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Claude Lalumiere's Fantastic Fiction
The Baldwins

by Serge Lamothe

(Talonbooks, CAN$15.95, 95 pages; trade paperback, published in July 2006.)

cover scanFollowing in the footsteps of writers such as Borges, Calvino, and Lem, Serge Lamothe, in The Baldwins, concocts a near-future metafiction exploring history and human nature. Via translators Fred A. Reed and David Homel, this novella, originally written in French, now reaches English readers.

In the future, academics study the lore of the Baldwins -- are they real, imaginary, a species, a family, or a mistranslation? Nobody knows.

Sandwiched between two brief framing sequences setting up the faux-academic premise are a series of short vignettes purportedly relating the lives of various Baldwins.

The conceit is kind of cute, but, alas, the results are sophomoric and insubstantial.

The book lacks any sense of momentum. The vignettes are too self-contained. I yearned for a glimmer of connection -- no matter how oblique -- some sense of a story behind the stories, a cleverly layered metanarrative rewarding careful reading.

But, no. Instead, we are served a series of random anecdotes without rhyme or reason. They stop, perhaps, because the writer has run out of ideas and not because the narrative or structure suggests it.

Most unfortunately, in the end The Baldwins steps down from the cuteness that semi-sustained it for ninety pages and descends abysmally into juvenile portentousness. Ultimately, we are imparted a valuable lesson: in case we hadn't figured it out for ourselves yet, we are told that the Baldwins are "so like us" and that "They can hardly be faulted for that."

Successful allegories don't need to remind readers that they are allegories.


Originally published in
The Montreal Gazette, Saturday, 28 October 2006.

Claude Lalumière's Fantastic Fiction is a series of
capsule reviews first published in the Saturday Books
section of The Montreal Gazette.

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