Excerpt In Translation

Betsi Larousse

or the Ineffable Essence of the Otter

by Louis Hamelin[ref]Betsi Larousse ou l’ineffable eccéité de la loutre, Boréal, 2009[/ref]

translated by Jean-Paul Murray

Ekstasis Editions

Betsi Larousse is the story of a pop diva, a sculptor, and an adventurer who spend three days in a mountain cabin.

Driving north to his hunting camp, sculptor Marc Carrière is reluctantly seduced by Betsi Larousse warbling a love ballad on the radio. But a moose crashes through his windshield, forcing him to change his plans and head to a nearby town, where Betsi is giving a concert. He runs into his old friend Lépine, who’s planning to win the singer’s heart with a truckload of roses.

The flowers work their magic and the three of them head off to Marc’s cabin where they’ll spend the weekend swimming, grouse hunting, and feasting on wild mushrooms. Though worlds divide them, the sculptor and explorer will fall under Betsi’s spell. Her eyes, her voice, her body… everything about her will kindle their desires. Filled with dramatic flair and brilliantly told, Betsi Larousse is a story drawn in shades of madness and humour.

It all began when a moose landed in my car. I’d let the dashboard distract me as I fumbled in the dark trying to find a human voice. The radio crackled like large beetles leaping into summer campfires. I felt good. It was the best place to be alone in the world. Stations wandered by under my finger like oases in a sandstorm. A ball game at the Olympic Stadium. The underground world of studios. Just another night belonging to everyone. I pressed scan and the set began plumbing the darkness around me, skimming through radio waves and probing the void like a small invisible hunting dog. Shreds of a sentimental ballad followed the raspy voice of an Irish or Australian rocker, as electromagnetic flurries swept the night sky and slashed through the broken sound. The deep voice of a resident live-wire resurfaced in jolts, smearing the car’s interior. Stéphanie has just sent a fax to the moronic host of the high-power radio station: WANTED: a boyfriend who might last a night or two, handsome, nice to girls, good personality. Ability to express himself optional.

Something mysterious and foreboding pleased me about this quest, this chaotic catalogue of sound impressions as unpredictable as a fishing trip. I slowed down, seeing small spurts of red blotting the darkness ahead. A truck had just stopped by the road. My heart beat faster as I accelerated. I hit the radio’s search button and the receiver plunged into the darkness, ready to snare amplified emptiness. A voice arose in the midst of my very own night, almost too clear, with pointed flights piercing the field of interference.

My friend

You’re so alone

The voice of Betsi Larousse.

The speed’s gentle vibration wrapped the car like a cocoon. Threads of fog dangled from the yellow light beam that darted ahead. To the right, a forest brushed with headlights revealed auburn stains and rust smears. Now and again, a lonely maple reddened by the first frosts jumped out of the woods like a blood-smeared ghost. Stretching into wide curves, the road hugged the river to the left. Vehicle sidelights shone at distant intervals as though fastened to a line moving upstream: the signposts of a trail-head.

The voice projected warm undulations in the closed space around me. I kept my guard, still resisting the idea of being won over or thankful for this unexpected company. The voice was adequate, lacking polish at the extremities. But at certain levels of the register it approached a quality of resonance and a clarity that made me shiver. The music was run-of-the-mill, drowning in the mediocrity of good intentions. The lyrics filled the brain according to a proven recipe for success. It had the depth of an empty can and a taste of soapy chewing gum with an added dash of bland.

You’re so alone

My love
And I’m asleep

Betsi was the new video starlet. She’d annoyed me with unusual frequency since last year. But right know I couldn’t help appreciating the fake seduction she offered, that small, well-oiled machine floating across time and space all the way to my mobile prison, here, north of Mékinac in the Mauricie. I felt no need to press the button and resume wandering through radio waves. Nobody could surprise us, this would remain our secret.

A cavalcade of popular magazines returned to pound pictures before my eyes. I didn’t have a choice about my opinion of Betsi. She was forced on me as curvaceous and sexy, wrapped in the same packaging for everyone, her current version designed for rapid consumption. A creature spawned by the mystery of automatic demythification that provides all specialized tabloids with a continual supply of paper scandals and crazy suppositions. The Betsi phenomenon.

You’re so alone

My friend

The voice had a kind of alarm that rang hollow, softly reaching my ear. Another voice joined the one that was singing, wanting to address me more directly and intimately. Its message: you must think about one thing in particular: Betsi’s voice should elicit a precise thought. Like ideas transpiring in a conversation, ready to assume any form you want. But your counterpart doesn’t give you time to grasp them in mid-flight and you regretfully abandon them at the threshold of consciousness. Promising embryos whose appeal, like remorse, pursues you while you allow the spiral to seize you again. And they return to bury themselves in the unformulated, to lie in wait for the next opportunity, the moment to pounce on a word left out in the open, like a fish snapping at an insect.

A memory or idea whirled around slightly beyond my grasp; Betsi’s voice echoed it in the distance, preserving its opaqueness. I knew it concerned something I’d read in the newspaper before setting out, and that this no doubt trivial detail must relate to my trip. But why was my brain insisting? However much I pulled on the small end that stuck out, or focussed on it like a hangnail, I couldn’t tear it from that part of the brain that’s always asleep, the dwelling of dormant thoughts. I mused that chronic insomnia was increasingly sapping my memory. Over there, I’d sleep. Like you sleep with the woman of your dreams.

And I continued to reflect on that mysterious empathy of isolated voices carved by the vehicle, kilometre upon kilometre, through the intermittent halo of headlights and road signs: puffs of humanity rising from the dashboard towards me in the shape of clear and refrigerated emotions; fragile and purified by the distance.

PETINF14-QuebecReads-Favicon-32x32Translation by Jean-Paul Murray