The American Fiancée
This rollicking Canadian novel, composed in lavish storytelling style, sweeps back and forth through the 20th century, spanning the Lamontagne family history, along with plenty of digressions about the gentry who featured in their lives. Beginning in the 1950s, Louis Lamontagne regales his children with flashbacks about their ancestors in the Quebecois town of Rivière du Loup. Louis beguiles his daughter Madeleine with the first tale set in 1918: the arrival of the American fiancée, who possesses teal eyes and marries Louis’ father. She dies giving birth to Louis, dubbed The Horse, who is raised by his grandmother, then goes off to fight in World War II, after which he returns home to run a funeral parlor in Rivière du Loup. Madeleine grows up and fulfills her dream of serving up her grandmother’s favorite dishes in successful restaurants. The exploits of her estranged sons Gabriel and Michel—who eventually reconnect through family letters and shared family lore—lead to Gabriel’s life in Berlin where in 2000 he discovers a missing link in the Lamontagne chain.
The author sweeps the reader up and into the tale, employing deft detail and brilliant shifts in focus from the small vignette to the large panorama of events which leave the reader breathless. At times hilarious, at other times tragic, the novel succeeds in drawing us into the seemingly Shakespearean world of ugly nuns, impure priests, heroic weightlifters, disobedient schoolgirls, and of course Louis The Horse Lamontagne of whom it was said, “A mere glance from Louis was enough to awaken the best and the worst of the man—or especially the woman—his eyes happened to fall on.” A masterful novel, not to be missed.