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Necessary Betrayals

by Guillaume Vigneault, Susan Ouriou, trans.

Like heroes in the best quest stories – Don Quixote, Bilbo Baggins, and Huck Finn, for example – Jack Dubois, the narrator of Guillaume Vigneault’s Necessary Betrayals, doesn’t know what he’s getting into when he hits the road. He’s just a guy with some sadness in his past – a plane crash, a failed marriage: he doesn’t tell us the details – who takes off for the American South with his ex-wife’s crazy brother. The trip is supposed to be a vacation, a lark, an escape from the messes both of them have made of their lives.

Jack’s story sounds at first like a scenario for a road movie. They pick up a beautiful Spanish biology student to travel with, they get in some fights with New England locals, they drive too fast, they talk about going surfing. But they also meet characters who force Jack to examine who he is and where he’s going. By the time he’s survived a hurricane in Louisiana, he’s found what he didn’t know he was looking for: forgiveness, the capacity to love, and recognition of what he can offer the world.

This is Vigneault’s second novel. Both have been critical and popular successes in Quebec, in part because of their engaging, ultimately upbeat stories. Young readers enjoy his take on life in the new century, while older ones appreciate both his respect for his older characters and the way the life he describes resonates with memories of the 1960s and 1970s.

Vigneault’s style in French is clear, exact, and colloquial, reminiscent of Dave Eggers and the Edward Abbey of Desert Solitaire. The high quality of his writing elevates these picaresque tales into something much finer. Unfortunately, the translation by Susan Ouriou doesn’t always do his voice justice, though English readers will find much to enjoy here.