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Larry Volt: A Novel

Larry Volt: A Novel

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Larry Volt: A Novel

307 pages
4 heures
Jan 1, 2001


Short-listed for the 2002 Governor General's Award for Translation

Larry Volt is one of the rare Quebec novels that deals with the FLQ crisis. Pierre Tourangeau captures a generation of young people who are rebelling, but above all, searching.

Jan 1, 2001

À propos de l'auteur

Pierre Tourangeau has published four novels. He lives in Quebec.

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Aperçu du livre

Larry Volt - Pierre Tourangeau

Larry Volt

By the same author

Larry Volt, Montréal, XYZ éditeur, Romanichels collection, 1998; Romanichels poche collection, 1998.

La dot de la Mère Missel, XYZ éditeur, Romanichels collection, 2000.

Copyright © 1998 Pierre Tourangeau and XYZ éditeur

English translation © 2001 Lazer Lederhendler and XYZ Publishing

All rights reserved. The use of any part of this publication reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system without the prior written consent of the publisher - or, in the case of photocopying or other reprographic copying, a licence from Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency - is an infringement of the copyright law.

Canadian Cataloguing in Publication Data

Tourangeau, Pierre, 1951-

    [Larry Volt. English]

    Larry Volt


    Translation of: Larry Volt

    ISBN 0-9688166-4-9

    I. Lederhendler, Lazer, 1950-. II. Title. III. Title: Larry Volt. English.

IV. Series: Tidelines (Montréal, Quebec).

PS8589.O68L3713 2001    C843’.54        C2001-941197-9

PS9589.068L3713 2001

PQ3919.2.T68L3713 2001

Legal Deposit: Fourth quarter 2001

National Library of Canada

Bibliothèque nationale du Québec

XYZ Publishing acknowledges the financial support our publishing program receives from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Book Publishing Industry Development Program (BPIDP) of the Department of Canadian Heritage, the ministère de la Culture et des Communications du Québec, and the Société de développement des entreprises culturelles.

Layout: Édiscript enr.

Cover design: Zirval Design

Cover illustration: Umberto Boccioni, Élasticité, 1916

Printed and bound in Canada

Larry Volt

a novel by Pierre Tourangeau

translated by

Lazer Lederhendler

For Émilie,


and Laurence

Chapter One

Hoi Anh, 69-70

The army is a rubber. It gives you the feeling of security while you’re being fucked.

Inscription on a Zippo lighter,

Unknown G.I.

So. Here I am, on the ledge of the window in Tess’s office, my feet dangling over the brink of life, between darkness and emptiness, my soul in the void, my heart on hardtack and water, wondering whether or not to plunge into the hurricane that carried it off.

Back of me there’s Julie, crying - she doesn’t let on but I can sense it - wanting me to choose the world of the living, which I haven’t as yet entirely left. There are the others down below, including, at ringside, those astounded bystanders: Oscar and Rashid with his Jennifer Ness on his arm, beside herself because she’s never been so close to someone wanting to burn his bridges to the point of jumping off, never witnessed so many deaths in such a brief span of time, though, actually, mine is still only a possibility. In the corridor, there are those that Julie has managed to fend off for now by locking the door and leaning the bookcase against it: Tess, distraught because she doesn’t want to lose a student or, above all, her job; Pelvisius, afraid for my soul and the reputation of his school. Even Nihil, who can’t stand me, absolutely wants to talk to me. Isn’t it always when you’re about to depart you find friends concerned for your welfare – just when you’re about to move on – they love you so much it’s beyond belief. The fact is there’s no reason for them to get so upset. Or perhaps there is, I really don’t know. Haven’t made up my mind yet.

I’m getting some air. I’ve got a right to. Can’t even breathe anymore without starting a riot…

I can hear Julie, who doesn’t find me funny, grumbling gently so as not to provoke me. But I’m on to them, all of them. They can go ahead and jabber, they won’t pull one over me, a straitjacket, that is, I won’t let them.

Stop moaning like a siren, Julie. I won’t leave you my skin so long as I’m still inside it.

In that case get down from there, and you can keep your filthy skin. Who gives a shit!

Julie has dropped her sweetness. I knew all along it was unnatural, all that honey. At this point she begins to weep. I hear her coming up behind me.

Watch it! Don’t touch me or I’ll jump. After all, it’s my prerogative to choose my time, isn’t it?

Her sobs are as long as the violins of Verlaine gathering dust in the attic where the Gentlemen of Saint Suspicius have stashed away evil and the poètes maudits. Still, they couldn’t prevent Tess from putting them - the Symbolists, that is - on the reading list of her literature course. The pressures of modernism. Certain rights they no longer have. Julie’s tears come faster, more so for trying to swallow them.

