The Devil Never Loses His Receipts

The Girl Who Was Saturday Night

by Heather O’Neill

Author of Lullabies for Little Criminals

The Devil Never Loses His Receipts

This is really excellent writing here. Kind of unassuming First Person Narrative Voice but then, before you know it, she clobbers you over the head with an understated hyperbole, an absurd asociation, or some other breed of oxymoron. Like her ex-champion figure skating boyfriend Raphaël, who smokes menthols so no one will bum cigarettes off him, she knows all the tricks.
She also knows the rules and the exceptions to said rules so she breaks them with impunity. Did you know there is a Writers Guild Rule that explicitly states that you can’t just throw twins into a story gratuitously? Well, there is; but a good deal of the story revolves around her attempts to separate herself from her twin brother, Nicolas. They are just-short-of incestuously close, having been brought up not by wolves, like Romulus and Remus of Rome, but by their decrepit grandfather Loulou.
Their father, a celebrity in Quebec, a kind of Serge Gainsbourg (or Jacques Brel, but he hates being compared to Jacques Brel) figure, but his fame was limited to Canada–and only French Speaking Canada at that–wrote a song about their mother, but that was all they had of her. He used them as props for his act, so they were always being recognized, but what good did it do them? Petit Nicolas and petite Nouschka Tremblay they were known as. They looked down on star-struck people but how could they help it? They were always looking up at them for no reason. And their father Etienne Tremblay, he would write a lullaby for Nouschka’s baby and sing it on television, but would he show up and sing it to the baby in person? Non, he would not.
Speaking of lullabies, O’Neill’s first book was called Lullabies for Little Criminals, and if her Sophomore effort is this good, this nuanced, this humble yet assured, I would love to read what she did as a raw Freshman.
As Heather O’Neill writes in that inimitable voice of Nouschka Tremblay, every two people, when they begin to grow intimate with one another, begin to devise their own language. For her and her twin, Nicolas, their grammar manual would contain a Chapter on advanced sarcasm, and another on absurd associations. There’d be six Chapters on humour (cool your jets, spell-check, this book uses British spelling, so I will, too), a Chapter on inappropriateness and an Appendix on bragging and general know-it-all-ism.
In the manual for Raphaël and Nouschka’s language there would be a Forward on flattery, a Chapter on mysticism in a downtown environment, one with words to define the existential condition, a Chapter on pseudo-intellectualism and a 1995 Afterword on the conjugating of dirty French words.
You could do worse than grow intimate with the words of Heather O’Neill, and developing your own private language with her. A lot worse.


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