Short Stories 366:292 — “The Kevlar Canoe,” by Marie Bilodeau

By now, if you’ve been paying attention, you know to expect something coming at you sideways from any Marie Bilodeau story. This expectation is honestly a joy, so when I saw her name on a story in Masked Mosaic: Canadian Super Stories, I was so ready to enjoy whatever she threw my way. And boy did she throw some stuff my way. We meet a Voyager (as in, les Voyageurs) in his canoe, but he’s not paddling, oh no, he’s soaring through the sky and did I mention there’s Kevlar attached to his canoe and also he’s hunting demons?

Yep. We’re in a Bilodeau story. The mix of French Canadian mythology and culture alongside a dark story about this man fighting off a demonic eruption is fantastic. For one, having the demon focus/portal/break-into-our-reality-thingie be the ringing of a bell of a church? I mean, come on, who doesn’t love that? Having possessed nuns try to stop the Voyager from dealing with the problem? Chef’s kiss, all the way. And at no point does Bilodeau slow down, the Voyager doing everything he can (alongside his faithful semi-sentient canoe, of course) to make this town safer for the populace by hacking those demons to bits. It’s a darker, borderline-grim tone than most of the tales in this anthology, and a perfect fit for an October story.

There’s something so joyfully chaotic in Bilodeau’s style and yet the world-building never feels anything less than purposeful. It’s one heck of a tightrope to walk, but Bilodeau does it, every damn time. It’d be annoying, frankly, if it wasn’t so enjoyable. “The Kevlar Canoe” even drops a tiny little seed of an origin story amid the demons and the chaos and the axe play, and you just know that little story is waiting for a day of its own, too. Or at least, I hope it is.

I was lucky enough to reach out to Marie Bilodeau to ask her where the idea for this one came from, and… like I said, sideways:

I grew up on the story of la Chasse-galerie, an old tale with the usual Québécois tropes: don’t make deals with the devil, don’t drink, and for all that’s good and just, don’t get in that flying canoe! (Okay that last one isn’t a trope, but I like canoes.) In the old tale, the canoe is a means to an end – a metaphor for poor choices as defined by a Catholic guilt-driven culture. But what if that canoe got to be something more? What if, for fun, the canoe was an instrument for forces of good, instead? The Kevlar Canoe is a nod to an old tale but with a new twist. Times have changed, and maybe stepping into the canoe isn’t such a bad idea, after all.

Marie Bilodeau

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