Have you got the hiccups or something? There’s really no way of getting a little quiet.

It breaks out like a wail amid all her sniffling. Heartrending. Totally melodramatic.

I love you Larry. Stay with me, or take me with you.

No, beautiful. If I go, it’ll be on my own. I’ve had all the trouble I can handle. I don’t feel like starting a family in Hell. As for love, you can see where it’s taken me. To the edge. Pretty soon it’ll be up against the wall.

When all is said and done, there’s no getting around it. Life - so far no one has come up with anything better for killing you bit by bit. I miss Anna, but she’s worse off than I am. Logically, I should stop feeling sorry for myself. But we live in different neighbourhoods, logic and me. So I whine all the same, because if Anna were around I’d let myself get dazzled and forget all that she does to me and all she doesn’t anymore.

I’m on the lip of Hell, where I’ve always been. What’s more, I’ve done whatever’s needed to get comfortably settled in Lucifer’s circle. I’ve even taken on a nom de guerre. It behooves me now to be worthy of it.

Larry Volt, the perfect name for a black sheep, a raging ram. Far better than Larry Tremblay, in any case. With a name like that, even with the beard and the beret, no one would take me seriously in my Québécois Guevara disguise. Whereas Larry Volt hits you as soon as it’s spoken. The true name of a restless martyr, the kind whose death stirs up shit for hundreds of years.

Shit – now that’s something I know about. It’s where I come from, what I’m in, where I’m headed. A mere twitch of my ear is enough to set everyone’s teeth on edge. At home, in class, on the street, in the metro, wherever.

Larry! Stop! You get on my nerves with those ears of yours flapping in the wind. How did I offend God that I should give birth to this tornado…


Mr. Tremblay, would it be too much to ask of you to kindly keep the untimely movements of your earlobe in check so that your fellow students might concentrate on the problem at hand? Is that understood, Mr. Tremblay?

The Suspicians are constantly Mister-Tremblaying me up and down; they want to make it perfectly clear to me that as far as they’re concerned I’m not Volt. They prefer to act as if Volt doesn’t exist, they’d rather not make his acquaintance. But there are times I forget I’m also Larry Tremblay. When that happens, they find themselves in a bit of a bind, the Suspicians, because they very nearly lose patience and would gladly let fly a Mr. Volt in my direction just to get a response. But they hold it in and that constipates them.

I make them writhe, the whole lot of them: parents, teachers, students, pedestrians, the blacks and whites of this world. Even the butcher grinds his teeth when I ask him if he has any venomous tongue today.

If it comes from me, the slightest trifle sends them into a rage. Including my humour, which they don’t appreciate - imagine. Maybe it’s genetic. Maybe I have glands that other people don’t have, glands that produce hormones or some stuff that makes them rabid, that attacks their sympathetic system.

It’s not the beginning of classes that’ll keep me from making the rounds of the downtown dives. My nights are all the same, every one much like the one before and the one before that. A handy way to erase and forget, no effort, no remorse. I walk la Catherine, Saint Catherine Street. From bar to grill to pool hall to topless club between Drummond and McGill College. Last night it was between Drummond and Peel. Other nights it was somewhere else.

At every stop, I drink beer, to keep the engine running. And I watch, like the filthy little voyeur that I am. The nude girls, the drunks, the decor, the vegetation, the local customs, I can never get my fill. I write it all down in my logbook. The lighting, the location of the toilets, the smells, the flow of the crowd, the price of the drinks, the colour of the walls, the shapes of the asses, all of it.

Oscar Naval often keeps me company, but he doesn’t notice anything, doesn’t have much to say, isn’t offended by my bouts of writing. He thinks I’ve caved in to my primitive poetic instincts, as usual and as expected, or that I write because making conversation with him is a waste. Which is true, because most of the time he’s in a haze.

Well, at least you know where you can find him. Unlike others, whose position is always impossible to pin down and who are forever disappearing without a trace. Experts at giving you the slip, like Taurus and Virgo, my dear sweet little parents, who’ve gone down to Florida to take a rest from me, for just a few months, or like Anna Purna sometimes, when she does her little seductress routine. As if that were necessary.

Already two o’clock. I’ve chewed all my sandwiches, except the crusts, which I threw on the floor just to be a nuisance. I adore ham sandwiches and being a nuisance. The college dining hall is almost empty now. The only sound comes from the broom the small white nun uses to sweep the old oak floor. You pray to your god as best you can.

Outside, the big elm trees that fall has stripped bare shiver slightly in the wind, despite the sun, which looks downhearted at this time of year.

