Posts Tagged ‘Queen’
‘I just like to live other people’s lives a little, [Zoë] had once told Leila… and the quickest way to live another life is through a man’s cock.’
Smoked Meat offers a panoramic tour of Montreal’s finest members of underground bohemia. Based on Rowena Macdonald’s own experience in Montreal without a work visa, and only the seediest cash-in-hand jobs, the book is her attempt to capture the fleeting moments between its residents. The real success of this work, though, is its narrative structure. Chopped, diced and presented as a collection of fourteen short stories, Smoked Meatsporadically zooms in on the lives of seemingly random individuals. Macdonald’s filmic prose style observes and records like a camera lens. Sometimes, you have to rewind a few pages, flicking back just to check who that person was, as, with a shock of recognition, you realise that they know that other person from that seemingly disparate story set months ago.
The glue that holds these characters together is their secret or vocal love, lust, desires or obsessions they have for each other. You watch as they all become hardened by their time in the big city, or, as in some stories, pursue adventures that lead them out of its confines. There is a shade of melancholy haunting Macdonald’s characters. All stories culminate in a loss of innocence in some way or another.
A minor character, who makes a cameo appearance in one story, will become the protagonist of a later story as the narrative perspective shifts and glides over the city. We are granted unlimited access to their movements as they exit one story then, fifty pages later, enter another. Macdonald’s real talent is in reimagining believable characters inspired by her experiences, the people and places she encountered during her own time in Montreal. Smoked Meat’s settings and surroundings are inextricably linked to and profoundly impact upon her characters’ movements, decisions and lives. The haunting repetition of certain locations – of bars, cafes and restaurants – epitomises this. Her characters change along with the seasons. The falling snow, then the slushy roads and boiling heat influence their interaction with the city space, and sometimes encourage them to go to places they would otherwise neglect.
Zoë, for example, did not reveal her extensive promiscuity when she was the protagonist of her own story. Instead, it was remembered by Leila when Zoë appeared as a cameo in her story. Is this how Leila sees Zoë? Or what Zoë does not want to reveal about herself? Macdonald poses some interesting and introspective questions to her reader with regards to views of the self and personality. She enables perceptions of her characters and their self-perceptions to become distorted in an attempt to manipulate their identity. Insight into a character’s psyche is completely decided by who is telling – or not telling – the full story. She plays with how we see her characters when the narrative is taken off their hands and they become a more passive foil to another character.
Perhaps the one flaw of Smoked Meat is its distracting reliance on stock characters, which Macdonald relies on too heavily. She writes effortlessly, and with startling clarity, making it obvious that Smoked Meat is her very personal labour of love. However, she bombards the reader with references to high and popular culture that permeate the subculture she portrays. Angelina Jolie, a tortured Irish drunk, the Russian mafia, a seedy ‘art dealer’, Picasso, Queen’s We Will Rock You lyrics and a promiscuous life model, along with other clichéd characters, all compete for the limelight in Smoked Meat.
Macdonald is attempting to create, or recreate, a world filled with outsiders – with artists, rebellious teenagers, foreigners, homosexuals and drug dealers. The problem with this is that the clichés do not shock. You know the characters so well, but almost too well: you are too comfortable with them because they are almost predictable. Macdonald admits that she does not, despite her efforts, ‘fully understand mainstream people’:
At the risk of sounding like I am trying to be cool, homosexual and artistic activities never seem that marginal to me because I have always known a lot of gay people and artistes outside the bourgeois conventions.
Her most revealing statement is that, because she has never had much money, she has ‘always empathised with poverty – well, not empathised exactly, just suffered it.’ Despite her protestations that Smoked Meat’s characters are not directly based on her herself or people she encountered in Montreal, clearly she is at the very centre of her work. Her extensive use of cliché pollutes what would otherwise be a completely beautiful and brilliant exploration of interconnectedness in the modern city. Unfortunately, this adds an unnecessary, pretentious and sourly kitsch edge to Smoked Meat.