1404 Lalonde’s fictional magic

Glorious Frazzled Beings
by Angélique Lalonde

Toronto: House of Anansi, 2021
$22.99 / 9781487009571

Reviewed by Candace Fertile

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Although a debut collection of short stories, Angélique Lalonde’s Glorious Frazzled Beings could easily be used in a master class. These are glorious unfrazzled stories, quirky, snappy, and wacky in a most beguiling way. Divided into four parts, “Homemaking,” “Housekeeping,” “Home Breaking,” and “Homing,” the 21 stories ricochet around human emotions and perceptions and reveal a sparkling imagination.

The first story, “Lady with the Big Head Chronicle,” immediately shoved me into the realm of “what the hell?” and just as quickly asserted its fictional magic by making me realize I was in for a really good ride to wherever I was being pushed by the words. The lady with the big head does various things, such as dreaming, pilfering garlic, and reading poetry, and in separate sections her actions are described by the narrator, whose family discusses which poetry books they should leave out for the lady. Her son William, the narrator says, “writes out pages of his favourite hip-hop rhymes so that she’ll be in the know about different kinds of verse, not just the tender shit his mothers are into.” How could you not love such a story?

Angélique Lalonde lives in the Kispiox Valley, north of Hazelton. Photo courtesy PRISM international

The importance of writing is threaded through various stories. In “Malarkey,” Marianne is trying to get pregnant, but her partner Dev is much more focused on his “seven-volume graphic novel fantasy series set on an alien planet called Malarkey in the galaxy Tesalon III.” It’s clear that Dev is not the man that Marianne needs, and sadly even Marianne knows it, but she seems unable to do anything about it: “She is working on loving his charming inclusions of a fantasy her in his fantasy world, while continuing to harbour illusions that because he includes her in his fantasies he might learn to fulfill her needs.” Dev’s fantasy world is more real to him than the one he lives in, so there’s no hope, and the pointlessness of wishing for change is exacerbated by a couple of footnotes of Dev’s monologues about his world. When Marianne has a baby, Dev appears unable to love the child as all of his attention is given to his series. The story is cleverly weird and questions the boundary between life and fiction.

The contemporary world infused these stories. For example, in “Mom’s Online Dating Profile,” Marlise decides to seek a new relationship after her husband of fifty years dies. She is encouraged by her friend Freda, and her daughter Camilla is worried that Marlise will fall victim to a scam. Marlise does fall, but it’s down the stairs, and she dies. Freda is shattered at the memorial of the second anniversary of Marlise’s death, and Camilla gets in touch with her about their shared loss. She discovers a secret that Freda has, a secret linked to the online dating site and Marlise’s search for a new man. It’s peculiar and yet utterly believable. People do strange stuff.

Angélique Lalonde, Giller Prize finalist, November 2021. Photo by Jeremy Chan

Lalonde’s stories pounce on the strange, from the duplicity of online dating to various kinds of sex (and some very graphic) to how people change their bodies and lives. In “Ropes of Entropy,” John Handy is born with a set of fox ears, magic ears. His best friend Josh, like everyone else, isn’t born with the fox ears, but wishes he had them. John has the ears removed even though no one seems to care that he has them. He puts them in a special beaded bag to save them, and the boys often put their dope in the same bag. Josh steals one of the ears “because he had always wanted it for himself, and because it was difficult for him to keep loving John as tenderly when he started going around in the world like an ordinary boy acting out dominant tendencies on his mild-mannered friend.” As the boys grow up, their friendship changes and they end up going on a motorcycle trip together, a trip with tragic consequences. The fox ears continue to play an important role, and John’s mother, the instigator of her son’s fox ears, wants her son’s ears back. Again the boundary between life and fiction frazzles and it’s impossible to see where one ends and the other begins.

This collection is one of the most creative I’ve read in a long time. Lalonde has a way of hooking my attention and holding it. I marvel at the content, the craziness of what’s going on, and at how deftly she describes everything while making it all seem so believable, even when you know it’s not real. What a gift.

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Candace Fertile

Candace Fertile has a PhD in English literature from the University of Alberta. She teaches English at Camosun College in Victoria, writes book reviews for several Canadian publications, and is on the editorial board of Room MagazineEditor’s note: Candace Fertile has recently reviewed books by Jane Munro, Arleen ParéIan WilliamsAmber DawnRachel RoseSusan AlexanderKatherine Fawcett, and Marjorie Celona.

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The British Columbia Review

Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie

Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line journal service for in-depth coverage of BC books and writers. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Cole Harris, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies.

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