Ever so quietly, all the little lambs of the flock have gone back to their classrooms. Not me, though. I’ll wait five minutes, hang out with the vending machines to make sure I come late. When you refuse to fit in, rule number one is: avoid punctuality. And in the misfit division no one in the entire known universe can beat me. I’ll be late for Nihil’s class. Not very. Just five minutes, the time it takes for him to slip into his philosophical stupor. That way, he’ll be truly annoyed when I tiptoe in and, at the worst moment, trip over Rag Bag’s enormous butt that spills over the sides of her chair into the aisle, hampering the free flow of ideas, goods, and people.

Rag will squeal and squawk. It’s not my fault! I’ll offer in my defence. We’ve had enough of your rolypolies. How about not spreading your lipids all over the place! She’ll want to smack me, pound my face. I’ll appeal to Nihil and run for shelter behind him. The others, starting with Allie Buy, will jump at the chance to make a racket. Pandemonium will break out and Nihil will have completely lost his train of thought.

Furious, but not letting it show, he’ll call on Miss Bag to stay calm and, once she’s sat her hundred and twenty kilos down again and heads have cooled, he’ll show me to my desk, pointing out that I have been consistently late since the outset of the term and warning me that, next time, he will not allow me to come in.

I’ll tell him how sorry I am, repent not once but a hundred times, don the mask of contrition, along with the appropriate pout. That will mollify him a little and he’ll concentrate by gazing at the ceiling before launching once again into the Thomist considerations from which my inopportune arrival had drawn him. I must admit: I enjoy having fun with the teaching staff of Saint Suspicius. I don’t leave them too many ways out. As soon as I appear, subito presto the staff starts swinging willy-nilly in self-defence.

From their little sanctuary on the mountain, they see the world from on high and don’t understand very much about life, the Suspicians. They believe the world still belongs to them, as it did back when they were the lords of Montreal.

On this particular day, Nihil asks us to hold forth on the theme of violence as an agent of change. He’s all aquiver because for the past three months the bombs haven’t stopped going off around town. When Nihil is agitated, he speaks even less than usual. Nihil’s agitation can be gauged by his silences.

Just yesterday night, an explosion blew up the ground floor of a curling club in Westmount. Three dead. The first victims of the latest round of attacks. Three Anglos, innocent, in all likelihood. Standing behind his chair, our philosophy teacher sways silently, waiting for someone to go ahead and articulate a few thoughts on the terrorist act that has filled the front pages of all the dailies.

Allie Buy raises his hand. He’s indignant. And the more indignant he gets, the more he gets carried away. Hoodlums, murderers, scandalous in a democratic society! He can’t see how a bomb can further the interests of French Canadians. It would appear that no cause warrants the killing of innocent people. Why doesn’t he go tell that to the Vietnamese!

Why don’t you go tell that to the Vietnamese! Julie Horn ventures, blushing to the very roots of her hair.

That’s no reason! protests La Marquise, self-proclaimed representative of the silent majority, as she adjusts her décolleté to let everyone know she has one. We are not in Vietnam. We live in a civilized country!

Allie Buy eagerly nods his head in agreement. He’s not alone: a large portion of the class supports La Marquise, who takes great pleasure in the knowledge that her opinions are shared, as always, by a small following of shorn sheep and milk-white lambs.

Besides, they’re not communists, the Anglos, Allie adds, anxious to say the right thing in order to maintain his informal position as La Marquise’s right-hand man in the hierarchy of the flock. I have lots of English friends who would like nothing better than to understand the legitimate aspirations of the French-speaking Québécois…

As if that were the issue, as if it were up to the Anglos to decide what is legitimate or not for their former subjects!

Every one of them throws in his fuzzy two cents’ worth, with Nihil looking on absently while studying the cracks in the ceiling. Oscar Naval attempts to put things back into perspective but gives up after three sentences. Oscar hates making things hard for himself.

As for me, I don’t say a word. I’m not going to waste my time trying to explain to a pack of morons that no one is innocent, that we all have some petty horror on our conscience, that violence is everywhere and the important thing is not choosing your victims or weapons but being on the right side of the fence. Any means of getting your ideas across is all right, as I think history has amply demonstrated. Come on, Nihil! Why not dole out a little wisdom to your congregation! Teach them epistemology instead of having them graze on your lyrical conception of the world and your raving admiration for Tycho Brahe. We couldn’t care less about man’s genius and his place in the universe. In any case, it’s been proven, the universe is no different from the rest: it lives, it dies and, when it goes, all the parasites that rely on it will croak too. Hence, no more problems, no more injustice, no more suffering, no more horrors. There will be nothing left, and then, at last, we’ll have time to breathe.

Anna Purna sits majestically at her desk. She is so beautiful, a statue ought to be erected in her honour. She chuckles at the twists and turns in the discussion, and her blond hair bounces on her shoulders in time with her impish giggles.

Nihil emerges from the haven of his daydream:

Why are you laughing, miss?

Anna is not easily put off.

