KNOWN FOR HIS SAINT JOHN-BASED NOVELS, Jerrod Edson enters the world of speculative literature with The Boulevard, an ambitious novel featuring Ernest Hemingway, Vincent van Gogh, Satan, and a train ride through Hell.
For the first time since Satan’s banishment, God plans a visit to the lower world, and Satan is in a bind. In defiance, he has built Hell in the image of Heaven, but now he must destroy its beauty or face God’s wrath. Singed with dark humour, packed with historical detail and written in Edson’s straightforward style, with themes that include the search for happiness and the importance of staying true to oneself, The Boulevard is first and foremost a testament to the undeniable power of art.
New Brunswick’s Galleon Press publishes The Boulevard.
You can read a review of The Boulevard here.
Claude Monet was 29 years old and lived with his girlfriend Camille and their newborn son, Jean, in Étretat, Normandy. Monet had taken a keen interest in the effects of light on snow, and one cold morning, after wandering the countryside, he’d found his scene, and as he stood in front of his easel, wearing three heavy coats, his toes frozen in the snow, Satan visited him for the first time.
Monet was painting a snow-covered wattle fence, and the house and trees behind it. There had been a fresh snowfall the night before and the snow was thick and fluffy and the shadows from the fence were blue.
Satan, in the form of a squirrel, climbed a tree behind Monet and sat on a low branch to see what he could see. His first impression of Monet was that he was extremely patient; he simply observed everything before he began, but once he was ready, he worked quickly, and on all parts of the canvas at once. Then he would look again and find more colours; the blues in the long shadows of the wattle fence. He did not paint the sky blue, or the snow white, but used various stained whites for the sky, and blues for the snow, and Satan marveled at what was happening: Monet was seeing colours everywhere, and not only was he seeing them, he was applying them to his canvas and it brought a vibrancy to the painting that felt more realistic than anything Satan had seen before. Monet carried on, his toes and fingers numb, his nose red and running, his breath white in the frozen air.
Next, Satan took the form of a trapper trekking through the deep snow, emerging from the treeline and the road behind Monet. His face was heavily bearded, with ice in his beard and his thick eyebrows. His eyes and nose were red and runny. He wore a rough fur coat and had two dead rabbits flung over his shoulder.
“Bonjour,” Satan said. “Ah, un peintre!”
Satan, taking heavy steps in the fresh fallen snow, looked beyond Monet to see the painting up close.
“Ah, c’est beau! Vraiment!”
“La neige, c’est bleu?”
Monet nodded again.
“Snow is blue, yes,” he said.
Monet seemed irritated that this stranger was interrupting his work. He removed his gloves and rubbed his hands together and then cupped them and blew on them. The warmth of his breath brought some feeling to his fingers.
“Snow is a reflection of the sky, and if you look long enough you will see more blue than white.”
“More everything,” Satan said, looking at the painting. “Yellow and red too?”
“Light brings all colours to everything,” Monet said. He blew on his hands again.
“Vous allez à Paris?” Satan asked.
“I will show it in Paris, mais oui,” Monet said.
“At the Salon?” Satan asked.
Monet looked a bit puzzled; how did this rough trapper know of the Salon? He smiled, amused.
“That is my plan.”
Satan smiled, and around his thick dark moustache and the straggly ends of his long stringy beard, bits of ice flaked away and he wiped them with his sleeve.
“Does your work sell in Paris?”
“Not as well as I wish.”
He nodded to the rabbits over Satan’s shoulder.
“Et toi? Combien pour un de tes lapins?”
Satan flopped the rabbits onto the snow, untied the string from one—which were knotted around the hind legs—and handed it to Monet.
“Rien,” he said. “C’est pour vous.”
“I cannot take it for free,” Monet said.
“I insist,” Satan said. “It has been a good day for me.” He peered over Monet’s shoulder to the canvas again. “And for you as well.”
Monet lifted one of his coats to dig into the pocket of the coat underneath it. Satan reached out and pulled Monet’s hand from the pocket.
“I insist,” he said again, peering down at the rabbit, whose soft brown coat rested in the trampled snow.
“Your hands,” Monet said, feeling the coarse, weathered hands of the trapper. “How are they so warm? And without gloves?”
“It is in my blood. Trapper’s blood.”
Monet shivered, then grinned.
“Perhaps I’m in the wrong profession.”
“I don’t believe so, monsieur,” Satan said, and he bowed. “Very well then, au revoir.” He gathered up the other rabbit, flung it over his shoulder and headed down the road, keeping inside a set of wagon tracks in the snow. Once he was out of sight, he returned, this time as a bird—a magpie—and he perched himself on the fence’s gate.
Monet, seeing the black of the bird on the gate, muttered “La belle pie.” And then, in a few quick strokes, the magpie appeared.
James M. Fisher is the owner and editor-in-chief of The Miramichi Reader. He began TMR in 2015, realizing that there was a genuine need for more book reviews of Canadian literature. It has since become Canada’s best-regarded source for the finest in new literary releases. James has been interviewed about TMR on CBC Radio and other media sites. James works as a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Technologist and lives in Miramichi, New Brunswick with his wife Diane and their tabby cat Eddie.