The Fat Woman Next Door Is Pregnant, the first volume of Michel Tremblay's immense Chroniques du plateau Mont-Royal, finds him abandoning much of the bleakness and anger that sustain his plays in favour of a more benevolent mode of storytelling. Without relinquishing his favourite themes--the social and spiritual poverty of working-class Quebec--Tremblay brings a lovingly comic approach to the inhabitants of la rue Fabre. The result is a rarity, a novel that realistically and (almost) unsentimentally portrays the family life of the working poor without drowning in misery.
Misery is, of course, everywhere on the plateau Mont-Royal. The Fat Woman Next Door Is Pregnant will be immediately recognizable to followers of Tremblay's plays, in which many of the same characters and stories appear. The women of la rue Fabre (with the exception of two prostitutes, Mercedes and Béatrice) are trapped in their marriages, families, and religion; the men (again, with the exception of the half-mad fiddler Josaphat-le-Violon and the homosexual Uncle Edouard) work at uninspiring jobs and lead uninspired lives. Children are granted a slight reprieve from this fate, but their coming adulthood is a looming menace.
There is very little plot in The Fat Woman Next Door Is Pregnant. It simply takes the community of the plateau Mont-Royal through a single eventful day, and even as it rambles from story to story it remains compulsively readable. Every character, from the tomcat Duplessis to the foul-mouthed but impeccably skilful streetcar driver Mastaï Jodoin, to the three knitting Graces on the porch next door (who are only visible to cats and crazy people), is rendered with great compassion and understanding. The remaining five volumes of the Chroniques du plateau Mont-Royal will look extremely tempting to anyone lucky enough to become involved with the tenants of la rue Fabre. --Jack Illingworth