Friday, April 06, 2007

Catherine Kidd's Missing the Ark
Once I have compiled an inventory of everything I'm able to find, I plan to give the notebooks to you. They will comprise a sort of bestiary, one of those paper zoos of fabulous beasts who may no longer exist in reality but who lurk the corridors of memory regardless, vanishing in the mist of grey matter when you turn to look at them directly. The wide eyes of children see them everywhere, these fantastical beasts who may be grotesque, beautiful, familiar, and strange. They lie coiled in childish objects, trying to become the dreams and nightmares of grown-ups, who then have to decide whether to let them be or chuck them out. The reason parents are so grateful when you take out the garbage is that the task is analogous to growing up. Being a grown-up means finally learning how to chuck stuff out, and what stuff to chuck. (p 66)
After years of waiting finally comes Montreal author and performer Catherine Kidd's Missing the Arc (Montreal QC: Conundrum Press, 2007). In many ways, this is the first and only project she has worked on over the past decade or more, once called Bestial Rooms (chapter ten still holds her earlier title), when she performed a fragment of her work-in-progress (for example) beside Anne Stone in Ottawa at mother tongue books in April, 1999, and gone through the wringer more than most projects should ever have to. Her first novel, but not her first publication, after other small and smaller publications such as everything I know about love I learned from taxidermy (that came with a cassette tape), Sea Peach (2002) and bipolar bear (2006), all published by Conundrum Press, as well as appearances in various journals and anthologies including side/lines: a new Canadian poetics (2001), YOU & YOUR BRIGHT IDEAS: New Montreal Writing (2002) and Andy Brown's own The Portable Conundrum (2006), among others.
Looking at a surface of skin inevitably recalls the fluids coursing beneath it. It is incredible to me that people manage to remain discrete and self-contained at all, without somehow rupturing and flowing together, like a broken yolk or the piebald waters of the Fraser River. Some people are tougher than butternuts to crack, and are in no danger of this loss of identity. My mother would be one of these people. Some people carry their own containers, like the one I used to carry my retainer in. They do not open unless pried.

But I do remember the silky rush of water down my legs, in a warm wash, and wondering what its ingredients were. Whether silvery particles of memory could be lost along with it, like the bath water with the baby. This is the only explanation which makes any sense to me right now. Sometimes when I look at Rose, I find myself believing that she must have absorbed in utero whatever it is I can't remember. As though amnesia were a liquid environment from which other things were born. (p 15)
Working through memory and even against it, the story of Missing the Ark is the story of Agnes, who returns home to her mother (and her mother's affairs) with her newborn daughter, while working to keep the demons of her past, including her father, who once disappeared from a locked room when she was younger, to her former relationship with "Buffalo man," the divorced taxidermist who is her baby's father. Kidd's novel is a beautiful weaving of seemingly endless movements and threads that open exponentially and then gracefully return, closing here and there, pulling everything together, tight. A lengthy book, at nearly four hundred pages, the un-self-conscious lyric feel of the novel and the weaving of all her many movements sometimes feel as though you might be listening to a song that has gone on just a bit too long—much of the book feels as though it should be performed instead of read quietly at home to yourself (which, considering that Kidd is one of the finest spoken word performers in the country, isn’t a bad thing)—but the various end more than justifies the means; it makes me wonder the obvious question: with this project finally out from under her, just what will Kidd be able to focus on next? What and when becomes the next big work that she is finally free to do?
Perhaps there is a type of human permafrost, caused by the freezing of blood in the veins. Blood being mostly water, the molecules would change their shape, become pointed and crystalline, beautiful and remote, meltable upon the tongue, if only you could manage to catch one as it falls. A type of freezer-burn may occur, when the heart is frozen and thawed, and refrozen again. The biggest challenge of looking over one's shoulder, backward toward the past, is to survive whatever bitterness the mouth of history may breathe back at us, freezing our faces to salt.

My mother stands at the bathroom sink, applying lipstick as though her mouth is a face she is shaving. Her method looks as though she is trying to scrape something off, rather than put something on. The tube jerks upward in chisel strokes, downward like a trowel, while her blue vinyl flight case of cosmetics sits close by. The took kit of that sculptor who liberates the true face hidden in the stone. (p 38)
Publishing for over a decade now, Brown's strength as editor/publisher at Conundrum Press has been in encouraging and developing a growing cadre of writers around him in Montreal, from Catherine Kidd to Corey Frost, Suki Lee to Lance Blomgren, to Liane Keightley and Marc Bell, and Valerie Joy Kalynchuk to Nathaniel G. Moore, as well as many others, through Brown's ongoing work with Matrix magazine. Through all of this, Conundrum remains one of the most important points in the city of Montreal for prose fiction (just as Jon Paul Fiorentino works on the poetry, with the Snare Books project he started with the late Robert Allen).

[Catherine Kidd launches her novel at the ottawa international writers festival at a FREE EVENT at 6pm, Friday, April 20]

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