I Am a Truck. Michelle Winters.

Winters, Michelle. I Am a Truck. Invisible, Halifax, 2016. F;11/17.

This was one of three of the 2017 Giller Prize shortlist I had a look at. It didn’t win  (shouldn’t have in my opinion), but was less tedious than Minds of Winter, the other one I read. It’s an ironic cartoon of young characters in bilingual French Canada, with a pleasantly patronizing tone (if that’s possible). The protagonist turns out to be an ordinary francophone girl, and her experience eventually pops its head up above the joking clinical detachment with which the plot events and characters are described.

Winters avoids for me any offense at the feminist bitterness that the broad obvious inference here might have provoked: men are pretty much idiots. Not only do they attach their identity to pickup truck brand-names, they actually if metaphorically are (read the title) trucks. But I felt as if the moral message of the story was androgynous: the women (with one exception) aren’t so smart either.

Rejean is almost seven feet tall and correspondingly huge in every part of his physique (yes, every part). His innocent close-to-ideal relationship with Agathe changes when his Chevy Silverado truck is found at the roadside with the door open and him gone. She pines, waits for him to return, and has to go out and gets a job.

Agathe’s life complicates. She works in a secondhand electronics shop with a couple of low-performance arrogant retailers, and is at first horrified at, but subsequently befriended by, sexy brilliant Debbie who shows up at the shop, is instantly hired by the moron who runs the place, and then doubles the sales in a few days. Debbie introduces Agathe to rock ‘n’ roll and nightlife. Agathe hanging out in a bar with Debbie one night is strangely attracted to a man dressed in military fatigues who is tuned in to the music she now appreciates.

Rejean’s Chevrolet car salesman is Martin, a soft, feminine loser in the macho sweepstakes both in his family and in life. Rejean is as committed to Chevrolet as any religious acolyte while Martin who sells Chevs is a closet Ford driver. It is ironically touching when Rejean forgives him this otherwise fatal apostasy. Martin braves a bunch of gangsters to find Rejean (who wants to eliminate the military guy he suspects is trying to harm his lady love) a gun.

PLOT ALERT It turns out Rejean’s disappearance occurred with the two of them at the side of the highway as the giant man took a step backward and was swept away by a transport truck. Rejean (we appreciate that pretty well any other human being would have been killed in the accident) is rescued by the same gangsters (who make wonderful wine and cheese) but he has complete amnesia. He joins them and uses his physical power to help them intimidate victims.

He returns by coincidence to Agathe’s home where he is recognized, but instead of reconciliation and return to their romantic innocence, she takes off in the Chevy Silverado to find Mr. rock ‘n’ roll, the musical military man END PLOT ALERT.

This story has charm and authenticity about bilingual argot Québec. I think the author maintains a balanced ironic distance from her marionette-type characters to accomplish a dramatic and moral purpose. They are simple people. But when the chips are down we would be embarrassed not to admit that like one of Winters’s live puppets we can’t avoid a moral choice: everyone has to find themself.  But it might mean leaving something precious behind.

I sense potential in this apparently young  author. 8.9/8.6.

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 40 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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