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Book Reviews

Wild Cat

by Jacques Poulin, Sheila Fischman, trans.

Jacques Poulin is one of Quebec’s best and most-loved writers, winner of the Governer General’s Award for Les Grandes marées (Spring Tides) and the Prix France-Amerique for Le Vieux chagrin (Mr. Blue). Thoughtful and wryly humorous, Poulin’s novels find a delicate harmony between French sensibility and modern North American style.

Wild Cat, Poulin’s newest translated work, is written with his usual calm deliberation. Everyday details and natural pacing bring us inside the skin of our narrator, Jack, a professional writer who specializes in CVs, official letters – and sometimes love letters. One such assignment, the writing of a letter from a man to his vanished wife, leads Jack into the mystery that loosely frames the story. We also learn the story of his neighbour/lover Kim, a psychotherapist who uses unconventional methods and works at night.

But Jack is far more interesting than the various people he writes about. Like the heroes of the American detective novels Jack admires, it is his own unremarkable self that appeals to readers. When he trails his client through the misty streets of old Québec City, he laughs at his own delusions of Bogart but turns his collar up nonetheless. He also sneaks lines from famous writers into his love letters to give them “magic” success.

Poulin uses the story to meditate on why we tell stories – to others and to ourselves. It’s a question without a real answer, but Poulin gives it unique consideration here. He falters only occasionally, with the odd silly detail or unoriginal literary observation (including several paragraphs describing John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany), but the novel is up to Poulin’s high standards.