Montreal author Stéfanie Clermont’s award-winning debut is a stunning, incisive immersion into a community of young radical activists finding love, experiencing violence, rejecting hegemony and struggling to survive financially in a world of dead-end jobs.

Montreal author Stéfanie Clermont’s award-winning debut is a stunning, incisive immersion into a community of young radical activists finding love, experiencing violence, rejecting hegemony and struggling to survive financially in a world of dead-end jobs.

First published in French in 2017 to huge acclaim, The Music Game (translated here by J.C. Sutcliffe) is a multi-vocal novel-in-stories featuring characters connected through Sabrina who, throughout her 20s, travels between Montreal, the anarchist camps in California and later Portland to visit her gender-fluid lover, squatter rights activist Jess.

<p>Justine Latour / La Quartanier</p><p>Stéfanie Clermont’s debut was first published in French in 2017 to wide critical acclaim.</p>

Justine Latour / La Quartanier

Stéfanie Clermont’s debut was first published in French in 2017 to wide critical acclaim.

Sabrina and her friends are the generation born into the world circa the late 1980s, the same time as Miss Vickie’s chips. They were five years old when Kim Campbell was prime minister. They have McJobs and dreams and drink too much.

They are part of the struggle, they are revolutionaries. They were in Vancouver during the Olympics, they were in Toronto for the G20 summit, in Montreal in 2012 for the student protests. They’ve traded Germaine Greer for Donna Haraway, France 1968 for Italy’s Years of Lead. They read about queer nihilism and Tiqqun. They live in squats and train hop around the United States and Canada.

Clermont’s stories shift in perspective, length and chronology. The prologue carves out a scene that has traumatized the group: friend Vincent dies by suicide in a vacant lot in East End Montreal. This trauma is accompanied by other experiences of violence or danger. Céline’s defence of sex worker rights brings on an ominous encounter with Julie’s stepfather. Kat must escape her abusive relationship with Max, then is triggered by the sounds of her neighbours fighting in the apartment above her.

<p>The Music Game</p>

The Music Game

The heart of the collection, Mayo Thorn, narrated by Sabrina, describes a gathering of the friends in Céline’s parents’ country home in Mayo, Quebec. Everyone is there, Vincent is still alive and things are starting to break down between Jess and Sab.

Through the fog of heartache and hangover, Sabrina reports the conversations, winding and political, that get to the poignant moment in their lives, the before-and-after of the Toronto G20 protests. Estella says: “After the G20, half my friends were radicalized, and the other half withdrew from the struggle.” Tahar agrees: “They abandon the struggle, start families, write books, and never do anything again.”

Sabrina, who shares more than one trait with author Clermont, is a writer, forever making lists, observations, keeping notebooks. She articulates the G20 shift less starkly, allowing for more than one interpretation of aging with integrity in activism: “We’d moved into the next epoch of our lives, a nameless epoch. We hadn’t sold out, but we weren’t as ideologically committed as we had been back in 2009.” May Sabrina return one day to observe and narrate the complexities of this nameless epoch.

The final story/chapter, the eponymously titled The Music Game, also narrated by Sabrina, is perfectly timed, perfectly told. Readers learn how the music game works, the one thing that Sabrina never wanted to share with Jess, that belongs to her and her friends alone. Readers might listen to each song that is named, and do let Robbie Basho’s Orphan’s Lament have the last word.

Sara Harms is an editor in Winnipeg.

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