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Fiction Literary

Métis Beach

by (author) Claudine Bourbonnais

translated by Jacob Homel

Dundurn Press
Initial publish date
Oct 2016
Literary, Coming of Age, Historical
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    Oct 2016
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    Oct 2016
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In America, not believing in God is anti-American, isn’t it?

At fifty years of age, Roman Carr, whose real name is Romain Carrier, has made it. His television series In Gad We Trust, a scathing satire of the United States and its relationship with God, is a huge hit. He is carving out an enviable place for himself in Hollywood, the end of a long, tortuous journey for the man who fled his Gaspé Peninsula village in murky circumstances back in 1962.

Both a coming-of-age story and a historical epic, Métis Beach is a chronicle of the great American Sixties. It recaptures the extraordinary liberation movements and social unrest that marked that era, and vividly conveys the irrepressible idealism that carried along a whole generation. It is a celebration of the supreme good that the United States hoped to achieve: the coming of everyone’s right to be free.

About the authors

Claudine Bourbonnais has been a journalist in Montreal at Radio-Canada/CBC since 1990. She studied political science at McGill and obtained a Master’s degree about the Middle East at Durham University. Métis Beach is her first novel.

Claudine Bourbonnais' profile page

Born, bred and raised in Montreal, Jacob Homel has translated or collaborated in the translation of a number of works, including Toqué: Creators of a Quebec Gastronomy, The Last Genêt and The Weariness of the Self. In 2012, he won the JI Segal Translation Prize for his translation of A Pinch of Time. He shares his time between Montreal and Asia.

Jacob Homel's profile page


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Excerpt: Métis Beach (by (author) Claudine Bourbonnais; translated by Jacob Homel)

