It is amazing the amount of baggage of memories we carry with us from our childhoods. While the incidents may have occurred many decades ago, the simplest thoughts and emotions from that period of our lives still haunt our thoughts and dreams, almost still bringing us to paralysis. But somehow reliving some of memories of other people help up get over our own fears and memories. And one such classic coming-of-age novel is Eric Dupont’s Life in the Court of Mantane.
I turned forty recently, the age my grandmother was when I came into the world. This made me wonder how I would react if, on a trip back in time, I happened to come across the little boy I once was. I wonder if he would agree to become my friend and, especially, if he would let me be his friend. I very much doubt it. In his eyes, I would have all the flaws his parents had – or at least those he would be able to see on the rare occasions we managed to meet, since I work all the time. He would certainly not my appalling propensity, inherited from my father, to suspect others of being as dumb as a stump. Although we might both like the same music. One thing’s for sure: I’d probably get on his nerves, telling him to calm down all the time, insisting that things would work out just fine, that becoming an adult would end many of the torments of childhood. Far from being consoled, he would think I wasn’t taking he troubles seriously. In short, I wonder if we would have much in common. His verbosity would annoy me, I’m sure. Plus, I don’t like people who live in fear, and this boy was, if memory serves, absolutely terrorized three days out of five. He would have a very strong country accent, too. Concerned for his education, I would correct his pronunciation. He would be offended and end up hating me forever. Perhaps it’s for the best that we never did meet.
Dupont documents well the thoughts of a young lad living in the Gaspé region of Quebec in the 1970s. We witness the turmoils and dreams of this boy as he patiently plans his escape from his father and his wife. Readers are literally vaulted between a boy watching Nadia Comaneci’s performance at the Olympic Games to elements of bullying and abuse in the school yard to a odd family home life all in one book. He must try to not only deal with these elements but try to define them in some manner. And his vivid imagination leads him to bitterly hope to escape one day.
For my twelfth birthday, Henry VIII (my father) gave me twelve hens. It was, he said, time for me to take on my responsibilities, and the birds were the perfect way to teach me. Some fathers try to do the same by offering their children a magnificent pony of a gleaming moped to ride, making all the other children instantly envious and proving key to their popularity in the schoolyard. The idea of becoming a teenager while raising poultry left me skeptical, but I was willing to give the king the benefit of the doubt.
When Jewish boys turn thirteen, they celebrate their bar mitzvah, where they are given the world on a silver platter. The world or a condo in Florida, depending on the family’s means.
In our house, it was hens that were given. By the dozen.
He had chosen Rhode Island Reds, perfect for budding poultry farmers looking for high egg returns. Hens of this breed lay somewhere between two hundred fifty and three hundred eggs per year. A phenomenal return. Rhode Island Reds are considered docile and low-maintenance. Now, I’m willing to take the farming brochures at their word, but after my terrible experience with hens in 1982, I swore never to encourage the reproduction of what I still to this day consider to be feathered vermin. The Rhode Island Red is the state bird of Rhode Island. Naturally. It had no say in the matter.
In practice, I think the hens were a roundabout way for the king to put me back in my place.
I know I have said it often enough on this blog but I will state it again. ‘This is a coming-of-age novel that a reader needs to carefully read and ponder over in a quiet space.” Even with the book being set in rural Quebec, there are elements that Dupont brings forward in the plot that are universal in all our experiences growing up during the 1970s and 80s. And reviewing those issues now and reconsidering them sort of helps with the traumas
Supper in Saint-Ulric invariably ended with an order from the king or queen. “The dishes.” Staring out at the forest from the kitchen window, my hands in warm soapy water, I wondered who would help my sister do the dishes if I blasted my brains out all over the ceiling. I wasn’t cruel enough to leave my chores to her. “You can dry, Sis! And make sure you wipe off all the sauce stains. Otherwise Anne Boleyn will shout at us again.” Just behind us we could hear the wet sounds of the sovereigns kissing. Their bellies full, they rubbed their moist snouts together. It turned my stomach in the most indescribable way. Nausea.
Life in the Court of Matane by Eric Dupont is certainly a unique coming-of-age novel that documents the emotions of growing up in the 1970s well. A read that is worth pondering over making it definitely a good piece of literature.