‘I am a Truck’ by Michelle Winters

I am a truck

Fiction – Kindle edition; Invisible Publishing; 160 pages; 2017.

If the American filmmakers the Cohen brothers penned a novel it would be something like Michelle Winters’ I am a Truck.

This book, shortlisted for the 2017 Giller Prize, is a quirky and unconventional tale about a married couple, living in rural Acadia, whose 20-year marriage falls apart in unusual circumstances.

Throw in the wife’s forbidden obsession with rock and roll, a bat in a cage, a lonely Chevy salesman in need of a male friend, a former cheerleader who wants to study computer programming, and a military man who likes to sing out loud, and you’ll come to understand that this novel really is a peculiar and offbeat one.

Portrait of a marriage

I am a Truck revolves around the marriage between Agathe and Réjean Lapointe, who are about to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary. The couple are devoted to one another and have cut themselves off from society at large, choosing to live in a small secluded cottage, where they shun the English language in favour of French. Their motto is “ll n’y a que nous”, which means “it’s just us”.

However, a week before their big celebration, Réjean gets in his Silverado pick-up to go on a fishing trip with work colleagues and is never seen again.

The Silverado was reported sitting next to the highway with the driver-side door open just eight hours after Agathe had kissed Réjean on the front step of their cottage and sent him off fishing in the rain with a Thermos full of coffee, four sandwiches au bologne, and a dozen date squares.

No one knows where Réjean has gone and the police don’t seem that keen to find him. There’s no sign that anything untoward has happened to him, and Agathe suspects she’s simply been abandoned. Initially distraught, she realises she now has to fend for herself, so she gets herself a job and starts her life afresh.

A mystery novel that morphs into something else

The story is structured around the past and the present in interleaved chapters entitled “Then” and “Now”. This not only allows us to understand the Lapointe’s marriage before and after Réjean goes missing, it gives us insights into what makes both characters tick and introduces us to the deliciously different secondary characters — larger-than-life Debbie, who introduces Agathe to rock and roll and wild nights out, and Michael, the Chevy salesman, who has a man crush on 7ft-tall Réjean.

It begins as a mystery-cum-detective tale, but by the mid-way point, the reader discovers Réjean’s fate and it turns into a intriguing tale of what it is to become your own person — yet this does not lessen the book’s page-turning quality. It’s the zany nature of the story that makes it so compelling. It’s written in straightforward, almost pedestrian (and occasionally) laboured, prose, but it’s such a charming and bizarre tale you can’t help but want to know what happens next.

If I was to pick fault with it, I would single out the use of French throughout (all of Agathe’s dialogue, for instance, is written in French) without a translation being offered. Having to interpret what Agathe was saying according to the English side of the conversation hindered the flow of the story for me, but I’m sure anyone with basic level French will probably find it easy to understand.

Will I am a Truck win the Giller Prize? I doubt it. It’s not really a “literary” novel in the sense that it’s not doing anything particularly groundbreaking and it’s not written in the beautiful, poetic prose one might expect from a prize-winning novel. But it’s highly original, laced with wit and love, and it might just be the strangest, yet most feel-good, story I’ve read all year.

This is my 1st book for the 2017 Shadow Giller Prize.

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22 thoughts on “‘I am a Truck’ by Michelle Winters

    • There’s a lot of in jokes about the rivalry between Chevy and Ford, which reminded me of growing up in rural Oz and being caught up in schoolyard battles over Ford versus Holden!

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  1. PS (I thought of this after I hit send).
    Re the decision not to translate: 90% of Canadians are bilingual. I think it’s perfectly reasonable for this author and publisher to produce a book that assumes competency in French and treats bilingualism as so normal that translations are not necessary.
    (Until quite recently, British books often included snippets of French without translation because it was assumed everyone had learned it at school).

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    • Yes, that makes complete sense, Lisa. I’m a philistine who doesn’t know so I found it annoying but it shouldn’t be a problem for Canadian readers.

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  2. I think I’m looking forward to this one the most! (And it will probably be the last to get to me – it’s a race between “I Am A Truck” and “Bellevue Square”.)

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  3. I’m not sure 90% (percentage used above) of us are really “that” bilingual, but I did go out and buy this one for my Kobo the day the Longlist was announced. 😉 One I’ve read that also felt Canadian (and surprisingly didn’t make the prize list this year) was So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum. She sprinkled just the right amount of Canadiana throughout to make me smile.

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  4. Pingback: The 2017 Giller Prize shortlist — and return of the Shadow Giller – Reading Matters

  5. Pingback: Kimbofo reviews I Am a Truck by Michelle Winters | KevinfromCanada

  6. I also question that 90%. I would say 90% of English Canadians know “une petite peu” of French. Like, from reading the French words on food labels 🙂 I took French as a second language in elementary and junior high, and the excerpt I read from this book was no problem. It was all short snippets of dialogue. But I can’t read a War and Peace translation that leave the French dialogue as is (I tried a bit, this summer! No dice.)

    Anyway, this sounds like a lot of fun and I’m getting to this soon!

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    • Sorry, Laura, I somehow missed your comment when you left it a month ago! (Where has the time gone?) Interesting to hear your thoughts about usage / understanding of the French language in Canada. I always feel like a bit of pleb when it comes to language, because the only one I know is English and I’m too lazy / time-poor to bother learning another one but I’d love to be able to speak Italian or German.

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  7. Pingback: Giller Shortlist: I Am a Truck by Michelle Winters – Consumed by Ink

  8. Pingback: Links to all the 2017 Shadow Giller reviews | KevinfromCanada

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