My Canadian muse brought Gaetan Soucy’s The Immaculate Conception to my attention. And like all muses, one is slightly terrified of disappointing them. So an instinct for self-preservation requires that I start with the good. Some passages in The Immaculate Conception are drop-dead gorgeous, miss Clement’s re-imagining of Jesus’ life (always a wonderful topic) and the purifying flames of the burning cabin, where Seraphon and Remould are simultaneously murdered and santified. What’s more, Soucy has a real knack for Dickensian touches in characterization: Seraphon, miss Clement, and brother Gandon. Especially miss Clement, the lonely yearning, club-footed school teacher. But in the end, I was put off by the mass of enigmas and coincidences. Immaculate is a kind of Rubik’s Cube you can only solve with Soucy’s intervention. As a reader, I wasn’t able to participate in the pleasure of discovery and revelation because Soucy is too present in his story. He’s everywhere, manufacturing suspense by suppressing too much, the existence of Remould’s sister, for example, only to pull the denouement out of his hat so readers can make sense of the story. But if you suppress too much at the front end, you have to reveal too much at the back. And the fact that Soucy has to give us a massive data dump in the form of brother Gandon’s recounting to miss Clement of Father Cadorette’s testimony and knowledge means that something has gone seriously awry in the storytelling. Soucy, however, does a much better job with miss Clement’s storyline than he does with Remould’s. In her case, there is the genuine shock of discovery, when you learn that the fire captain is Big Roger and that her vague, drug-addled dream of being bedded by her student Bradette is more than a dream. As closely as I read the novel, my mind still throngs with questions, for which I have no answer, scratch my head as I might. Like who’s Sarah, the mute decoy-Sarah? Where does she come from? Where does she disappear to? And what’s her connection to Big Roger?
The Immaculate Conception