Carousel by April Ford
Reviewed by Timothy Niedermann
Le Galopant is the oldest existing wooden carousel in the world. First carved in Belgium in 1885, it was shipped to the US for the 1964 World’s Fair in New York and brought to Montreal’s La Ronde amusement park in 1967. It was allowed to fall into serious disrepair over the years, but was finally completely refurbished in 2007.
Margot Wright has come to La Ronde alone to see the horses of Le Galopant. She is having difficulties in her marriage to Estelle Coté and is not sure why. They have been together for 25 years, since both were 20, and were married as soon as gay marriage was made legal in Quebec. They have just moved into a new home, a loft in the Old Port of Montreal. Margot has recently left her long-time job as a dealer in antique firearms. Estelle works at an art gallery, and she is a thin, glamorous woman, unlike the more average Margot.
As she stands in front of the revolving merry-go-round, Margot’s doubts run the gamut of confused and bitter emotions as she reflects on her relationship with Estelle, her own bizarre family history, and what she should now do with her life.
At La Ronde, Margot meets Katy, a 17-year-old American girl who is visiting for the summer. She, too, is fascinated by Le Galopant. Katy is the same age Margot’s mother was when she met the much older American man who would marry her and become Margot’s father. Like Estelle, but in different ways, Katy is everything Margot isn’t—young, brash, spontaneous.
Katy is a mirror for Margot, cropping up at the end of the novel to challenge her yet again as Katy’s doubts about marriage reflect Margot’s own.
Margot’s reflections on herself and her life take her back her childhood: how her mother sent her from the US to live with her grandparents on a farm in Quebec, how she set off on her own at 18, subsidized by her father, who was emotionally and physically absent from Margot’s life.
Carousel is a marvel of intriguing detail, little observations that give added dimension to the narrative and insight into the roiling confusion that is Margot’s state of mind. Alternately contemptuous of, aloof from, worried for, and passionate about Estelle, Margot’s thinking wanders in broader and broader circles trying to understand what is going on within her.
That theirs is a marriage between two women means that the emotional atmosphere is quite different from what it would be if this were a heterosexual couple. Ford has made both Margot and Estelle emotionally unsteady and self-doubting. Their back-and-forth bickering and resentfulness-filled silences toward each other, interspersed with bouts of impassioned intimacy make for an unpredictable narrative.
This is Pushcart Prize winner April Ford’s first novel, but she has published a collection of short stories (The Poor Children) as well as poetry and journals. In Carousel, Ford skillfully keeps us inside Margot’s mental bird’s nest of worries and regrets, so we are led by her confusion and can only sort things out as she does.
Although Ford doesn’t have Margot use the term until late in the book, it is clear early on that what Margot is going through is a mid-life crisis of sorts, a questioning of her identity and her purpose in life. Interestingly, her sexuality is not at issue. One of the accomplishments of the book is to depict the strains on Margot and Estelle’s relationship while accepting their sexual identity as entirely normal. The issue comes up in some encounters with other characters, but it is not belaboured. Their sexuality is a given in the lives of Margot and Estelle, and it is entirely accepted by their friends and colleagues.
That Le Galopet is a bit of a metaphor in Carousel is probably not giving anything away. The descriptions of the carved horses early on foreshadow Margot’s ongoing reflections about what has happened in her life—the people and events that have made her who she is—and what is now, irrevocably and unavoidably, going to change. This is a thoughtful novel, for the questions and quandaries Margot poses to herself are indeed shared by all of us at some point in our lives—ones we, too, must inevitably ask ourselves.
The Carousel is published by Inanna Publications.