Deni Y. Béchard’s Cures for Hunger has a dark bloodline
Cures for Hunger
By Deni Y. Béchard. Goose Lane, 319 pp, hardcover
Had he not died in 1985, Philip Larkin would have been the perfect candidate to write dust-jacket copy for B.C.–born author Deni Y. Béchard’s strange and sad memoir.
“They fuck you up, your mum and dad,” the poet once memorably noted. “They may not mean to, but they do./They fill you with the faults they had/And add some extra, just for you.”
Life in 31 words, a fraction more than can be crammed into a single tweet.
Béchard can’t compete with Larkin for brevity, but the story he has to tell deserves its length. Although the plot seems simple—boy seeks his estranged father, to better understand the “reckless passions” running through his blood—it turns out to be a complex tale, full of bittersweet encounters, rage, love, and sorrow.
Life in 319 pages, you could say.
Now a successful novelist, foreign correspondent, and translator, Béchard knew his dad as André, but his real name was Edwin. He was a Christmas-tree farmer and fishmonger, with a stall at the Granville Island Public Market during the 1980s, but as a young man he’d done time in the United States for robbing a bank. He was from the Gaspé, but refused to speak French. He was a survivor, but eventually committed suicide.
He was a mass of contradictions, and so was his son. Battling inner tides of anger, suffering from a deep sense of displacement, Béchard himself almost fell into the criminal life, on occasion abetting his father; one memorable anecdote details how they readied tumour-ridden fish-farm salmon for restaurants. He was saved by literature, though—by the shocking vitality of Jack Kerouac, and by an innate way with words that, even as a preteen, had him filling notebooks with stories.
His dad had a similar gift, but it didn’t save him: he could con customers and sweet-talk young women, but his words added up to nothing in the end.
Which is a clue to Cures for Hunger’s one significant failing: as hard as his son tries to understand him, André/Edwin remains a cipher. What drove him? What were his failings, his hopes, his fears? Did he suffer from some kind of psychological damage, or was he just a mean son of a bitch? Béchard doesn’t know, and neither do we. But somehow our shared lack of understanding brings us closer. They fuck us up, our mums and dads, and this we have in common.