We're pleased to share this Chat with Angelique Lalonde, a 2021 Scotiabank Giller Prize finalist for her short story collection Glorious Frazzled Beings (House of Anansi Press).
According to the Giller Prize jury, “Menopausal gods, procreating droids and boys born as foxes are only a modest few of the glorious frazzled beings that populate Angelique Lalonde’s astonishing story collection. Many of the ever-present concerns of the contemporary world—ecology, capital, conservation, gender fluidity, addiction, inequality, indigenous displacement, and the eternal limits of human perspective—find in Lalonde a beguiling literary voice equal to the age, pushing not only at the boundaries of literature but at those of articulation and being. Lalonde gravitates here to the fable and the fairy tale, familiar and estranging in equal measure, to claw at the divide between our world and others—the animal, the alien—while inevitably falling back on, and forgiving, the ever-flawed human being.”
ANGÉLIQUE LALONDE was the recipient of the 2019 Journey Prize, has been nominated for a National Magazine Award, and was awarded an Emerging Writer’s residency at the Banff Centre. Her work has been published in numerous journals and magazines. She holds a PhD in Anthropology from the University of Victoria. Lalonde is the second-eldest of four daughters. She dwells on Gitxsan Territory in Northern British Columbia with her partner, two small children, and many non-human beings.
What was the first thing you did when you found out you were a finalist for this year’s Giller Prize?
Shook my hands out of the pent-up nervous energy gathered in my body while waiting to see whether I would be on the list or not during the process of getting my kids ready to go to daycare and school and myself ready for work, had a little cry, hugged my partner, and then headed out the door to drive us all to where we needed to be for the day.
Glorious Frazzled Beings is a richly imagined and vibrant collection of short fiction. What inspires you most about the short story form?
For me short stories are like playful games that are wholly engrossing when they’re unravelling onto the page as I work through them. Then they reach a point where they get wrapped up and I can move on to new iterations of play and the work of inventing new worlds hinting at me that they would like to be invented. Short stories feel like holding something closely, and then letting it fall away—approaching an impression, idea, relationship, question and spending time with that until it feels something of it has been transformed or something in me has been transformed in spending time with it.
For me short stories are like playful games that are wholly engrossing when they’re unravelling onto the page as I work through them.
I love reading short story collections to watch the breadth of where an author’s story-making goes, touching on wildly different things and yet run through by each author’s unique voice. More practically, I also don’t have a lot of time to write with my other life commitments, so short stories allow me to feel a sense of completion and don’t leave me feeling frustrated at losing threads between the small segments of time I’m given to write.
Many of the stories feature ghosts or supernatural-type elements. Can you talk more about why this is such a fascination?
There are so many possibilities for reality to take form, so many ways of seeing the more-than-human world in different cultures and in different time periods—different ways throughout time that humans have defined what is natural and beyond natural. There are really so many possibilities for stories to be otherwise and to carry us beyond and to tease into the everyday from different angles where we might see things we otherwise wouldn’t, especially if the world we find ourselves living in seems to be ill-fitting, as it is for so many people, and for so many of the beings who are damaged by human worldviews that exclude other beings from constellations of importance and agency.
I am curious about the stories these beings are telling all the time that we might not have learned the language to know but maybe they pass hints along to us in various forms that we could pick up on if we just knew how to pay attention. The world is really such a fantastically wonderful place in which our imaginations exist alongside creatures such as mosses, tardigrades, fungi that create zombies out of ants, and lovely moments of light that move us from one mode of being into another. I also have young children who I read to a lot and children’s books are full of magic and creatures becoming other creatures, wherein the boundaries of real and unreal are often fluid. Why shouldn’t we keep such magic in grown up stories?
At this particular moment in Canada’s history, what does our literature offer us?
This question makes me cringe a little, or a lot. Because Canada’s history is really so very ugly. So much pretending that things aren’t as bad as they are for those who are able to pretend. Which is not to say there isn’t beauty all over the place too, because we are privileged to live on the lands we call Canada.
