeful, incisive and vulnerable. And not to overwork a cliché, but she keeps getting better as she ages. This is definitely her best effort yet.

Speaking of clichés, she inserts nary a one into her narratives, even when her characters include such figures as an Elvis impersonator, a house-buying lesbian couple, or a young university student who’s questioning her sexual orientation. In Nairne’s capable hands, your Elvis impersonator is a gay man who runs a drive-through wedding chapel in Sudbury, and for whom the closest thing he’s got to a life partner is his aging, Alzheimer’s-suffering father. Her house-buying dykes are an interracial couple in Halifax, a dreadlocked manicurist and a butch paramedic whose greatest on-the-job trauma comes when she sees people’s pets killed in their car accidents. (In a wonderfully sharp twist, they’re one of the only couples in the book that actually seems happy!) And despite, or perhaps in some ways because of, her naiveté, the late-1980s McGill student levers some devastating criticism at radical politics of all sorts, lesbian included.

I think what I like about Nairne’s book is that it resonates as real to me. Rather than the tiresome repetition of New York City, her stories are set in Vancouver, Montreal, and other cities that form the flawed tapestry of Canada. They reflect the realities of queerness here – with some stories set at times when same-sex couples couldn’t marry, and others set in such a resolutely contemporary period that her characters are already jaded about our hard-won right.

In her stories, lesbians don’t live in a womyn-only utopia; they hang out with, and live with, and work with – and yes, even occasionally sleep with – men. The word “bisexual”  is used frequently and realistically. Some characters are alcoholics or junkies. Others are amputees or single mothers or self-hating hockey dykes or hypocritical activists or frumpy fetishists or beautiful fey goth boys with long hair and swaying hips. Really, I feel like I’ve met all these people, and who knows, maybe I have. (Okay, probably not the Elvis impersonator.) Regardless, they come alive through Nairne’s words, and they move through the tragedies and triumphs of everyday life without ever behaving like “characters” that some writer came up with to make a point. These people live and breathe, and they’re well worth meeting.

If you are so fortunate as to be in Toronto the evening of Tuesday, June 2, I encourage you to attend Nairne’s launch and reading. 6:30 p.m. at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, free entrance.

2 Responses

  1. That book sounds wonderful. Thanks for writing about it. I would love to read queer stories that feel real and relevant to me. And the collection of realistic, imperfect lesbians that you describe sounds so appealing to me. I’ll definitely try to come to that event.

  2. Ooops…I just realized that it already happened. But anyway, I’ll look for the book.

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