Quill and Quire

Canada's magazine of book news and reviews

Lambton Kent

by André Alexis

This short play by André Alexis is a strange but memorable diversion. It takes the form of a lecture to the Nigerian Geographical Society by Dr. Ken Mtubu, a distinguished anthropologist who gives an account of his recent “Canadian travels in the counties of Brant, Oxford, Middlesex, Lambton, and Kent.” Mtubu illustrates his presentation with slides and maps. From time to time two dancers, introduced as “movement specialists,” demonstrate the gestures and movements that Dr. Mtubu noted in the small towns he visited.

As the lecture progresses, Mtubu articulates a theory about the influence of railways on the behaviour of Canadians. This helps explain the odd mating rituals he observed: people using railway spikes to express sexual orientation or availability. After Mtubu, Pierre Berton’s The Last Spike will never be the same again.

At first this sounds almost plausible, but as Mtubu continues, he adds a bizarre gothic tale about a dead body in the trunk of his car. He intersperses this account with quasi-academic speculation about the “deep reverence the people of Osborne Corners have for moths” and the way in which the residents of Hickson use their Bibles to kill flies or mosquitoes. In between are equally surreal observations about funerals and sexual rituals in rural Canada. As the good doctor notes, “It’s a rare community that allows strangers to participate in its deepest frenzies.”

Dr. Mtubu admits to a certain confusion between the Canada of his imagination – “a nation of thieves living in glass domes” – and the Canada he observed during his travels: “a most feral place,” where savage dogs chase “the traveler unlucky enough to have chosen to walk or go forth on bicycle.”

This is a fascinating glimpse, but only a glimpse, of the subversive wit of a talented writer playing with dramatic form. No doubt there is much more to come.

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