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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Maxime Raymond Bock

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To purchase Baloney

Title: Baloney
Author: Maxime Raymond Bock
Genre: Novella
Written: 2015 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 88 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Baloney - US
Baloney - UK
Baloney - Canada
Des lames de pierre - Canada
Des lames de pierre - France
  • French title: Des lames de pierre
  • Translated by Pablo Strauss

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Our Assessment:

A- : lovely literary/generational portrait

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Le Devoir . 25/4/2015 Danielle Laurin
The Winnpeg Review . 12/12/2016 Ben Wood

  From the Reviews:
  • "Dans Des lames de pierre, court roman ou novella, le mélange de dureté et de sensibilité est frappant." - Danielle Laurin, Le Devoir

  • "In the end, Bock leaves it to the reader to guess at the reason for Lacerte’s obscurity (unoriginality, incompetence, a consequence of his social isolation or the outmoded ideals of an older generation) in order to open up space for a much broader question about the legacy of French-Canadian poetry, both inside Quebec and, for Bock’s English readers, beyond. This allows him to have some fun with 19th- and 20th-Century Quebec verse without rendering meaningless the very possibilities of literature and poetry." - Ben Wood, The Winnipeg Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The narrator of Baloney is a young man still clinging to the last of his youthful literary ambitions, even as he has fallen to the periphery of the small French-Canadian literary scene. He exaggerates when he claims: "I had turned my back on poetry", but a copy-editing job and a family with young children are among the reasons he can no longer indulge himself like he used to. But, for quite a while now:

I was looking for a way to start writing again and coming up blank.
       Inspiration comes in the form of another poet-wannabe, Robert Lacerte, nicknamed (at least: "In the Montreal poetry scene") 'Baloney' (hence, unfortunately, the title of the English translation of this novella). Lacerte is already in terminal decline when the narrator meets him -- "living out his reputation as a has-been, coasting on a career he never had" -- a year and a half before the would-be poet's death, but he finds himself fascinated by this character -- and inspired: "I'd found a clown, a character, a subject to objectify." And while that sounds a bit cold, the narrator does become a friend to Lacerte, and sees him through his final days.
       Lacerte truly is a character, and the narrator shifts back and forth between presenting Lacerte's own colorful life-story, which does have a few good highlights, and the present-day. Lacerte certainly had enough experience, from some youthful struggles to a relationship that didn't quite hold, and several significant stations and phases of his life are presented. A defining trip to Latin America also marked him, but eventually he settled into a comfortable union job that also allowed him to (re)turn to and devote himself to his poetic ambitions.
       Lacerte is no unrecognized genius. The narrator tries his best to make the best of the writings, but:
The texts themselves were meagre pickings, barely salvageable first drafts. Just plain bad, really: even as a fellow failed poet, I couldn't find another way to slice it.
       Lacerte is a hoarder, and the one thing he has to offer is ... everything. When he first visits Lacerte's home, the narrator is stunned: "Never have I seen such thickets of personal papers in one place". Lacerte's output is steady -- "at least a poem a day, up to ten if I don't drink too much" (and with a one-day record of thirty-six ...) -- and he collects it all.
       Stacked up, and all around -- in: "chronological order by date of composition, to make the job easier for whoever discovered his archive" -- it is a tottering testament of a life. Of course, even in such order there is great disorder, Bock nicely presenting the apartment as not a neat repository but rather the typical hoarder's over-stuffed clutter-pit.
       Lacerte is already in physical decline when the narrator first gets to know him, and it accelerates towards the end. Clearly, too, it is the narrator who will be left to deal with Lacerte's legacy -- the old man has essentially no family -- and Bock figures this out nicely too, balancing life versus life's work, with the narrator's account -- even if it is a pile of 'Baloney' -- easily outweighing the decades of accumulated second-rate verse that ultimately amount to little more than detritus and padding.
       Baloney shifts nicely between (Lacerte's) past and present, while also situating the somewhat bizarre life-story within (or at least on the periphery of) the French-Canadian poetry scene. Meanwhile, the narrator's perfectly judged involved yet still coolly rational take allows for empathy and understanding, without making too much of Lacerte. Impressively, the work -- Lacerte's poetry -- remains secondary, regardless of how central to his life it was; like the narrator, we can let it go, mourning for the man but not his work.
       At under a hundred pages Baloney is a short work, yet not in any way rushed or cramped; it feels much fuller than it looks. Bock's writing, and his story-telling, is first-rate (in Pablo Strauss' assured translation), and the book is a convincing tale of a young writer "looking for a way to start writing again" and finding the perfect vehicle -- leaving the reader eager to see what he tries next.

- M.A.Orthofer, 17 December 2016

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Baloney: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Canadian author Maxime Raymond Bock was born in 1981.

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