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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Montréal Lit: “You Comma Idiot”

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shabbier streets?

Spacing Montreal is pleased to host a bi-weekly column exploring Montreal’s literary landscape, written by Gregory McCormick, Director of English Programming for the Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival.

Doug Harris’ fascinating and hilarious novel, You Comma Idiot (2010 by Gooselane ), captures something of Montreal that is getting harder and harder to see: the working class roots, the hand-to-mouth way that most people here live, the sense of humour and joie de vivre approach to the calamities of life. Telling the story of Lee Goodstone, the kind of Montreal guy that probably all of us know, the novel reminds me – in its humour and almost naturalist setting – of one of the reasons I fell in love with this city when I first arrived (via Greyhound, nearly seven years ago):

Where you’ve lived your whole life, in Montreal, in the city, in the buildings below Sherbrooke Street West and in the ones on the other side of the tracks too, where the streets get a little shabbier and the block apartments and postwar housing all seems a little jumbled up and lopped on top of itself, the arrow’s not necessarily pointing up, baby. There’s a lot of blue-collar, a lot of part-time, a lot of people dropping unemployment cards into the mailbox on Friday afternoons. People still go to sad little restaurants with ancient signs out front that say Jimmy’s or Steaks or, more popular still, Restaurant. They still go to Laundromats and sit there all afternoon with a magazine in their lap and one eye on the machines, making sure no one’s stiffing their towels. They still line up in banks to make deposits and withdrawals, some of them, because using a bank card or a computer seems like such a hassle. The passwords and codes and everything. Standing in line isn’t so bad when you know the people and have the time.

Unlike many big-city neighborhoods, here time treads water in a way most urban areas aren’t use to. People planned to leave a lot earlier but just never did. There’s almost too little change. Too much continuity. There are still streets where generations endure, friends and family still around to remember and be remembered, people’s stories that have beginnings, middles, and even ends, entire lives sometimes wrapped up into what turns out to be not much more than an overly long anecdote.

Montreal, this city of neighborhoods, still retains some aspects of this Old World village life, though I’m certainly not the first to wonder how much longer this will be the case.Harris’s protagonist, Lee Goodstone, reminds us that though not all of us spend our days on the hunt for sex and weed, we could all probably use a little more of both.


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