About the Author

Matt Cohen

Matt Cohen was born in Kingston, Ontario in 1942. He received his B.A. and M.A. from the University of Toronto. In the late 1960s he taught political economy at McMaster University before becoming a full-time writer. Since 1969 he has published twenty books, including novels, short stories, poetry and two books for children.

He received critical acclaim for many of his books, notably `The Salem Novels` - The Disinherited (1974), The Colours of War (1977), The Sweet Second Summer of Kitty Malone (1979), Flowers of Darkness (1981), and Emotional Arithmetic (1990). He was short-listed for the Governor General's Award in 1979 for The Sweet Second Summer of Kitty Malone and was a finalist for the 1988 Ontario Trillium Award for his short story collection Living on Water. As well, his short stories have twice won National Magazine Awards, and his books have been translated into Dutch, French and Portuguese.

Matt Cohen died in 1999.

Books by this Author
Elizabeth and After

Elizabeth and After

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also available: Paperback
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Getting Lucky
Excerpt

Getting lucky

Michael,” the woman said. “That’s quite a name.” She leaned across the table and squinted at his face as though it were a book with small print. “Michael. Now there’s a name that says something to me.” She leaned back. “It says quiet, thoughtful, someone who’s got a lot more inside himself than he likes to show. Someone you could trust to hold your purse.” She smiled at Michael. Her eye teeth were just a little bit too long and it gave her a look that Michael thought might explain why she wasn’t here with a man. Then he was ashamed of himself for judging a woman by her teeth and reminded himself that he had chosen to sit opposite her because she had looked both attractive and available. “But not your credit cards,” she said and smiled again, this time tilting her head, and in this new light, her eye teeth didn’t look so bad.

“Do you have a lot more inside than you show?”

Michael looked down at his hands. He knew he was someone who kept to himself, but he couldn’t have offered a list of what he was keeping. There were, he supposed, all those feelings and thoughts for which he didn’t have words, and then there were the ones for which he did have words but also had the sense not to say.

Would this woman, for example, really want to know that he thought her eye teeth were a social handicap? That he was wondering if she was some kind of vampire? That the way her eyes sparked reminded him of his father’s dogs when they caught the scent of something they knew they could kill? That he wished he could untie his tongue, look into her face, tell her stories about herself that would put her in his power the way she had suddenly taken control of him, trapped and wrapped him in her charm so completely that he was just like a boy on a toboggan, speeding down an icy hill wanting to go faster and faster until he crashed.

***

Karen opened the door and motioned Michael to go in first. He moved towards the only light, which was a television set showing a hockey game, no sound. It was that playoff time of year. In front of the television set, sitting in a big stuffed chair, was a bald man with a long storky neck. As Michael came closer he saw the man was slowly swaying back and forth, eyes closed, as though either praying or in a trance. Maybe it was the reflection of the ice, but the man’s skin seemed absolutely white, almost transparent, in fact he was so absolutely hairless that even his eyelids were totally bald and ended in twin pink curves that matched his lips. He had a long curved blade of a nose that was like some kind of aerodynamic ornament.

“That’s Bob,” Karen said.

“I’m Karen,” Karen had said after the bit about his name at the tavern. She was wearing a white short-sleeved shirt and slacks, no ring, and Michael had thought she might work at a hospital or a drugstore. She’d separated him off from the group without him resisting, then said he could drive her home.

“You can come in for a coffee and then we’ll see,” she said when they got to her place, a shabby Insulbrick bungalow in the north end of Kingston. But she hadn’t mentioned anything about this Bob.

Karen waved him down the hall and Michael followed her to the kitchen. She motioned him to sit down at the table. Half of it was piled with books like Know Your Aura and Secrets of Tibetan Meditation. Coffee cups, toast crumbs and two identical jars of strawberry jam provided the rest of the decoration.

“Bob your roommate?” Michael asked.

“Kind of. We never got married but once it was like we were.”

Michael looked down at his hands. For luck he had worn a cowboy shirt to the tavern; his sister Sadie had given it to him last year for his thirty-third birthday, along with a card saying “Jesus Was a Cowboy,” and it had real pearl buttons. In the bright light of the kitchen it looked as stupid as he’d feared it would.

“That’s something,” Michael said. “That you could change from one to the other and still stay friends.”

Karen had slightly waved hair, so black it might have been dyed, strong puffed features. Not bad-looking, could be anywhere in her thirties. When she’d cleaned the table and put the kettle on she sat opposite him. There was something he’d been on the edge of noticing all evening, the way she looked at him: direct, like a man. He imagined himself calling his sister the next day to say he’d worn her shirt for luck and he’d ended up with a woman who looked like a man and a man who looked like a freak.

“Tell me what you’re thinking,” Karen said.

“About the man in the living room.”

“Bob?”

“Yeah.”

“He had brain cancer. That’s what happened to his hair. Now he takes morphine pills. Says he has put human life behind him and is going to spend the rest of his time on earth bathing in his cosmic aura.”

