Reviewed by Ian Thomas Shaw
Satire, science fiction, dystopia—there are healthy doses of all of this in Michel Basilières' A Free Man.
The plot is told during an all-night bender with the protagonist, Basilières (yes, named after the author) and his old comrade-in-toking-up from Montreal, Skid Roe. Unannounced, Skid turns up on Basilières' doorstep in Toronto after a ten-year absence. Aided by some of the best “product” of the Sunshine Coast, Skid recounts to Basilières an epic tale of lust gone wrong, entrapment by a devious time-travelling robot, and a bleak peek at what the future holds for mankind.
Skid, trapped in a minimum-wage job at a bookstore, is infatuated with a sensual co-worker, NaNa. There is more to NaNa than meets the eye, and she secretly exploits Skid for her lucrative cinematic sideline. Unaware that he is just a patsy, Skid fumbles about in his girlfriend experience with NaNa, who is clearly out of his league. Then Lem, a robot from the future, pops into his life. Skid is initially unnerved by the robot, but he, the ultimate narcissist, soon appreciates the benefits that Lem offers him. Of particular note is Lem's ability to shape-shift into NaNa for Skid's gratification. Lem convinces Skid to return with him to the future to save humanity. There, side-lined by the rise of a robot master race, human beings have become slothful, unfit to survive and disinterested in reproducing. Lem has gathered a few human survivors on his isolated farm to save them from extinction, or at least that is what he says. Lem asks Skid to help him to revitalize the human race by copulating with as many females as possible. But our hapless hero even flops at this.
Skid Roe is Basilièrses' modern man—the Charlie Chaplin of our time. Quintessentially self-indulgent, easily duped and quickly emasculated, he is the thirty-ish male loser in a society already placing a greater value on technology than on human interaction. And his time journey and failed amorous adventures are less-than-subtle warnings about where the aimless direction of i-millenialism in our Modern Times will lead us.
A highly original writer, Basilières is a kaleidoscope of edging writing. But he is hardly a prolific writer—he has only written two novels over the course of eleven years. He is, however, a profound writer with a good deal of Kerouac in him. His satire is as sharp as Rawi Hage's, and indeed with a great deal more humour. In an age where Canadian literature is far too taken up with the unnecessary (and boring) angst of writers grappling with deceptions of their middle-class upbringings, Basilières' writing cuts through the crap like a knife through butter.
A Free Man is published by ECW Press.