When the electricity inexplicably goes out nationwide, the mundanities of life gradually shift to the rigours of survival. In this post-apocalyptic setting, an unnamed mechanic jumps into his beat-up car and drives east, journeying 4,736 kilometres to reach his dying father.
As the narrator’s journey becomes one of essentials – gasoline, fresh water only in bottles, and gas-station food – and as the crisis engulfing his surroundings begins to weigh on him ever more, he seeks refuge in a woman, and later, with a fellow traveller he meets on the road. These two kindred souls join him on his path, though they seem to seek a different sort of redemption.
As the road grows longer, and the narrator’s exhaustion grows in kind, parallels are drawn between his own journey and Thesus’s journey through the primeval Labyrinth. However, the beast that our narrator seeks to slay might not be one of flesh and horn and blood; instead, it is his own failing mental state and his thirst for the apocalypse around him. In the end, the obsession with which he pursues this beast will be his undoing.
Running on Fumes, is a road novel that carries with it influences of the genre, with its storylines of redemption through distance travelled, often in a failing world that reflects the protagonist’s interior. It is a hazy line that delineates whether the world is reflecting the narrator’s state or whether the narrator’s mindset is reflected by the world, and there remains a level of uncertainty on the truths the narrator speaks.
Christian Guay-Poliquin was born in Saint-Armand in 1982. He is now developing a thesis project on the hunting narrative and also works in renovation. The pencil on his ear serves to mark his measures as much as it does to record his ideas. Le fil des kilometers (La Peuplade, 2013) is his first novel.
Born and raised in Montreal, Jacob Homel has translated or collaborated in the translation of a number of works, including Nelly Arcan’s Hysteric and Breakneck, The Battle of London and The Last Genet. In 2012, he won the J.I. Segal Translation Prize for his translation of A Pinch of Time. He currently lives in Montreal.
"Guay-Poliquin has somehow managed to turn descriptions of a long black highway through the prairies and a snow-filled landscape seen through a cabin window into an engrossing world where nothing monumental needs to happen in order to keep his readers – at least this one – hooked."
—Patty Osborne, Geist magazine
“Simultaneously gritty and poetic, Running on Fumes appeals to our deep-seated fascination with apocalypse, disaster, and the collapse of civilization. … A road trip as an opportunity to examine one’s own life isn’t new; neither is the retelling of the Minotaur myth. By mixing these two and adding a helping of mysterious disaster, Guay-Poliquin offers us a fresh and interesting take on all three themes.”
—Speculative Fiction in Translation (blog)
Praise for French edition
"Le Fil Des Kilomètres reframes the urgency to act in a context of the end of the world and reveals the simplicity of the human psyche, that by distancing conventions and the established order, we must inevitably go to the essentials."
“Running on Fumes is a taut tale, a classic road trip that kicks off with just a man and his car (and a bad-tempered cat for company). … Guay-Poliquin’s work is one that pulls you along, the short sections and terse language reflecting both the simplicity and the tension of the journey, and Jacob Homel does an excellent job of bringing this across into English … The novel can be dark at times as the writer hints at what lies ahead, and as the kilometres mount, the mood intensifies. … The cover of the translation, depicting the Minotaur of Greek legend, is apt since the writer frequently draws on the legend as a source for his story. … Running on Fumes is an entertaining novel, with more questions than answers … It is an intriguing story of the way our ghosts can always catch us up, no matter how fast we drive in the opposite direction.” —Québec Reads