I find this debate amusing, Mr. Nihil. There’s never a dull moment in your courses. The point is, I simply think that injustice and oppression inevitably give rise to violence. The issue is not so much whether it’s justified or not, but rather to ascertain if it brings about a change in the status quo. To my mind, the answer is yes, clearly. Is the change good or bad? I wouldn’t presume to voice an opinion. I’m not a moralist, and you are certainly better qualified in that area. I don’t mean to offend you, but, being an atheist, I believe that values and morality are human inventions, and that life per se, as a phenomenon, can’t be bothered with human values. Life, death, the universe, time, all these things are somewhat beyond our grasp, don’t you find?

She speaks confidently, since she prides herself on having experienced life, on having seen the universe, which of course places these Gentlemen in a fairly embarrassing situation. True, hardly anything will embarrass them. By the time she was twenty-four she had travelled the world as an air hostess, before resuming her education at an age when most others have completed theirs. This gives her some authority over her fellow students, who are all younger and in awe of her for having already lived so much. She is suspected of morals in keeping with her wide experience, and, as of the first day of classes, her angelic beauty and a figure worthy of Venus set her at the centre of every boy’s lewdest fantasies. The Suspicians, Thomist or otherwise, are not safe from her charms, a source of profound torment for them. Especially since she has a sharp mind, which makes it all the more awkward for advocates of a doctrine that, until quite recently, still refused to grant a soul to the female of the species.

Anna Puma’s diatribe wrenched Nihil from his cloud in no time. Perched atop his skinniness, the old ascetic hardly appreciates being sent back to his metaphysical investigations. In general, he’s not vindictive, but this time he ended the class by hitting us with a five-page essay assignment on the subject for the following week. That was, no doubt, the only way he could save face in the presence of the cold assurance, the staunch materialism, and the immeasurable beauty of his eldest student.

There are no classes at 3 p.m. on Thursday. I go down to the second floor lounge, the only place in the school where dim lighting and rock music are tolerated. Oscar is already ensconced there with Anna by one of the large windows facing the wooded slope that charges up toward Côte-des-Neiges Road. Zed Leprous’s Wholottalove is playing pretty loudly and it won’t be long before Pelvisius – the Suspician in charge of maintaining a semblance of decorum in these quarters and so dubbed due to his habit of settling his shifty little eyes near the crotch of the person he’s addressing – arrives to turn the volume down.

I join Oscar and Anna, whose mini-skirt discloses a fine pair of long thighs sheathed in dark nylon stockings. I sit down in front of her, where I can better admire them. Beside her, in a patent effort to be conspicuous, Oscar is stuffing a tiny chillum full of hashish. Anna is wearing yellow panties that I gawk at every time she crosses and uncrosses her legs, which she does often, since what’s the point of having something if you won’t show it. The pipe has been lit. Outside, the sun is about to set and the shadows of the trees stretch until they break against the old stables, used now only to store the gardeners’ paraphernalia. The smell of kif floods the lounge and a few cattle-heads swing our way, their eyes full of reproach and apprehension.

As expected, the door opens and there’s Pelvisius dashing straight for the loudspeaker. Head down so he doesn’t have to look at anyone, with that perpetual unctuous smile on his lips, he turns the volume down before scurrying away, his eyes focused between his legs, paying no attention to the jeers of two or three brave souls - he believes in freedom of expression – or the sweet vapours which he no doubt ascribes to some incense that the young scholars, in their craving for the exotic, must be burning in order to fulfill that deep desire for communion so typical of adolescence.

I drag on the pipe one more time before taking my turn at the music machine. Pelvisius won’t have the last word, not here. I pump up Zed Leprous to the limit and go sit down again. The speakers start moving along the floor; people next to them levitate above their chairs. Oscar nearly swallows the chillum, and Anna has flattened her hands over her ears with an awful grimace that makes her even prettier. The door flies open again, Pelvisius is back. His hand on the doorknob, he absorbs the blast, eyes squinting from the din and the faint lighting as they sweep across the room from one person to the next at bellybutton level. Or lower, because he’s not very bold. At this point, since I’m standing next to the amplifier, he approaches me and, addressing my thighs, signals to me to turn down the volume. I comply. Now we can hear ourselves.

The machine went berserk, sir. I was just about to take care of it.

Pelvisius attempts a smile, squirming even more than he normally does, in his black suit and clerical collar. I grin back at him.

Japanese equipment, sir. You can never depend on those Orientals. You know, the Yellow Peril, these days, it’s industrial. Just think, this machine was probably made out of my father’s old ’63 Chevy…

He lifts his eyes almost to my shoulders.

You’re very good at derision, Mr. Tremblay. Or may I call you Larry?

"For goodness’ sake, Arnold, I don’t see why not.

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