When I was attending elementary school in an extremely small south-western Ontario town, my friend Sheila transferred to a slightly-larger-but-still-small town in south-western Ontario for the eighth grade.
Her sister was attending high school in that town and somehow this made it possible for Sheila to escape. Neither of us fit in that super small town but, instead of uniting over our twinned sense of dislocation, we grew further apart where another pair of girls might have grown closer together.
After she transferred, Sheila had to read Louis Hémon’s novel for school and I did not; the only other book I remember her reading was an Agatha Christie novel, and she said that Maria Chapdelaine was boring beyond words. It seemed to take the entire year for the class to finish reading it.
A few decades later, this past October, I was thinking of Sheila when I picked up a Macmillan paperback edition of the classic at a college booksale. Inside the cover is a dedication, in a woman’s hand: “To our dear French student Jennifer. With love, Dad and Mom.”
Through the skinny paperback volume, Jennifer has marked the passages which do not appear in translation in her schoolgirl’s abridged edition. She marks them in parentheses: these are not the passages she needs to read and understand.
The other passages she marks with arrows, with thick grey triangles for heads, directing her attention. Sometimes she crosses out W.H. Blake’s translation and replaces a passage with a tidily printed (but clumsily translated) passage.