Monday, June 21, 2010

Reader's Diary #621- Heather O'Neill: Riff-Raff

When my wife and I enrolled our kids in French immersion, we thought we had a good 3-4, possibly 5, years until our own French abilities would prove inadequate to keep up. Both of us had taken French all the way up through high school and I'd done a couple of French courses in university. Our daughter's now wrapping up grade one (our son, preschool), and we're already eating their dust. So, we've invested in Rosetta Stone.

I'm quite enjoying it so far, but haven't yet gotten past the review stuff (which is necessary, believe me). If we can converse in French someday, I'll be happy. But now I'm even optimistic that, someday, I'll be able to read French authors as well. I have before, of course, but always translated versions, which, no matter how much I enjoy them, always make me question how close the work is to the original French intent.

For now my Quebec authors will have to be English-- who, don't get me wrong, can still be wonderful authors. (Hey, Mordecai Richler is probably my favourite Canadian author.) This week's Short Story Monday author, who writes in English, is from Montreal. You probably know her best for her debut novel, Lullabies for Little Criminals, which won and was nominated for a bunch of awards a couple years back and sold a kajillion copies.

Fans of that novel will no doubt remember the strong voice of Baby, the 12 year old protagonist. It was so strong, so distinct and attitudey, that I questioned how well O'Neill would handle another protagonist. Would he or she end up as a slightly revamped version of Baby?

With "Riff-Raff" I have my answer. This time the lead is a nineteen year old girl from Montreal who sets off to the States to finally break her ties with her Canadian boyfriend and hook up with a guy from New Mexico, with whom she'd had a brief fling with at McGill. Plot alone, this could be a slightly older version of Baby. But they couldn't be farther away from one another. Where Baby was wordy, tough, and imaginative, this new and unnamed character, is more matter of fact and sensitive. You get the sense that an adult Baby would defend her childish actions and naivete, whereas this new woman is subtly self-deprecating, as in "how could I be so silly?"

I liked this new voice and, as much as I liked Baby, I'm glad that O'Neill can offer something different. However, I wasn't wild about the plot. Basically the girl gets mugged in the U.S., the Americans throw some ignorant jokes about Canadians at her and then turn out to not be so bad after all. I don't know. I'm getting tired of Canadians making jokes about Americans not knowing us. Didn't Rick Mercer take that bit about as far as it can go? Canadians who think Americans think we all live in igloos are about as cliché as Americans who think we all live in igloos.

And the goody-goody lesson at the end. Meh. I saw it coming. Unfortunately, I can't even say something was lost in translation.

(Did you write a story for Short Story Monday? If so, please leave a link in the comments below.)


Margot said...

Hi John,

Speaking of translation, can you translate the first comment for us? LOL - I'm guessing it's spam.

Thanks for introducing me to a new writer. I'm afraid I'm not familiar with Heather O'Neil's Baby. But I love strong characters and so I'm going to look that book up.

Also, glad to hear of someone using the Rosetto Stone. I've only seen the ads but am curious as to
someone's experience with the program.

I've posted about a short story today. You can find it here.

Anonymous said...

I've never heard of O'Neill, and while I'll probably skip Riff-Raff, I'll have to keep an eye out for Lullabies for Little Criminals.

The story I read was about a teenage girl, too.

Teddy Rose said...

I've always been pathetic at learning new languages. I barley made it through my first and only Spanish class. I would be interested in if Rosetto Stone works better than conventional classes.

I haven't read Lullabies yet so won't have anything to compare this short to but I am curious and copied it for my ereader.

Here's mine for this week: Stpo Me if You've Heard This One Before.