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Short stories show dark side of rural life

By: Ian Froese

Posted: 03/29/2016 11:19 AM

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Matthew Tetreault feels it would be a disservice to southeastern Manitoba if his debut title romanticized life in the rural upbringing that shaped him.

What Happened on the Bloodvein, a collection of short stories grounded in and around St Antoinette—a stand-in for his hometown of Ste Anne—depicts an unflinching portrayal of those who call the not-so-innocent prairie home.

"The region is more colourful and complex than a romantic portrayal of it and so by starting to show some of the stories, the craziness of the region, I hope I’m doing it justice in a way," said Tetreault on the phone from Edmonton. "Obviously, I’m showing the warts first, but I think that’s where the interesting stories lie."

Tetreault, 32, said the old adage to write what you know helped inspire him to root his short story compilation in southeastern Manitoba. Plus, he figured the wide open spaces of the Southeast had untapped potential—outside Miriam Toews’ award-winning A Complicated Kindness, few fiction narratives have tapped this region for inspiration, said Tetreault, whose debut was released in December.

He notes what interests him about southeastern Manitoba is the clashing of cultures—the intertwining of Francophone, Metis persons like himself with those of Mennonite or Ukrainian background, and how they found a peaceful coexistence.

"(The stories) represent people’s experiences of that place, of that geography," he said. "I didn’t want to present perfect people living in a perfect place. I wanted to represent more realistic people and their daily struggles, essentially, through that environment."

Tetreault spoke of one culture conflict materializing on his playground growing up. Then a student at Pointe des Chenes, Ste Anne’s French school, fights erupted in the field the school shared with the neighbouring English school over Quebec’s referendum for independence in 1995.

"We didn’t understand really what was going on," recalls Tetreault. "We were just carrying these stories and these ideas, these ideologies, because of our parents and we’re battling because of it."

The various tales the book displays range from a woman’s dangerous adventure with her new suitor to a man hell-bent on shooting a coyote approaching too close to his home and a father dabbling in the drug trade to afford his daughter’s music lessons.

Some of the characters, explain Tetreault, struggle with where their life is heading. "Not knowing what they want, who they are and where they’re going."

The back cover teases one common dilemma on the lure of the big city. "She had told me she was going back to school and was thinking of moving to Winnipeg," the narrator says of a girl he’s seeing. "I wasn’t sure what I wanted."

The assorted stories took shape while Tetreault was studying creative writing at the University of Winnipeg. He explains he was fortunate to be selected for the Manitoba Writers’ Guild’s Sheldon Oberman Mentorship Program, where he spent half a year collaborating with an established author, Dave Williamson, and honing his work.

His manuscript was nearly complete when graduating from U of W in 2014. He moved on to complete a masters in English at the University of Alberta, where he remains. He expects to pursue a PhD in English at U of A this fall.

His parents, Maurice and Paulette, remain in Ste Anne, and living in the area are also his sister Melissa and numerous aunts, uncles and cousins. "A big French Canadian family," notes the first-time author.

Tetreault said his next book might be based upon the thesis he is now writing, a bilingual novel exploring Francophone and Metis identity.

Whatever shape his next title takes, Tetreault is sure to revel in the creative process.

"I get a lot of enjoyment from writing these, so I don’t see why I would stop at this point," said Tetreault.

What Happened on the Bloodvein can be purchased at McNally Robinson. The publisher, Pemmican Publications, also has copies available at its office at 150 Henry Avenue in Winnipeg. You can contact Pemmican at 204-944-9620.

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