by Maxime Collins
Les Éditions de l’interdit, 2014
It doesn’t take much to make me blush. The way I was brought up, you just don’t talk about what goes on behind closed doors, let alone beneath the covers. So when Maxime Collins’s daring novel, Peut-être jamais, found its way onto my bedside table, the neighbours could probably see the glow from my cheeks through the bedroom curtains.
Although attitudes to topics once considered taboo are changing, we live in a society where much is still swept under the proverbial rug. I recall being intrigued last year when I heard about Blue is the Warmest Color, the English translation of Julie Maroh’s award-winning graphic novel Le bleu est une couleur chaude. Correct me if I’m wrong, but in the world of mainstream fiction, you just don’t see that many love stories with gay and lesbian central characters. Or threesomes, for that matter. Peut-être jamais challenges lingering taboos by recounting the coming-of-age of Gabriel, a young man trying to find his way in life. And the fact that he’s also exploring his bisexuality is just one piece of the puzzle.
Picture the scene. Inside an anonymous apartment on an anonymous Montreal street, Gabriel hangs up the phone after telling his mother he is bisexual. Without sticking around to hear her protests, he darts across the street and jumps into the car where Sébastien and Sarah are waiting. They hit the road to celebrate the New Year in Quebec City, eager to escape their day-to-day lives. Sébastien has a free pass, since his boyfriend Christophe is out of town, and Sarah’s managed to talk her way out of going to the bar where her boyfriend Romain will be ringing in the New Year. This is just their latest escapade; the trio steal moments together whenever they can, cooking gourmet meals, sharing candlelit baths and wine, and trying to carve out for themselves a very different kind of domestic bliss to the societal norm. Gabriel, Sébastien, and Sarah are living in the moment. They don’t want to care about what anybody thinks, but still they feel judged and misunderstood by people around them:
We spend our lives running away from something. Or from each other. It’s inevitable. We’re living proof of that. Here. Now. I want to think about something else, but I just can’t shake this sense of unease. We’re already somewhere else, far from conflict. And we’re acting as if nothing is wrong.
As the years go by, Gabriel moves on and decides to explore one side of the fence more than the other. As he transitions into adulthood, he experiments with online dating and casual encounters and dives headfirst into Montreal’s party scene. Living it up and partying with the in-crowd can have a darker side, however, and a run-in with some unwelcome party guests turns to tragedy one night. His world turned upside down, he travels overseas to escape the pain and embarks on a whole new chapter. Then some more spice is added to the mix when an old flame turns up with news that will send shockwaves through Gabriel’s world yet again.
Peut-être jamais is a novel that might well pull you out of your comfort zone. And that’s not a bad thing. Peppered as it is with steamy sex scenes and graphic descriptions, this book has a deeper message to convey. Society’s attitudes toward sexual orientation are changing, and more and more young people today are being told that it’s okay to be gay. I wonder whether the same can be said about being bisexual, however. This novel offers an intriguing perspective and would be a great read for young people struggling to come to terms with their orientation.
Peut-être jamais is a vivid and eye-opening slice of life in Montreal today. Maxime Collins clearly has talent and conjures up some inspiring words that spur the reader to reflect on the challenges of growing up, the fleeting nature of youth, and how our lives can change in a split-second.
Review by David Warriner
Read an excerpt in translation here.