Kaie Kellough’s second book of fiction, the story collection Dominoes at the Crossroads, follows the subversive, polyphonic trail of his novel, Accordéon (a finalist for the 2017 Amazon.ca First Novel Award), and his recent book of poetry, Magnetic Equator. The opening story, “La question ordinaire et extrordinaire1,” takes place in Montreal during the “Post Climate Crisis Period,” which dates from the year 2143 to the “present.” The narrator gives a keynote speech to celebrate the “475th anniversary of [Montreal], one of the oldest cities in North America.” That milestone coincides with the 50th anniversary of the death of the narrator’s great-great-grandfather – whose name is Kaie Kellough. The narrator states, “Kellough’s content, much like mine today, often looked at place and city. In the city of his day, he saw … the way Black histories were constructed as minor narratives.”
In a thumbnail history of Montreal, the narrator notes that the real-life figure Marie-Joseph Angélique (an enslaved woman who set fire to the Old Port in 1734) “destroyed the city, but her act forced the citizens to reimagine and rebuild,” and despite “her history-altering act,” she is “consistently marginalized.” This type of retrospective narration is not simply a technique to propel the storytelling. In Kellough’s hands, it becomes an example of an archive as a living voice – a voice that rewrites the present to construct a desired future.
The layered, persuasive, autofictional mode of the first story sets the tone for what follows, which also focuses on belonging, identity, and reclamation, themes that pervade Kellough’s body of work.
In the title story, an unnamed narrator returns with his partner to the island of his birth. While staying with the narrator’s island-born cousin, Erroll (who came back to the island after a stint in England where he created and sold a record label to promote the island’s music), the narrator begins to have sinister dreams about the property’s caretakers. In the dreams, they arrive with spades and hoes and demand from Erroll a “security tax.” Their desire is to drive out internationals and restore the land to the people who have lived there all their lives. Throughout this story, we are firmly embedded in the narrator’s consciousness; his suspicions about the caretakers articulate the narrator’s own entitlement. But Kellough’s refusal to name the narrator obscures a key component of the character’s identity.
In the last entry, Kellough writes, “The idea that stories are about individuals, that they have protagonists and antagonists, is a simplification that fuels the market. There exist no central figures. A person is nobody. No narrator, no voice. A story is a natural force, like the hurricane, that flings individual names apart.” The sheer torque of Dominoes at the Crossroads is a testament to Kellough’s willingness to dwell in the hurricane. The result is an urgent and inimitable collection that honours the rebels in the diaspora.