Authors: D. Y. Bechard
Acclaim for D.Y. Béchard’s
“D.Y. Béchard surpasses Kerouac in his consciousness of the French as part of a larger people, how their struggle is socially and politically situated rather than strictly personal.…
seems like a trans-generational
On the Road.”
—The Globe and Mail
is a point of reference for authors who set out to tackle the challenges of writing a multigenerational story.… The effect is near seamless, the unfolding of events written with surgical precision.”
“One part Jack Kerouac, one part William Faulkner, D.Y. Béchard has shaped
into a heartfelt and sweeping narrative.… A searching and mystical novel imbued with sensitivity and grace, it has thrust Béchard centre stage as an up-and-coming literary contender and a new voice to be reckoned with.”
“Béchard’s writing at its strongest flows in sonorous passages, it evokes memorable landscapes, natural and urban, and examines the enduring qualities of a family separated by both time and distance.… [It] contains echoes of the magic realism of the South American master Gabriel García Márquez or, closer to home, the tall tales of western Canadian literary heavyweight Robert Kroetsch.”
—Winnipeg Free Press
“Béchard is an ambitious and skillful storyteller. His specialty is finding words to describe longing.…
is] about blood: what our veins inherit, and how it both holds and haunts us.”
—The Georgia Straight
“The author weaves his lyrical and image-rich prose through the pages of
with the audacity of a virtuoso.… Béchard seems poised to walk among the giants of the Canadian literary scene.”
“Béchard’s improvised, riff-heavy narrative resembles Salman Rushdie more than Gabriel García Márquez, as it plays with the idea of exile as both a genetic inheritance and a spiritual purgatory.”
“A lyrical, generational story of a family haunted by God who is not above, but is nature.… Reminiscent of Proulx and Doctorow in both sweep and grace of prose, it is hard to believe that
, so elegant and accomplished, is only Béchard’s first novel.”
—Dagoberto Gilb, author of
The Magic of Blood and Woodcuts of Women
“Beautifully evokes that eternal theme of the outsider, the outcast, the freak, in the search to find a place, albeit more of the soul than of the corporeal, that can be called home.”
—Quill & Quire
“A layered contemporary fairytale, mesmerizing and powerful.… a moving novel about universal longings.”
—Montréal Review of Books
Even when Jude was a boy, his arms and legs bulged, his neck corded, his muscled gut humped beneath his chest. On the steep fields above the road, above the river so wide they called it
, he worked in clothes the colour of dirt, harder and faster than his uncles, though when he paused from digging, he stood awkwardly, uneasy with inaction. By the age of fifteen, he rarely stopped. He sat and ate in the same motion. He undressed and stretched on his bed and slept. Hardship had given his face the uneven
angles of an old apple pressed in among others in a cellar crate. He’d never closed his eyes to wonder at what couldn’t be seen.
That autumn ended a dry summer. Foliage was dull, like rusted machinery on the hills. Potato harvest had him carving furrows in chill earth. He could never have imagined that a decade later villagers would still discuss the days that led to his disappearance. Or that some nights, watching TV, they would dream his fierce height and red hair, as if they might see him on a Hollywood street.
Of the nineteen Hervé children, he should have been the most content to stay. His grandfather, Hervé Hervé, had raised him, and together they’d fished paternal waters with the sregularity of Mass. The Hervés had owned those first rough mountain farms since before the Seven Years War, and when Capt. George Scott burned the French homes, they didn’t flee to France. Nor did they relocate for the convenience of a telegraph line and a doctor when Jersey merchants built company villages. But for all their strength the family had developed an unusual trait. Children were born alternately brutes or runts, as if the womb had been exhausted. It was clockwork, enormous child then changeling. Villagers saw and feared this as if through some faint ancient recollection of stories that predated Christianity. They feared even the little ones, frail, scurrying beneath those hulking siblings.
Though half his children were runts as if by biblical curse, Hervé Hervé remained proud. Strong beyond his years, he brought up even the last of his sons to fish and
work the fields at a time when cod stocks were failing and farmland returning to forest. He’d grown up during the worst years of the emigration south and had seen too much change to trust it, the poverty, the wealth of war and again the poverty until he’d become as hard as the country that had been fled by hundreds of thousands so that it was him his children now fled. In fights, men broke knuckles on his face, his wide, almost Indian features expressionless, his weather-browned skin ignoring whatever bruise. He took his sons hunting hours through the drifts. He never used a compass, and once, when geologists and surveyors sent inland by the province disappeared, he retrieved them. In 1904, walking a dark road, he heard a shot from the woods and a bullet grazed his eye. No one believed it was an accident. If anything, his remaining eye became more intent, imprinted in memories and imaginations. Some claimed he measured the distance to the sea by tasting snow.
