Martin C. Barry
What would a book revolving largely around the occasionally confused lives of some suburban teens during the early 1980s in a town eerily similar to Rosemère be without a reference to Subdivisions, that soaring 1982 hit by Canadian rockers Rush?
The progressive band stated just about all there was to say about teen alienation and the social stratification that has always been taken as the norm by those leading a suburban existence.
As it happens, Rosemère expatriate Mark Paterson pays homage to Rush in the acknowledgements published at the end of his most recent collection of short fiction, Dreamers and Misfits of Montclair.
The book was published by Toronto-based Exile Editions, led by Barry Callaghan, a towering figure in the Canadian fiction publishing business.
“The words and music of Rush have inspired, comforted, and kept me company since I first heard them when I was twelve,” says Paterson. “With the works of Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart at hand, this dreamer/misfit was never truly so alone.”
Rosemère as Montclair
Paterson, who now lives just beyond the Rosemère town limits in neighboring Lorraine where he earns a living as a writer and translator, grew up in Rosemère. The town becomes Montclair in his fiction. (The name of the fictional municipality references Montclair St. in Rosemère, according to Paterson.)
But in case anyone missed it, Paterson makes sure everybody understands what town on Montreal’s North Shore he is actually alluding to: the art work on the book’s cover features a building that is unmistakably Rosemère town hall.
According to Paterson, the title of Dreamers and Misfits of Montclair was in fact inspired by lines from Rush’s Subdivision song: Nowhere is the dreamer/Or the misfit so alone.
“It talks about how the city becomes like an attraction for people from the suburbs,” he said, interpreting the song’s meaning. “But then there are people who also kind of migrate to the city and end up feeling nostalgic for the suburbs.”
That might just as well describe at least part of the path Mark Paterson has taken through life up to now. Attracted by the advantages and perks of living in Montreal nearly 35 kilometres southward, he moved to west end Montreal at age 18 while pursuing history studies at McGill University.
In the end, though, Paterson found himself being lured back to the suburbs. “What I was trying to do was write a book about the dreamers and the misfits and the suburbs, and the people who kind of try to make their lives a little bit remarkable while they’re living in the suburbs,” he said.
Rosemère as inspiration
If a few longtime Rosemèrites are wondering whether they might have ended up serving as inspiration for some of Paterson’s fiction, it wouldn’t be surprising since he did get around the town quite a bit. If anything, his parents demonstrated a great fondness for living in Rosemère.
“We lived in a lot of different houses in Rosemère to tell you the truth,” he said. “I think I lived across the street from a lot of people. I think we lived in six or seven different houses.”
Among the people he got to know when they were a lot younger was Rosemère town councillor Melissa Monk. “Melissa and I went to school together all our lives. We grew up together. We went to McCaig Elementary together and Rosemère High.”
Although Paterson insists that his book is mostly fiction, he acknowledged that at least the first chapter, about a teenager who walks the main street of Montclair while dressed in a gorilla suit, is very close to fact.
Mixing fact and fiction
“There’s a lot of autobiography in that first story with the gorilla costume,” he said. “You know, that’s something that I did do. And a lot of people when they saw the book and read that story, they said they remembered that gorilla costume.”
Still, many of the other stories betray the presence of a kind of dysfunction underlying life in the suburbs.
For example, the last piece concerns a teenage wino who has perfected an ability to con or steal bottles of his favourite alcoholic beverage from convenience stores.
It’s something that could be happening in any Canadian suburb. But in this case, the setting is the fictional Montclair, based on the non-fictional Rosemère.