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Giller Prize Special: The Chat with Michelle Winters

To kick off our Giller Prize special edition of The Chat, we’re in conversation with Michelle Winters, author of I Am a Truck (Invisible Publishing).


To kick off our Giller Prize special edition of The Chat, we’re in conversation with Michelle Winters, author of I Am a Truck (Invisible Publishing).

The Giller jury citation reads “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.”

Michelle Winters is a writer, painter, and translator from Saint John, NB. She was nominated for the 2011 Journey Prize and her work has been published in This Magazine, Dragnet and Taddle Creek. She is the co-translator of My Planet of Kites, by Marie-Ève Comtois. She lives in Toronto.''




Trevor Corkum: What was the first thing you did when you found out you were a finalist for this year’s Giller Prize?


Michelle Winters: I did some deep yoga breathing in the bathroom in order not blubber at work. But I still haven’t had a good cry over this, which means it’s still inside me and could come out anywhere, anytime. I worry...
TC: How was I Am a Truck born?

MW: It sprang from the need to describe the feeling of loving a person who wasn’t there. It was a situation I was living figuratively, so I decided to put it into a story literally in order to get the terrible feelings out. But then I wanted to make that story exciting and funny, because that’s way more fun than brooding over a bad relationship.

I wanted to make that story exciting and funny, because that’s way more fun than brooding over a bad relationship.

TC: Being from the Maritimes (and of Acadian descent), one of the things I love best about the book is how frequently you move back and forth between English and French. That’s so rare in Canadian literature. Can you talk more about the decision to construct the book this way?

MW: As a New Brunswicker, the idea of switching back and forth between English and French feels completely natural, and writing a story set in New Brunswick, Chiac felt like a gift I couldn’t pass up. For the sake of the colour and drama it would bring to the book, I figured I’d take the risk that the occasional word might need Googling.  

TC: What’s a question no one has asked you about the book, that you wish they would ask? How would you respond?

MW: I’d love to be asked about the absurdity of it. I left myself a lot of room in this book to play with the magical or improbable or preposterous; Réjean can be a giant, Martin can be yellow, and Colonel Weed can do whatever he wants, because it’s all allowed in the loose fabric of reality I wanted to create. It’s my favorite way to write and my favorite way to read. I’m intensely grateful when an author I’m reading decides not to confine themselves to absolute tangibles. I love it when anything can happen.


TC: 49th Shelf is built around a large community of readers and fans who love great CanLit. What Canadian authors are you reading these days?

I’ve just finished Stuart Ross’ gorgeous, pocket-sized prose poetry novel, Pockets. Stuart writes some of the funniest, saddest things you’ve ever read, in the most beautiful, athletic way. I’ve learned a lot from Stuart Ross.


Excerpt from I Am a Truck


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.

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, halfamused, 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.

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.

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 extrathin 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?”


“Does your husband drive a black Chevrolet Silverado?”


“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.

Excerpted from I Am a Truck. Copyright © Michelle Winters, 2016. Published by Invisible Publishing. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

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