03 May 2013

Michel Tremblay's Macabre Juvenilia

Stories for Late Night Drinkers
     [Contes pour buveurs attardés]
Michel Tremblay [trans. Michael Bullock]
Vancouver: Intermedia, 1977

Having raised more than a few glasses after hours on St-Laurent, St-Denis and Mont-Royal, I thought I might have some small idea of what to expect here. I was so very wrong. The stories in this translation of Michel Tremblay's first book are set far, far away, in both time and place, from the streets of his Montreal; castles and dark mansions take the places of modest apartments and rooming houses.

Poe and Lovecraft are in evidence. In the first of these twenty-five stories, a caretaker keeps watch over a hanged man left dangling until dawn. In the wee hours, the body sighs and begins to move. Minutes later it's laughing, swinging so violently that the rope breaks and it falls to the ground. The caretaker flees. He returns the next day with the prison governor to find a headless corpse. The upper extremity, of course, is never found.

Stories for Late Night Drinkers was written between the ages of sixteen and nineteen. Tremblay has been fairly dismissive of the whole thing. "I wrote fantastic stuff until I was twenty-three. Pretty bad, all that," he told Jean Royer. And yet, he has allowed reprint after reprint.
It's not his best work, but I found it entertaining. You see, though we're not of the same generation, I saw something of my own youth in this juvenilia. Though, sadly, there was no Poe in mine, at ten I was subsumed by Ghosts, House of Secrets, House of Mystery and The Witching Hour. I've not read anything quite so similar since.

As Tremblay told Royer, "we were all brought up in a country where culture was something exotic and it came from somewhere else." Like the author, I was in my mid-twenties before I realized otherwise.

Object: A trade-size paperback. My copy once belonged to John Glassco, and includes this careless note in his hand:

Of the thirty-five hundred or so Canadian books in my library, this is the only one published by Intermedia.

Doesn't the company's logo look like it belongs to a 'seventies underground comic book publisher?

Maybe it's just me.

Access: Our academic libraries do well, as do those serving the fine folks of Toronto and Vancouver. Montreal fails.

Contes pour buveurs attardés, the French original, was first published in 1966 by Éditions le Jour (right). It's published today by Bibliothèque Québécoise. Though Stories for Late Night Drinkers hasn't been quite so fortunate, its publication history isn't shameful. The first printing, amounting to one thousand copies, sold out... as did the second. Intermedia went back to the printers a third time, but that's the end. It has been out of print for well over thirty years.

There is good news in that decent used copies can be bought as little as ten dollars. Ignore the Vancouver bookseller offering a crummy stamped and stickered ex-library copy at US$48.00 (w/ an additional US$16.50 for shipping within Canada).

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