Billy-Ray Belcourt A Minor Chorus Hamish Hamilton / Penguin Canada 2022.
A Minor Chorus is a fragmented composition, a coming-of-age autobiographical novel that explores the author’s attempts to cast themselves as graduate student, scholar, author, queer, Cree, and Canadian. Each section of prose is a preserved moment, acutely observed, that carries the punch of a stanza. Billy-Ray Belcourt is relentlessly intelligent, incisive and honest. Without much chance to catch one’s breath, the text is suspended between fragments, a sea of notes that provide little sure footing or purchase. This chorus of observations, notes and experiences is not harmonious. Unreconciled dilemmas and paradoxes shred assumptions about a unified sense of self, of identity, of medium, and of place. Is the author’s task to suture the confetti into a unified narrative. Belcourt shows that a whole world can be revealed in which this does not happen, a highwire act of continuous movement and adapted balance.
The text moves between and within sites to show how disavowed identity, identities such as those of Indigenous and queer folk, experiences a fractured, lacerated space: an everyday life full of holes and gaps that resists a totalising description, an explanation or unifying narrative. A Minor Chorus lacerates spatialisations of dominant culture, as well as those of Indigenous cultures. Rather than settling, minor chords and harmonies are unreconciled (could unsettling be decolonising?). They unsettle and drive toward resolutions yet to come. I appreciated how this book patiently unsettled arguments others such as Dwayne Donald and me have made that Western Canada is an “erased space,” a palimpsest in which previous histories of occupation and cultures of dwelling are clear to those who care to look for them in the landscape. Belcourt shows how spatialisations themselves become pulverised into an unstable bed of fragments, where relations between places, identities and selves are unfixed and can be scattered like chaff.
-Rob Shields (Univ. of Alberta)