It’s a glorious day in THE CITIES OF WEATHER

The Toronto Star raves about Matthew Fox’s debut collection in what surely will be the ultimate review of the book:

Emotional forecasts inform fine story debut
A Montreal culture watcher charts life’s highs and lows


Although every story in Cities of Weather includes a detailed and often beautiful description of the weather, this book is not a plodding CanLit equivalent of a landscape painting. In fact, when a protagonist named Mark leaves Montreal for New York, it’s to get away from all the snow, trees and other limiting wilderness stereotypes.

“I’ll show them,” Mark says, vowing to write a great, perception-changing work about Canada as a “glut of characters huddled in a horizontal line along the 49th parallel, all deep and conflicted and interesting, a country of Salinger-level dysfunction and beauty and profundity.”

As if fulfilling his own character’s vow, Montreal’s Matthew Fox mischievously plays with the popular linked story convention and our perceptions of weather. He points out that for Canadians and New Yorkers alike, the weather is one of the most changeable aspects of our lives and we like it that way: “Blazing sunshine beating down uninterrupted on a city becomes boring for them. They expect seasons, expect things to happen quickly, change quickly and the weather is not exempt.”

Cities of Weather is a powerful debut. Fox is an associate editor at Maisonneuve, a Montreal-based cultural magazine of “eclectic curiosity,” so perhaps it’s no coincidence that his tone, points of view and moods swing as often, as, well, the weather. Stories take place in different cities and towns, from urban Toronto, Montreal and New York to small towns and cottage country. His characters come in a wide assortment of orientations, ages and genders.

Fox underscores the randomness of the world, not only with his descriptions of powerful, unpredictable meteorological patterns — forces that are simultaneously magical, foreboding and destructive — but also through such characters as the ill, unnamed protagonist in “Prove That You’re Infected.”

In one spark plug passage, he tries to get his lover to flee with him: “Run with me is all I ask,” the character exhorts. “Let’s gobble up the black space in front of us and listen to mix tapes and blow smoke out the windows.” He keeps thundering without pause, “Let’s speed towards Mardi Gras on Bourbon Street, through greasy spoons with horrible fast food, past speed traps and weather-beaten New England homes.”

Fox reinforces the importance of spontaneity when a chic boyfriend is dumped for being a dullard. He reminds us of the unsettling power of unexpected news when two young men find out their roommates are dead after a car accident. In this swirl of change, Fox’s weather passages are the eye of the storm, familiar yet never innocuous.

Fox’s terrain of tumult blends families, lovers and change, achieving the effect of what cultural commentator Bert Archer forecast in his 1999 book The End of Gay — the demise of the limiting gay/straight dichotomy and a burgeoning era of greater sexual liberation. As in recent Canadian novels such as Anna Camilleri’s I Am a Red Dress and Suzette Mayr’s Venous Hum, old sexual labels and stereotypes don’t necessarily apply.

Fox makes gay sex ordinary. Identity politics are diffused when acceptance is proffered by unlikely characters. A middle-aged hotel owner is surprised when her husband rents a cottage to a gay couple with a pet snake: “The cheque was good,” the husband says. “When all is said and done, they could bugger the snake if they wanted.”

Writing about acceptance also enables Fox to subvert the stereotypical gay “coming out” story in “Limb from Limb.” When a Montreal hipster visits his family in his “charming backwater” hometown, his family is hit by a scandal much more dramatic and important than the character’s news, allowing Fox to erase any melodrama about being gay.

Many of Fox’s stories are more about characters’ self-expression than who they’re sleeping with. The title story is about an office worker who becomes obsessed with creating sculptures of hands after her boyfriend leaves her. “Ordinary Time” maps a male protagonist’s spiritual revelations on the path to adulthood, from childhood Catholic prayer to teenage drug epiphany, and from juvenile shyness to the language of casual sex. “Afterward, he bolted. Like most boys, he had his own post-coital scurry plan.” The protagonist finally learns to express himself in poetry he shares with friends and family.

Like the one-night-stand poet, Fox has found an effective voice, producing a connected series of emotional forecasts. “They all expect beauty, expect me to pull it out of my sleeve like a bouquet of cloth flowers,” the poet notes, and like Fox, he delivers. “I open my mouth and the words fall out measured, sing-song, the way I’ve prepared them. Even in my small voice they sound mysterious, divine.”

Congrats, Matthew!


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