There’s also a saxophone player who listens to Duke Ellington’s “Blues in Orbit”, an academic who’s received a grant which requires travelling to Grenada, and a grandfather who haunts the St-Michel Flea Market on the blue line in Montreal, looking for antique radio tables and landscape paintings.
Throughout, there is a sense that the author is engaged in a conversation with every book he has read, every song he has heard, every memory embodied in every landscape he has walked. He cites other writers and thinkers so readily that one imagines he has tiny inked passages tattooed on his skin (not only is Dionne Brand quoted, but the entire collection could read as a response to her collection of poems A Map to the Door of No Return). And the final in his list of acknowledgements is: “To Hamidou Diop for being the most underdeveloped, yet the most compelling character in Québec fiction.” [Referring to a bit part in Hubert Aquin’s Next Episode (1965; Trans. Sheila Fischman, 2001) that Kaie Kellough has mused upon in previous works too.]
One of the powerful themes that resurfaces in these stories is breath and air becoming life and breathlessness representing oppression. The same saxophone player might be playing his horn on a float in the Caribana parade or on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, inhabiting both the past and the present simultaneously. So, in one story: “Time, like fresh air, grows stale about one story below street level.” And, in another: “I remember her exact inflection, where she cut a word short, paused, and where her voice rose in pitch.” And, yet, another: “A knot tightened in my chest, like a stifled breath, and my body seemed to wrench toward the voices.”
This slim collection, barely two hundred pages long, was stuffed with so many sticky notes by the time I finished reading, it’s like it was strung with bunting. Reading Dominoes at the Crossroads brought to mind works by Jordan Abel, Cecily Nicholson, Catherine Leroux, Rawi Hage, and Kristjana Gunnars. It’s one of those books that I borrow, first, from the library, and then resolve to purchase so that it’s poised for rereading.
Contents: La question ordinaire et extraordinaire; Porcelain Nubians; Shooting the General; Dominoes at the Crossroads; Witness; Petit Marronage; We Free Kings; Navette; Capital; Ashes and Juju; Smoke that Thundered; Notes of a Hand