Objects of Worship
by Claude Lalumière
Review by Benjamin Wald
Chizine Publications Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780981297828
Date: October 2009 List Price $18.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Claude Lalumière is undoubtedly blessed with a fertile imagination. His short stories feature moments of striking and memorable imagery. In the best stories in Objects of Worship, Lalumière's debut collection of short fiction, this imagery combines with original ideas and a keen satirical edge to create accomplished and memorable tales. Unfortunately, in other stories these moments are mired in clunky plotting and characterization which ranges from competent, but unexciting, to downright cringe worthy. This creates a collection that is a decidedly mixed bag.
The collection opens with the strongest story of the lot, "The Object of Worship". In an eerily recognizable version of our own world, populated entirely by women, household gods are offered daily offerings and worship, and make life miserable for everyone if their whims are not catered to. They are also responsible for all pregnancies, pointing to this stories clever satire of both religion and traditional masculinity. The story is driven by the conflict between a young couple, Rose and Sara, when Sara begins to doubt that the gods are as essential as they have traditionally been thought to be. While the characters are a little thin, the world is just familiar enough for the satire to bite home, creating a disturbing reflection of our modern world.
Another stand out is the equally satirical "The Ethical Treatment of Meat", a satire of animal cruelty through the lens of a society of zombies. These zombies farm humans, or "fleshies", for brains, but one domestic zombie couple begins to doubt the ethics of this after adopting a fleshie child as a pet. While generally effective, this story lays the satire on a bit thick. While this is successfully played for humor, it makes it harder for the reader to see him or herself in the characters, which dulls the satirical thrust. What makes it work, for me at least, is the domestic coziness of the zombie couple, who despite the atrocities we see them perform come off as surprisingly, and disturbingly, human.
Among the other stories the most successful are "This is the Ice Age", a quietly introspective post apocalyptic tale set in Montreal, and "Njabo", an angry environmentalist fantasy about a future in which elephants have become extinct. Both focus more on imagery than character or plot, and providing some powerful moments.
Among the other stories several mix interesting ideas with leaden prose and disappointing endings. "Roman Predator's Chimeric Odyssey", for example, starts off with a fascinating post apocalyptic world in which genetically engineered werewolves hunt monstrous chimera to provide food and security for the remaining human residents of Montreal Island. This fascinating setting seems to be missing a suitable plot, however, as the middle of the story brings in a rather dull alien visitor and the story stumbles from there to an unsatisfying conclusion.
One or two stories just feel like a waste of time, like "A Place Where Nothing Ever Happens", where the interesting idea of the dead in hell getting phone coverage and calling their living relatives is swiftly killed by shallow characters and boring plotting, leading to an ending which strives for cleverness but achieves only frustration.
Despite the varying quality of the stories, I am glad I read this collection. The best of the stories are well worth reading, and most of them have something to recommend them. On the other hand, there are probably short story collections that provide more bang for your buck. If you interested in learning about Canadian fantasy, or are willing to put up with some clunkers for the sake of imaginative settings and original ideas, this book might be for you. Otherwise, you may want to spend your money, and your time, elsewhere.