But as I said in answer to the previous question, stories offer us so much in terms of seeing otherwise and I think the authors making up the Giller longlist and shortlist this year and the ways they are telling stories, and the stories they are telling offer us so much in terms of seeing the many worlds we are all living in bound up in the collective meeting places of the world we all share. There are so many storytellers telling stories about different ways of human hearts and bodies and the things that connect us as well as sever us from one another and the more than human beings we share worlds with. Our literature offers us here and now and time inverted and memory and beyond that.
What’s the last Canadian book that changed you in some way?
The lady with the big head is out there in the misty morning. Is she wearing a veil? What is she doing in my garden? The mist is sitting on the river, slightly spread over the land. I see the mountain beyond, and the lady with the big head stooped over my onions. Not like yesterday when the mist was so thick I wouldn’t have seen her if she had been there.
Was she out there yesterday, picking calendula seeds to save for next season? She didn’t ask me if she could tend my garden while I was in the house doing other things. She’s never talked to me at all. She avoids me if I try to approach her, floating off into the mist or the memory of mist, then reappearing later doing different things in different places. I saw her digging at an anthill with the bear that has been hanging around our yard. She used a stick and the bear used her big broad paws.
The lady with the big head was helping the bear, or the bear was helping the lady with the big head, I’m not sure which. Either way, they were digging up the anthill near the apple tree. I didn’t mind that. I had noticed the ants were in the sickly tree crawling all around and that probably was not a good sign, so maybe the lady with the big head and the bear were helping the apple tree too.
She might be taking some onions, or weeding, or eating slugs. I can’t tell exactly what she is doing because the veil that hangs down from her big head drapes over her body to the ground and hides her movements. Also the light has not yet come, only a faint blueness and all that mist. I could offer her a hot tea but if I walk out there she’ll float away from me.
Later I’ll go look and see if she has taken onions or left any knick-knacks. Once I found a spool of golden thread so strong, fine, and shiny, I knew it was magical. The kind of thread that could be used to build spiderwebs that are always visible no matter the light. Visible but still translucent, an ephemeral quality of there and not quite there, only gold instead of silver. It might be what she makes her veil out of, or at least what she uses to mend the veil, because now that I think of it the veil is not golden, it’s more of a purple-grey shadow. Sometimes she has it pulled back and I can almost make out her features as she goes about doing things ladies with big heads do. She looks a little bit like me and a little bit like Rod Stewart, which is an odd mix for a lady. A couple of times I’ve glimpsed her looking like my dog, John Black, who died last winter. She might have taken her skull from the forest, where we left the dog’s body, to use as a mask; it seems like something the lady with the big head would do.
Lady with the big head and the weight of her head
The lady with the big head is having trouble holding her head up. It’s dipping forward this week, jutting at the chin. A chiropractor would look at her and shudder, thinking of her unhappy spine, contorted and compressed by the heaviness of gravity. He would want to brace her somehow, crack her in all sorts of places, and have her do little exercises with devices of his own making to relieve the pressure on her neck.
Who can she consult for this, living as she does in the forest? Being only partway real? Who would book her in for an appointment with her lack of proper name and no address to speak of? No email or phone number to confirm a correct time? Who would make a call to the forest, following her trail to find where she is sleeping and wrench that crook from her neck? How would she pay them? Would a chiropractor accept dried mushrooms in payment for his services? Would he treat without an X-ray showing the insides of the lady with the big head’s troubled bones? Instead we build her a device from which she can hang upside down, with a long flat back that inverts once she’s strapped herself in. I hang there a lot when she’s not using it, feeling the blood pool in my head, imagining my spine unkinking so more of my life can bubble up through that crazy central nerve cluster that sends messages all through my body, making it so I can know.
Lady with the big head has a dream
She had a quiet dream, the lady with the big head. It was quiet so she kept sleeping. If it had been a loud raucous dream she would have startled herself out of it. She does not want to dream raucous dreams. Still, sometimes she does. She seeps in my window and makes me dream them too.