Matthew Fox writes about his Canadiana in his recently released collection of short stories, Cities Of Weather. It’s a Canadiana without eternal fields of wheat and first-generation immigrants mourning their children’s loss of the old country’s culture. Fox instead populates his very urban book with an obsessed sculptress, a telemarketer enamoured with a budding rock star and roommates writing competing eulogies.
Some readers may remember Fox from this year’s Wilde About Sappho (he appeared in Ottawa in February). When Fox read “The Clearing,” he enraptured the local audience with the clarity of the voice of the 17-year-old character – he sounded so, well, 17 and gay – and the character’s perception of the rural Ontario around him. In what is probably the most telling statement of his talent, Fox says that “The Clearing” is one of his least autobiographical stories.
That particular story started as the tale of a mother, Fox relates in a phone interview from Montreal. But the author was intrigued by the idea that the mother and son could love each other so much, and also suffer a vitriolic relationship. Almost all they can do is put each other down. As an exercise, Fox wrote a piece from the son’s perspective – and found it so much more engaging than writing from the mother’s viewpoint. It was a roundabout way to end up in a 17-year-old’s head. But, for a young gay reader, the result is hilarious.
Cities Of Weather also showcases Fox’s love affair with Montreal. Though stories are set in varied places – from a cottage-country escape to exile in Man-hattan’s Alphabet City – Montreal is where the heart lingers.
“I idealize Montreal as this wonderful, inspiring place – which it is, but that’s why I live here,” Fox says. “I think that has to do with sensibilities, and Montreal and I share a sensibility. The city itself has literary aspirations, which isn’t true about very many other places that I’ve lived.”
And while not every story features either a gay character or storyline, the queer sensibility permeates the fabric of the collection through the connecting themes of weather, identity and change. That queerness can speak volumes in some of the shortest of tales.
“More than anything, it says that being gay now is equally as complicated as it was during, say, the gay-rights movement, or the beginning of the time that people self-identified as gay in the early 20th century,” Fox says. “It’s complicated for different reasons. Gay scenes are not unique to gay people and straight scenes are not unique to straight people, and they can collide, but they don’t have to collide head-on.
“In a way, the story ‘Limb from Limb’ sort of delves into that, because in that story it’s evident to the reader that it’s a coming-out story, but it’s obvious that the mother knows and that the family sort of has already figured it all out, and what the narrator is going through is something that we can all identify with.
“[The protagonist] thinks that the problem is with him being gay, but it’s not – it’s about his relationship with his mother and their personalities. That is what coming out is about – it’s about a clash of personalities and not necessarily about being gay and about sexual desire and the usual stereotypes that we associate with that.”
Fox weaves some of these universalities using humour, and often crafts a subversive edge. The story “Prove That You’re Infected” is one such example in the collection. Of course with universality comes the charge of turning assimilationist.
“These stories have gay themes, but anyone can identify with them,” answers Fox. “I don’t want to write just for gay people or just for straight people, and I don’t feel like I’m selling out if a straight person can identify with my writing.”
In addition to his editorial duties at Maisonneuve Magazine, Fox is now working on a novel. And he’s penning more short fiction for inclusion in other collections such as the Wonderlands anthology. This is one big-city boy worth keeping an eye on.