“That’s something,” Michael said. Before they split up he and Lee-Anne had tried going to a group she’d found at the Cosmic Therapy Centre. One night the leader had told them to take off all their clothes and lie with their heads together, their feet sticking out like spokes of a wagon wheel. They all had to hold hands and pretend they were joined to the One Being. At first Michael had felt horny, even though everyone but Lee-Anne looked pretty ugly, and he’d wondered if they would be instructed to have group sex. Finally he managed to concentrate and what came into his head was a picture of an ice cream cone.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Last Seen

Last Seen

edition:Paperback
also available: Audiobook (cassette)
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Typing
Excerpt

Child, Father, Literature (how literature becomes the escape from a crazed rootless past where everything is hypocritical)

A Jew is a person in exile from nowhere.

Or maybe that's a myth I like to believe because the truth is too oppressive.

Born into a religion strong on primogeniture, I was the first male grandchild on either side of my family. All four of my grandparents were, each in their own way, uncomfortable remnants of Russian-Jewish life in the nineteenth century, and my parents hastily rejected what they took to be their own parents' crazed immigrant mentality in order to assimilate into their idealistic version of the North American dream, Canadian variation.

By the time I was born, on December 30, 1942, my parents had established themselves in Kingston, Ontario. My father, a chemist, had a job at the now defunct Monarch Battery Company. With the perverse pride that accompanied all such stories, he explained to me that this job was the only one he was offered in a year of searching after he received his doctorate, the reason for the difficulty being that he was Jewish. The moral of the story was, of course, that a Jew-and this went double for a Jew named Cohen-had to be better than everyone else because the deck would always be stacked against him. This same moral served many of his reminiscences, and it went along with his cheerful motto: "When you're a Cohen, you have to believe your shit smells better."

When my mother was six months pregnant with me, she developed acute appendicitis. The doctor, forced to choose between an unborn fetus and a twenty-five-year-old woman, selected the latter. This was either the first time someone tried to kill me or my first drug experience. When my mother had recovered from the operation she celebrated by falling down the basement stairs.

My godmother was a pianist, a Parisian Jew who escaped France on the last boat allowed free passage before the German invasion. The ship had Jews on the upper decks, the French treasury stashed below. Stopped by a U-boat off the English coast, the captain declared there was "no cargo of interest" and the ship was allowed to proceed to Montreal.

Every day after my birth my godmother and my family doctor came to visit me. My godmother sang me songs while the doctor waved his gold pocket watch in front of my eyes. My mother thought they were doing some kind of early musical training until the doctor admitted he was testing for brain damage. When it became clear that I would survive being born, I began bringing up everything I was fed and was on the point of starvation when someone thought of giving me goat's milk. That I could digest, and apparently it gave me the strength to spend the nights having colic attacks. In sum, I was one of those babies who got off to an eventful beginning.

All four of my grandparents had fled from what it meant to be a Jew in Russia at the beginning of this century-on the surface, pogroms, below the surface more elaborate versions of the same. Via New York and Montreal they settled in Western Canada and started having children. The children eagerly planned to escape their immigrant parents in order to live the life of enlightened North American Jews who had put the Old World behind them in order to better embrace the New.

For my father this ideal was Enlightenment Man as described by Isaiah Berlin: an atheist, a rationalist, a believer in knowledge as virtue, a person convinced that the world is a giant jigsaw puzzle of which we've seen only discordant pieces, but which a being of perfect intelligence and knowledge could fit together.

My mother was willing to play along with all this though she had no interest in the details. Her attraction was to mainstream European and North American culture, from French Impressionist painting to existentialism; from classical music to ballet and Shakespearean theatre; from New York musicals to American novels and magazines such as The Atlantic Monthly, The Reporter, The New Yorker, etc.

Neither of them was taking on anything totally inconsistent with their past, but the centre of gravity had obviously shifted. They hadn't "rejected" their Jewishness. They were synagogue members, most of their friends were Jewish and they were adamantly in favour-at least until the time came-of their two sons dating and marrying Jewish girls. On the other hand, the cultural and geographic gap between them and their parents was hardly coincidental. In marrying each other they had, much more than their siblings, made a perhaps unspoken pact to tear themselves away from their parents and their parents' kind of life.

On their arrival from the Russian Pale after the pogroms of 1905, my mother's parents and many of their relatives established themselves in Winnipeg. My grandfather eventually got a job at the Ford assembly plant, where he stayed until it closed in the 1930s. He then moved to Toronto-this too was a move made by many relatives and friends-in search of work. For the first year my mother, who would have liked to go to university, stayed behind and worked as a secretary so that the family, which included her two younger siblings and my grandmother's somewhat demented father, would have at least one sure source of income.

My grandfather eventually opened a garage in Toronto; it staggered along until his death, when my uncle took it over and (much to my father's disgust) sacrificed all his other plans to rescue my grandfather's name by paying off his debts and proving that the business could be run successfully. Religiously observant more out of habit than conviction, my maternal grandparents were freethinking Zionists who seemed much more concerned with enjoying and surviving the present than worrying about details of religious dogma.

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The Quebec Anthology

The Quebec Anthology

1830-1990
edition:eBook
tagged : canadian
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Aurora Montrealis

Aurora Montrealis

by Monique Proulx
translated by Matt Cohen
edition:Paperback
tagged : literary
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Invisible Man at the Window

Invisible Man at the Window

translated by Matt Cohen
by Monique Proulx
edition:Paperback
tagged : literary
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Sex of the Stars

Sex of the Stars

by Monique Proulx
translated by Matt Cohen
edition:Paperback
tagged : literary
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