Thursday, April 11, 2019

Review: Métis Beach by Claudine Bourbonnais

If you wrote your autobiography, what would be in it? Would it be a sweeping epic or a mundane recitation of boring sameness? Mine would definitely be the latter. I'm not famous, have never run afoul of the law (well, aside from a speeding ticket or two), haven't been involved in historically significant events, and usually have a pretty cordial relationship with family and friends. The same cannot be said of the main character in Claudine Bourbonnais' epic novel, Métis Beach. His life makes for a catalogue of the changing mores and attitudes of second half of the twentieth century in this expansive novel.

In his fifties, Roman Carr is the writer and creator of the famous satirical show called In Gad We Trust. It is designed to entertain and offend in equal measure and although the show is a hit, Roman has been able to fly mostly under the radar, at least until the story opens. Telling his own story, Roman goes back in time to his life in Métis Beach on the Gaspé Peninsula, a town he fled as a teenager many years before. Born Romain Carrier, he and his father worked as caretakers for the English Canadians who had large summer homes in the area until one evening when everything went wrong for the young man. He flees the judgment of his father and the English community, ending up in New York City for several years before a terrible tragedy sends him out to San Francisco and then Hollywood. Along the way, he meets his best friend, has an affair, learns about feminism, protests Vietnam, and embraces humanism. His experiences lead him to develop his TV show, exposing the sordidness, greed, and hypocrisy of organized religion and present it as a microcosm of America. As protests against his show grow, a surprise from his past shakes his firm belief on certain social rights, tempering his stances and making things far less black and white. And then the strident patriotism of the immediate aftermath of 9/11 happens, throwing his life and relationships into even greater turmoil.

The novel is epic in scope, taking on an absolute litany of issues: feminism, protest, freedom of speech, religion, radical evangelicalism, abortion, class, capital punishment, the draft, mental health, greed, and patriotism. It's simply too much. And while Roman did and saw many things in his life, he is rarely the driver of his own life. He is buffeted around by the multiple women who loved him, the one who hated him, and the people in his life who found him to be an easy mark to manipulate. He had to endure narrow minds at almost every turn although the characters who saved him are generous and giving. Roman narrates his own story, sharing each piece of his life, looking back at the pieces as distinct sections relating to a certain person or people in his life rather than the significant events of the time. For all the issues and historical events contained here, in the end, this is a story of people, of the family you make and the friends you love. By the end of the novel, I was fatigued by Roman's life when I think I was meant to be sympathetic to this astute observer of society and the litany of tragedies in his life. This is not a bad novel, far from it, but it erred on the side of everything but the kitchen sink in the making of its point.  If you're a fan of epic novels, you may feel differently than I do.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of the book to review.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I have had to disable the anonymous comment option to cut down on the spam and I apologize to those of you for whom this makes commenting a chore. I hope you'll still opt to leave me your thoughts. I love to hear what you think, especially so I know I'm not just whistling into the wind here at my computer.

Popular Posts