canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

TDR Interview: Peter Dubé

Peter Dubé is a novelist, short story writer, essayist and cultural critic. He is the author of the chapbook Vortex Faction Manifesto (Vortex Editions, 2001), the novel Hovering World (DC Books, 2002) and At the Bottom of the Sky, a collection of linked short stories (DC Books, 2007). For more information on Peter Dubé and his work visit: 

Montreal writer Angela Hibbs interviewed Peter.

September 2007


TDR: What was your goal in not specifying the city or street names in any of the stories? I felt it was Montreal, due to use of words like terrasse. But it was not specified.

Peter Dubé: One of the things I explore in my work is how we know/experience the world, and that inevitably means how much of it goes on out there… and how much is inside our head. I think fiction is uniquely powerful in that way; it lets you slide smoothly across that objective/subjective line. That’s why I devote so much space/time/language to what people see, feel, hear etc. and how, precisely, it spins through their mind. Place is a special case of "knowing the world," one that a lot of Canadian lit is invested in, but in my books I want to look at that through this experiential lens. So rather than accumulate a series of "external" facts like street names and so on, I decided to paint my picture of Montreal through a series of impressions, psychological fluctuations, sensual data. That felt more real to me and I was concerned that going for literal details might dilute the experience I was after.

TDR: Was the collection ever drafted as a novel? It seems very close to one as it is. Thom is always the speaker of the stories, for one, and several of the characters appear in more than one story.

PD: Although I saw these characters operating in a prolonged narration – which feels novelistic – I never envisioned the book as a novel in the traditional sense. I was more interested in experimenting with different ways of recounting a longer sequence. I wanted to explore the grey area between the novel and the short story, and the shapes writing could take in that space. In some ways I see the structure of At the Bottom of the Sky as analogous to looking at "experience" (as I discussed above) … in the sense that the way in which we experience things is fragmentary, certain moments becoming prominent, highlighted, and others less so, while the connections between them become amorphous or are created by hindsight.

TDR: Who do you think of as your readers?  How much do you think of audience as you write? 

PD: That’s a tough question. I suppose my "dream" reader is someone who reads a lot, and who loves the process. Preferably someone whose reading has stuck with them, giving them a rich frame of reference. I also think, since I write so much about cities, the work might appeal more to "urban" types… As to whether or not I think of the audience as I work, the short answer would be a qualified "no", I don’t have the reader in mind at that point… but I do think a lot about the reading, how things will sound in the mental "ear," flow, rhythm, image patterns. I think a lot about the sensuality that should come through in reading.

TDR: What is your ideal writing environment?  How does it differ from the reality of your writing environment and practise?

PD: Wow, I could go wild with this… How about a three-bedroom apartment in Paris, preferably in Le Marais, next door to a good wine store… that would be ideal. But, kidding aside, I’d settle for a reasonable degree of quiet, in a room with a closed door and sufficient time to think and work concentratedly, with access to books and without worrying about the practical business of financial survival. In terms of the differences of this from the real picture of my practise…. Well, happily, I do have a separate room to write in (which I really ought to get around to painting) but like most writers, uninterrupted time is always an issue as it is too often eaten up by other, more remunerative, obligations.

TDR: What was Rob Allen like as an editor of Hovering World?

PD: Rob Allen was a remarkably generous man. He shared -- unstintingly -- his time, his attention, his breadth of learning and his literary instincts. He was a good, attentive, serious reader, which made him a terrific editor – especially in conjunction with his considerable talent as a writer. When he worked with me on Hovering World he offered some amazing perceptions, things that had never even occurred to me (and I did a lot of drafts before it got to Rob.) And he was sensitive in the way he shared them. It is a matter of real regret to me that most of our relationship was about work, rather than a more personal friendship… I would have liked to know him even better than I did.

TDR: The majority of the stories in The Bottom of the Sky are open ended.  That is, conflicts are not resolved.  What appeals to you about this structure?

PD: There are a couple of ways to answer this. The first one is to suggest that perhaps they are, in fact, resolved. They can be read as resolved on the level of emotion, language or image; the affection between two people is made clearer, the hope for happiness is grabbed at, the notion of transformation is given a particular verbal shape, for a couple of examples… But yes, I admit, those resolutions – if that is what we choose to call them -- are open-ended. Things are never tied off, because, on some level, the fragmented structure of linked stories is about opening up. I wanted to see what a story that stops without closing down was like. Another, less high-falutin’ answer might be that leaving things open in this way provides more room for the reader to makes choices, for the act of reading to be more playful.

Angela Hibbs is the author of the poetry collection Passport.







TDR is produced in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 

All content is copyright of the person who created it and cannot be copied, printed, or downloaded without the consent of that person. 

See the masthead for editorial information. 

All views expressed are those of the writer only. 

TDR is archived with the Library and Archives Canada

ISSN 1494-6114. 


We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts. Nous remercions de son soutien le Conseil des Arts du Canada.