In his first marriage he fathered three boys and three girls. Of those sons, two were keepers—he spoke of his children, if at all, in the language of a fisherman. He bred his wife hard, and when she foundered in childbed, he replaced her with Georgianne, a sturdier woman of no small religious bent who gave him eleven more. Jude was the illegitimate son of a brutish Scots-American tourist and Agnès, Georgianne’s fourteen-year-old daughter, who, intent on not giving birth, pummelled her belly, threw herself down hills and stairs, plunged into icy water and hurtled against low branches so that to the villagers she looked like a sideshow tough training for a
bareknuckle fight. The pregnancy held and Jude was born with a flat nose and the glassy gaze of a punch-drunk fighter. But he wasn’t born alone. He came into the world with a tiny twin sister, in his arms, it was told, as though he expected further violence.
All were surprised to see a keeper and a runt together, as if he should have emerged with a bag of gnawed bones. Villagers who knew the family accounts believed the Hervé curse was the result of some past perversion or sin. When winter or sickness came, the runts were the first to go, abused or disregarded by the giants. Oddly, though, with the years, it became apparent that Jude adored his quivering sister. He grew fast and started walking so young the villagers doubted his age, and whenever Isa-Marie, still in diapers, began to cry, he leaned against her cradle like a greaser on his Chevy. No two children could grow to be more different, Isa-Marie often at church, the pages of her school books crammed with magazine clippings of popes or saints, Jude eager for work, slogging up to the fields each spring just to see the sodden furrows set against the sky, the huge vents of mud.
Of Agnès no memory would remain, only a photo, a handsome girl, eyelashes dark and long, lips pushed out to greet the world’s pleasures. She’d fed them bitter milk for three months as outside spring lit winter’s crevices, the sky bright as a movie screen, the first tourist cars hanging streamers of dust. That July she disappeared, only the orphaned twins and Jude’s name to remember her by. The tourist father had been called Jude, she’d told
them. As for Isa-Marie, the grandmother had named her for a long-dead sister, some Isabelle from another life.
Hervé Hervé was sixty-six that year, late to be a father again. On the day of Jude’s birth he’d recognized the child as one of his own. He’d taken the silent newborn wrapped in a sheet to the salt-pitted scales, in the full April winds off the St. Lawrence, and reckoned his weight to a penny. By the time Jude was seven, Hervé Hervé was casting bets as to what he could pick up: crates of cod, a rusted foremast in the rocks. At his grandfather’s command, Jude stripped to chickenflesh and yellowed briefs. The crates went up, the mast wobbled and rose. Hervé Hervé gathered change, fragrant cigarettes brought by a sailor, a dollar pinned beneath a rock against the wind. Off a ways Moise Maheur watched with his own son, an angular boy with a protruding chin and squinty eyes, five years Jude’s elder, about the same height. Hervé Hervé put his pipe in a pocket, lit a cigarette, froze each man with his one eye and proposed a second bet. It was a June day, wind lifting spray off shallow breakers as the crowd stood in the cool light and watched. The Maheur boy threw punches as if they were stones. Jude’s came straight from the chin. The men shook their heads and looked away. Hervé Hervé counted up, gave Jude a penny for good measure.
Jude grew within the time capsule of this affection, an odd tableau for the fifties: the swarthy grandfather with his pagan eye, and his atavistic protégé, fighting, stripped to the waist, coarse reddened skin like a wet shirt against muscle. Hervé Hervé decided to train him, told him to
split wood, more than they could need or sell. Run, he shouted, pointing to the mountain. Each morning he gave him a jar of raw, fresh milk despite the disapproval of his wife, and Jude, stomach burbling, followed along to be weighed in.
For the people of the village, the fights were less amusing each year as small, plum-coloured bruises became missing teeth, black eyes, great cancerous swellings on the faces of their sons. Soon people were saying, Doesn’t he know those times are over? Does he think this can go on forever? Jude’s birth had coincided with the end of the war, and only a few years afterwards, electricity had reached the village. Power lines stretched over the mountains and above the potato fields so that, hoeing, they could feel the thrum in their bones. Salesmen soon arrived with new contraptions, and children crowded to inspect the fluffy contents of a vacuum bag or to let the metal wand make hickeys on their arms. There was something innocent, light about the age, the future destined to be better.