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Where the Waters Meet

by Stéphanie Boulay; Ghislaine LeFranc (trans.)

A shifting, nebulous sense of identity sits at the heart of this dense, metaphoric novella by French-Canadian author Stéphanie Boulay. Set in what we can assume are the wilds of rural Quebec, Where the Waters Meet introduces us to an unnamed narrator who isn’t sure of many things – what her exact age is, why she has never been told about her origin, or whether the woman raising her, an equally mysterious character named Titi, is her mother or her sister.

The story’s narrative arc, such as it is, eventually leads this young girl, and thus the reader, to learn who exactly Titi is. Along the way, we get a treatise on the elliptical nature of identity and the many aspects of modern life that can complicate it.

We do know that the narrator is in her mid-teens. She loves to write poetry. She is often rebellious and confrontational with Titi. She is both curious about and unsettled by men. Indeed, readers might see the concept captured in the title – of two strands of a river coming together, their waters commingling – as a manifestation of puberty itself, that wretched amalgam that is neither childhood nor adulthood.

To aid in her struggles with her sense of self, the narrator allies herself with Élène, described as a witch but who is probably some kind of health-care professional – either a doctor or social worker charged with caring for the narrator. It is through Élène (and her own struggles, including with an ex-husband who, at one point, sexually molests the narrator) that our hero gains some sense of herself and where she fits in the world.

The story contains several allusions to aspects of life that can disrupt a person’s sense of identity. The narrator muses on both the displacement and murder of Indigenous Peoples and on the ongoing climate crisis as two things that upend her handle on her own identity. But ultimately, it is Titi – who she is and what she represents to the narrator – that she keeps honing in on over the course of this short tale. This opaque narrative offers no easy answers, but unfortunately this comes at the expense of a satisfying conclusion.