Trembling River by Andrée Michaud

Trembling River is a translation by J. C. Sutcliffe of Andrée Michaud ‘s 2011 novel Riviere Tremblante. The dedication “To all the children who didn’t come home for dinner” establishes the tone: For many, there will never be closure. Their stories will never be known; their loved ones will ever wait. In this novel, Andrée Michaud draws the reader into the heart of this reality.

In 1979, twelve-year-old Michael vanishes into the woods near Riviere-aux-Trembles during a storm. Eleven-year-old Marnie, left with a fragmented memory of the event, cannot give the police a satisfactory explanation. Soon, suspicions in the community grow. As hostility increases towards Marnie, her father takes her away to a new setting. In 2009, Marnie decides to settle home again. Facing the past does not bring closure for Marnie, who misses her childhood friend more, not less, as the months pass.

In 2006, in a nearby location, Bill Richard’s eight-year-old daughter Billie does not come home. There are no clues, no signs, no leads as he desperately seeks answers. His wife, deep in grief, blames and accuses him with increasing vehemence. The police seem confident that Bill is behind the disappearance and society casts him in the role of perpetrator. Bill finally moves out on his own, and his wife faces her pain in her own way. In 2009, Bill takes up residence in a new setting – Riviere-aux-Trembles. He is alone now, struggling to maintain sobriety for Billie’s sake and to find a way to live each day.

While Bill is fumbling through a drunken attempt to honour his missing daughter’s twelfth birthday, the police come to his door. A child has gone missing in Riviere-aux-Trembles, and Bill is considered a suspect, given his past and his recent arrival in the area. The other likely candidate is someone else with a history who has just moved back to the area – Marnie Duchamp. As events unfold, we are reminded that others have suffered, too, as Michael’s sister, the little girl who lost her brother, resurfaces as an embittered adult.

The author takes us deep into the thoughts, emotions, and actions of the protagonists: Often they blunder, and they are not noble, but we enter every moment of their pain. Bill and Marnie both endure the heartbreak of losing a loved one. Both experience the devastation of being accused of causing this loss. Finally, there is the unimaginable trauma when they are accused anew. Bill imagines Marnie’s story: “People pointed at her, stealing her chance to quietly mourn her child, and she was a suspect every time some kid lost all concept of time and came home later than expected….” (328).

I cannot evaluate the translation and compare it to the original text. The language flows well, however, and the narrative has a consistent voice. The overall sense of the story and the personality of Bill is preserved, for example, in the poignancy of the birthday memorial: “One mouthful for Billie, one mouthful for Papa, one mouthful for Maman….Then a few tears sprang to my eyes and the bites dedicated to a child named Billie continued on their way with a loud swallowing sound that nobody heard, so who gives a shit.”(194) There is beauty in the description of Granny Berthe: “The attractive young woman for whom a future full of promise was opening up had quickly understood that the future is a sky whose horizon constantly contracts….” (359)

This novel is categorized as a mystery, but it is not an action-packed page turner with a final surprise ending. It is instead a deep and respectful study in the impact of loss, the proliferation of guilt and judgment, and the ability of people to survive to face another day. Perhaps the story could be trimmed, some moments bypassed, and the denouement shortened, but in Michaud’s narrative, we are immersed in each moment of the protagonists’ struggles and can come to a better appreciation of an experience that is never over. Perhaps then, we can move forward to honour the struggles we witness beyond these pages.

Andrée A. Michaud is one of the most beloved and celebrated writers in the French language. She is, among numerous accolades, a two-time winner of the Governor General’s LLiterary Award and has won the Arthur Ellis Award for Excellence in Canadian Crime Writing, the Prix Ringuet, and France’s Prix SNCF du Polar. Her novel Boundary was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller PRize and has been published in seven territories, and the English translation of Back Roads was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award. She was born in Saint-Sébastien-de-Frontenac and continues to live in the province of Quebec.

J. C. SUTCLIFFE is a translator, writer, and editor. Her translation of Back Roads by Andrée A. Michaud was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award. Her other translations include Mama’s Boy and Mama’s Boy Behind Bars by David Goudreault, Document 1 by François Blais, and Worst Case, We Get Married by Sophie Bienvenu. She has written for the Globe and Mail, the Times Literary Supplement, and the National Post, among others.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Arachnide Editions (Feb. 7 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 416 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 148700589X
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1487005894

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Anne M. Smith-Nochasak grew up in rural Nova Scotia and taught for many years in northern settings including Northern Labrador,  the focal setting for her second novel. She has retired to Nova Scotia, where she enjoys reading, writing, and country living. She has self-published two novels through FriesenPress: A Canoer of Shorelines(2021) and The Ice Widow: A Story of Love and Redemption  (2022).