Autant

Alberta Views, December 2018
Let us suppose that there once lived, in an invented town in Alberta’s Peace River country, an invented family by the name of Garance, some of whose members were distinctly odd. Their oddness consisted in their having abilities that most people do not have, They were afflicted—or perhaps blessed is the word—with a talent for hearing other people’s thoughts, and a propensity for conversing with beings that other people could not see. One family member, mistrustful of these gifts, dismissed them as “strange thoughts,” or, when really disturbed, as “black moths.” Years after the story’s main action, it is found that the attics of local houses and public buildings are filled to bursting with vile-smelling dead moths.

If you have been able to follow this attempt at introduction so far, you are probably saying to yourself: Aha. Magic realism. If so, then you are right. The genre made famous by South American writers has been attempted before by Alberta authors, most successfully, perhaps, in Robert Kroetsch’s wonderful What the Crow Said. It is a genre that, for the right reader, can delight with the exuberance of its invention.

Autant, named for the town where the story takes place, is the work of Paulette Dubé, a writer who grew up in Legal, Alberta, and now lives in Jasper. Her story, though darker than Kroetsch’s is certainly up to scratch when it comes to exuberant invention. It is also a thing unto itself, a peculiar combination of good humour and catastrophe that is not easy to describe.

The Garances are not your typical rural Alberta family, supposing such a thing exists. Nor are some of the other characters anyone you are apt to run into in this province. They include, for starters, both God and Coyote. When these two meet in a bar, each has a pointy that he wants to prove to the other. Each also has emissaries, rather inept ones, whom he intends to send down to earth to complicate the lives of the Garances and their neighbours. The cast also includes neighbours both good and dissolute and very large swarms of bees. The bees will intervene in the action, a break from their regular job, which is to fly around collecting stories for God—who has a taste for news but is too busy to do his own eavesdropping.

There are a great many characters and a lot of plot to keep track of in this very short novel, but for the most part the author holds it all together. It must be admitted that magic realism, which asks us to believe in the unbelievable, at least temporarily, is not to the taste of every reader. It is a genre that is best approached with a certain spirit of adventure, a certain willingness to be enchanted. In Autant, Dubé has created a world and a mythology to go with it. It is a gutsy performance.

— Merna Summers

SASKBOOKS REVIEWS SEPTEMBER 4, 2018
Autant, the highly original novel by Albertan Paulette Dubé, begins with a confession – in the Catholic sense – and a directory of the multiple characters who populate this 144-page tale, set in small fictional Autant, Alberta. The inter-generational story unfolds between two years — 1952 and 2012 — and it’s big on superstition, angels, sibling dynamics, and bees.

At the centre of the bustling “hive” is the Franco-Albertan Garance family, headed by Edgar and Lucille. The youngest of their daughters, perceptive Bella, is prone to bleeding and headaches, and as Lucille’s offspring she comes by her superstitions honestly. Lucille paints her kitchen door blue “so that angels would recognize the house as a safe place,” and as a child she found a stone that “gave her dreams of a tall ship, a beautiful woman with blue eyes, long red hair, and, then, a small boat on dark water.” Young Bella also has an affinity for stones. She leaves them for her mother as gifts “inside shoes, beside the bed, under the pillow. It was her way of saying I love you, goodbye, and I took four biscuits.” These quotes aptly demonstrate the way in which this novel moves between moments of magic realism and the everyday (i.e., “biscuits”). The book also paints a realistic picture of the laborious and sometimes bloody work that is a fact of rural life (i.e., butchering livestock).

Interspersed between the familial storylines are short comedic episodes in which God and the angel Ruel are in a bar “nursing warm beers,” while discussing the latter’s return to and mission in the mortal world. (Coyote and Lily, an otherworldy gal — who “blows a perfect square” with her cigarette — also feature here.) Bella is nonplussed by her visits from Ruel, with the ever-changing eyes. He tells her an anecdote about God using His ear wax to create ten bees to gather stories about “the goings on of the world,” and indeed, bees feature in this novel in myriad ways, from honey recipes and its medicinal uses to, naturally, stings. “Straight honey on a boil” is said to “[shrink] that ugly blot to nothing in about two days.” Could honey be Autant’s “gold mine,” or might bees portend doom?

Dubé has previously published five poetry collections, and though this book is predominantly told in dialogue – and most people don’t “speak” in poetry — the Westlock-born writer does occasionally sweeten her prose with honey-like phrases, such as “Summer was buttoned with roses.”

This short novel’s most interesting characters, like Lucille, tread between devout Christianity and superstition. The woman who tells her daughter that she needs to “Pray [her] braid” as she plaits her daughter’s locks — “Each twist of hair, each over-under connection, was blessed” — is also the woman who transfers stories to bees through her skin. Dubé’ has assuredly created a world where one might confuse ash, “so delicate silver-white,” with moth wings. Complex, daring, imaginative, and beautifully-produced, this new Thistledown Press release hums with energy.

 

— Shelley A. Leedahl SaskBook Reviews
 


 

NOVEL

114 pages / paper

Available in the US
World Rights Available

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ISBN: 978-1-77187-156-3
List Price: $19.95

Paulette Dube

A tale woven over the course of four days and fifty-four years, based on the relationship between bees, angels, spirits, and one Franco-Albertan family.


“If heaven is full of angels like me, hell must be empty.” So begins, Autant, a tale woven over the course of four days and fifty-four years, based on the relationship between bees and one Franco-Albertan family, the Morasses, of Autant, Alberta. Tension emerges in the balance of power between siblings, between seen and unseen forces of good and evil, between perception and reality, between loyalty and traitors, and between what we are taught and what we actually learn.

Poised between the ever-practical God and quixotically old Coyote, it is a tale told to explain the disappearance of bees in northern Alberta and becomes a sometimes not-so-subtle exploration of how old and young, male and female, humans and non-humans perceive love.

As easily as sunlight bends through a jar of clear golden honey mead, we witness an angel sitting atop the fridge in the kitchen, watching his favourite set of lights twirl about in their respective orbits. Everyone oblivious to his presence except for six-year-old Bella, whose gift it is to see such beings, and Lily, the “other angel”, sent by Coyote to mix things up a bit.

Autant reminds us that life can be more exciting when you believe that magic is real and Dubé’s expansion of this idea in the story through characters and plot, and her lively and controlled blending of fantastical elements with the everyday occurrences of the Morasses family help keep this magic alive.

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