The past is like a gun in the hands of our enemies. What we’ve said, what we’ve done, whether deliberate or not, the mistakes we’ve made when we were kids — sooner or later someone will find out about them and point them at your head. I made a promise to myself I’d never write again; I’ve paid too high a price already. And if I find myself wandering through this story now, my own story, it’s to establish the truth and hope that with it, I might regain those I loved and lost — through my own fault. On that morning in October 1995, I woke at dawn, still on edge from the previous night’s meeting. A grey light filtered through the window. It was still too early to take in the hills on the other side of the canyon, along with their great white lettering, still hidden by the thick smog that rose from the city. The sight of that sign was the consecration of my success, a feeling of revenge experienced every time I contemplated the sight from my office window, in my house all the way up Appian Way. In the car on the way home, I had unleashed my anger on Ann, who’d been troubled by the intensity of my words. I saw the way she stiffened in her seat, and I regretted it instantly, “If that’s success, I want no part of it! What are they trying to do? Silence us? Take away our freedom to write? It’s the money, goddamn it, the money that’s making us cowards!” She touched my arm, and with that soft but unyielding voice she used in such moments, when she wished to calm me down, said, “It’s okay, Romain, forget what just happened. It won’t happen again, you’ll see.” And I thought, How can you be so sure? It was Chastity’s abortions that had provoked the most violent responses. Letters, calls, sometimes threats, not to mention the small groups of demonstrators that had begun parading silently in front of the La Brea studio we called The Bunker, their anger a burning ember, the colour of painted blood splashed on their signs. Gloomy looking pro-life demonstrators would arrive early in the morning, icebox and folding chair under their arms, as if they were going to a baseball game, and leave late in the evening with, or so I imagined, the feeling of having accomplished something. They ignored us, and we ignored them. We did our job, they did theirs. Each of us defending our own understanding of freedom of speech in this country, though always keeping a distance from the other, in a show of feigned but civilized respect. To me it wasn’t a problem; to me that’s what America was all about. Chastity was a character in my television series In Gad We Trust. I had finally succeeded in selling my first script after years of disillusionment and struggle, at a point when I’d pretty much stopped believing it would ever happen. “When perseverance pays,” the newspapers had said. Success at the ripe age of fifty, which wasn’t a common story in Los Angeles, made me into a sort of celebrity that was apparently mocked, or at least that was what some large, drunken fellow from ABC had told me at a party, his warm hand on my shoulder, a dumb smile on his lips, “Have you heard what they’re saying about you? That they ended up saying yes to you for humanitarian reasons.” I had no qualms about it. I’d even learned to laugh at my own expense, speaking with derision of a miracle worked by Gad himself, adding sometimes, “Like a pregnant woman who thought she was sterile her whole life.” Don’t get me wrong though — the story I’m telling you here isn’t a comedy. This scriptwriter hasn’t laughed in a long time. It was a stimulating and exciting time, despite the whining from various quarters. Complaints told us we were on the right track: boldness doesn’t always please. At least that’s what we told ourselves, until the attacks became more personal and the head office of our network, It’s All Comedy!, became preoccupied with remarks made by an influential columnist with the Los Angeles Daily News. We were in the middle of filming the second season, surfing on the instant success of the first, which had put wind in our sails and given us enough arrogance to ignore the negative comments. But this, this was different. The criticism had turned into a vicious mess. “These Hollywood types never go after Jews. But Christians — why not?... Would these eager defenders of freedom of expression have been so eager to defend Julius Streicher’s anti-Semitic pamphlets in Nazi Germany? Of course not.” And of course, within “of course not” sits the malicious intent of the author. So much so that after the text was published, the author was interviewed on a popular talk-radio show, and the putrid wind — Jews, money, Hollywood — blew once again through the town’s populist media. And Josh Ovitz, president of It’s All Comedy!, felt himself the target of these cruel attacks. I told Josh, “Don’t let it distract us. We know what it’s all about, this disgusting propaganda. Another reason not to give a single inch.” The whole affair had shaken the crew and provided the impetus for a series of long discussions among the staff, How far is too far? It’s around that time that a certain scene, which hadn’t been thought of as problematic after a first read, had suddenly become so. And Josh had asked all of us over for a meeting. On a Sunday afternoon. In production meetings, I had the reputation of being pugnacious when defending my ideas. We’d wanted dark comedy, we had dark comedy. A handful of complaints from saggy sanctimonious nothings in Orange County wouldn’t paralyze us. “Okay, Roman …” Dick, a producer friend, was speaking. “But the stuff on God.…” Flabbergasted, I stared at Dick. I suddenly wondered if the complaints, which until that point we’d treated with either indifference or amusement (hadn’t we popped a bottle of champagne in honour of the first one?) — and now these fallacious newspaper articles — would complicate our task. Censor myself? No way! Sure, what we had undertaken was edgy, but it wasn’t revolutionary in any sense — the American public was ready for it. The Simpsons on Fox had opened the way. Now, new cable outfits had taken the baton and run with it, taking greater and greater risks. To me there was something a hundred times worse than sedition: vulgarity. And here was Josh Ovitz, an intelligent young man, a bit over thirty and intrepid, a pure product of East Coast education, out of arguments. Without much resistance, he was signing on with Dick and all the others around the table, including Matt, a man whose work I admired, and Ann, who’d participated in the writing of the series. Ann? You agree with them? Before my astonished air, she lowered her eyes, while Josh’s assistant distributed photocopies of the scene in question, which I was asked to read out loud. I staggered through it without the enthusiasm with which I’d written the thing:
Season 2 / In Gad We Trust / episode 4 / scene 14: interior, Paradise Church, day (After a particularly lucrative religious service — the faithful had once again been generous — Gad Paradise and his son are chatting in the room behind the altar. Gad takes off his preacher’s garb.) GAD PARADISE You know, God, he’s like a Mafia Don. God-Bonanno. God-Al Capone. God-Lansky. God-Father. D’ya get it? God-Father! If you go behind his back, God can have you dead any time, any place. Divine prerogative, right? You following me? (Gad picks up the collection bags filled to the brim, and begins opening them) But if you work hard for him, well, well (he snaps his fingers), he’ll be generous right back! (Gad empties the bags on the ground.) Everything that falls to the ground is ours. If God wanted any of it, he should have reached out from Heaven and held out his hand! God, what a schmuck!
Around the table, total silence. Dick shook his head. “You can’t call God a schmuck, Roman. You know me, I generally don’t give a shit. But that, even I can’t abide.” “We’re not the ones saying it, a character is.” “It won’t fly. No one is okay with it. It’s just … anti-American.” “Anti-American! Having a laugh at God is anti-American?” No one reacted. I was stupefied. Matt, a tall man with a deep voice, added, “It’s a small phrase. It doesn’t have an impact on the story.” Everyone nodded and Dick added, “Right, a small, blaspheming phrase.” I went on, indignant, “You, Dick? Nagging me about blasphemy? You can’t say two words without cussing!” Dick pressed his lips together, no doubt keeping some choice words to himself at that very moment. Ann was facing me, her back straight, looking at me as if to say, They’re right. The series is explosive enough. They’ll never be able to accuse us of deference. Just let it go.… “Blasphemy hasn’t been a crime in this country since 1971! We’ve got the Constitution on our side, for crying out loud!” Josh grabbed a pen and drew a line over the phrase in his copy. He stood up, avoided my eyes, and spoke to the room as if I’d already left, “Good, we’re all agreed, then. We’re filming the scene tomorrow without the phrase, okay?” All agreed. “Wait!” I protested. Josh looked sorry now, sincerely sorry. Who was behind this censorial operation? The board? The shareholders? And no one to inform me about it before now? Finally, I found my words, rage filling me, “Today, it’s just one phrase. And tomorrow, what will it be? What are we going to be shooting for our fifth season? The Waltons?” Josh rubbed his hand in his hair. “We’re wasting our time, Roman. How many of us around the table? Eight? So it’s seven against one.” “I’m the writer!” I glanced over at Ann, and she put on a brave smile. My heart tightened. Josh continued, “Please, Roman, in the future, let’s try to avoid easy formulas and simple phrasing, okay? I’m sure you can find something better to write. In fact, I can’t see how it affects the scene. Really.” Avoid easy formulas? If I was being honest, I’d have admitted that Josh was right on this one. The phrase certainly wasn’t the best one I’d written in my career. But considering the circumstances ... not saying anything? Because that was the whole point of this improvised — though not so much when I came to think about it — intervention: to shut me up. Ann watched me, imploring me with her eyes to not say anything. She knew how angry I could be, knew that the simple idea of being muzzled sent me back to my childhood, which I didn’t like to talk about and which she didn’t entirely understand. A childhood made of bitter and unpleasant memories, like a dish you hated as a kid and promised yourself never to eat again when you grew up. I’d spent my entire life fighting for a way to express myself, total freedom, without concessions or constraints, and I wouldn’t, at my age, fifty years old for crying out loud, let myself be told, you can’t say that! Especially just because a gang of fanatics might feel offended. “Shit!”

Editorial Reviews

Métis Beach is a masterful first novel.

Winnipeg Free Press

★ Impressive … [A] comprehensive exploration of the large issues of the 60s.

Booklist (starred review)

A deftly crafted and reader riveting read from cover to cover.

Midwest Book Review

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