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The Naked City has 8 million stories and Letters from Montreal: Stories of the Extraordinary City has 50 stories.
A whimsical, sometimes profound, and wildly entertaining new book published by Véhicule Press this week is a collection of essays from popular columns that have been running behind the scenes of Maisonneuve magazine for over a decade.
“It’s always been a reader’s favourite,” Maisonneuve editor-in-chief Maddie Haslam said Wednesday.
It’s easy to see why. Brief, lighthearted, and adventurous, the story reads like a postcard from different locations in this strange and intoxicating place we live in.
“The columns are short and playful,” Haslam said. “It is meant to capture what it means to live in this city, or in a particular part of a city at a particular moment. No cheating – whether it’s the politics of Building 21 or something more personal like someone’s messy dating life.
“It aims to give a glimpse into the life of mostly English-speaking Montrealers and to celebrate their unique experience here. I have a strange feeling.
Haslam sets the tone in his preface, stating in a strange image that any Montrealer can understand: I knew this simply wouldn’t happen. Yet it sank below the horizon like a shrunken orange julep. ”
From there, it follows Melissa Bull as she drifts between relationships on a messy day at Parc La Fontaine. Crystal Chan plays a brooding game with her French classmates. Bernard Rudny takes us on a historic tour of Montreal’s street names. Jessica Way traces her family’s deep roots to Chinatown. Deborah Ostrovsky marvels at the composure of the children of French expats. Kyle Kearney skateboards around town as a rite of passage. Newly arrived Eva Crocker finds herself bored in Westmount and “Freaky Montreal” via Parc X’s fake orgasm choir. And Serena Ross recalls her unusual job interview at a Simcha grocery store on Boulevard Saint Laurent.
There are frivolous drinks on the roof at dawn, people nearby die, cats get along, and bikes get ruined.
“I think everyday life in Montreal will be a surreal experience,” said Haslam. “There are surprises around every corner in any city, but I think Montreal especially.”
Many of the anecdotes tend to be youthful. It probably reflects the demographic of Maisonneuve’s writing pool. Arcade Fire’s Win Butler (the subject of recent sexual misconduct allegations) has been mentioned multiple times, including in 2012’s The Battle of the Bands, where Shawn’s Michaels ironic.
“It is disappointing that the allegations came to light two weeks after they went to press,” Haslam said. We would have been discussing how to handle
Most of the stories have been taken from magazines over the last decade, but there are commissioned essays, such as novelist Heather O’Neill reminiscing about the subversive fascination of NDG’s landmark Cinema V in her youth. There are also some
“There are parts of Montreal that everyone knows and associates with the city,” says Haslam. The gestures you make when trying to communicate with a Francophone while learning the language, walls, pits and constructions shared by your neighbors.
The result is page-turning that plays chord after page. Even if the stories don’t directly reflect personal experiences, they combine to create a warm and relatable topic that feels like home.
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Dunlevy: A book of letters from Montreal tells the story of the city we love
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