Rough trade: Kevin Lambert's 'Querelle of Roberval'

  • by Jim Piechota
  • Tuesday August 9, 2022
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author Kevin Lambert
author Kevin Lambert

Canadian author Kevin Lambert's second novel is a heady affair revolving around issues of domination, labor equality, sexuality, and violent exploitation at the hands of a cocksure sex-god-like man named Querelle.

If this lead character's name sounds familiar, it can be found formerly in Jean Genet's 1947 tale "Querelle de Brest" and, in Lambert's hands, has been relocated to Roberval, Quebec, a small hamlet on the banks of the Lac Saint-Jean, and reincarnated as a 27-year-old sawmill worker joining a rowdy band of workers in unionization.

But before the story even gets rolling, we are introduced to Querelle's sexual prowess in all its salacious glory. After an abrupt departure from Montreal where his tiresome friends bragged about their lofty goals, he arrives in Roberval as a big fish in a smaller pond. He makes quick work capturing the attention of the horniest men and "the little slutboys of love" in the town, despite the vitriolic anger of these boys' fathers who have formed into a vengeful mob.

Enticing the boys with a detailed Grindr profile, Querelle is "not known for his smartness, but in the blows from his pelvis there flickers a different kind of genius."

Not only has Querelle's beautiful body and insatiable libido become legendary, but it's also put a target on his back regarding the nasty rumors circulating around the small town about his responsibility in the disappearance of a local teenaged boy.

Tensions are running high as the employees of the sawmill begin striking while the bosses, a vicious father and son team, seethe with anger and violent resentment at the labor conflict that is costing them thousands of dollars each day and weeks of bad publicity.

Impressive couplings

Despite this, Querelle is unbothered at work, observing how predictably his dullard straight co-workers behave and unabashedly describing his dalliances with men. He boasts loudly about his "most impressive couplings" to whomever is within earshot embodying the type of dude who masturbates under the table during union meetings while glancing at NSFW photos on his phone.

A subplot involving the sister of a downtrodden co-worker pales in comparison to the sordid exploits of a teenaged trio of rebellious urchins who busy themselves smoking crack, having unprotected sex with each other, and heaving Molotov cocktails into homes and busy businesses on Christmas Eve.

As the strike reaches its boiling point and violence takes its toll on Querelle, the three nasty vulture boys head out for the night high on meth and marijuana to defile a corpse they discover on a baseball field.

Previously published in French in 2018, the book has won France's Marquis de Sade Prize among other awards in Quebec and Montreal. This English translation will certainly garner the author an expanded fanbase, particularly those who may have missed out on his smashing debut "You Will Love What You Have Killed."

Going into the novel without knowing anything about Lambert's writing can be deceptive, however, with selected lyrics from "Work Bitch" by Britney Spears as a campy, innocently goofy epigraph. It's a curious start, but this novel is so very far from bubblegum pop music; it's a piece of art that pushes boundaries and will either repel or attract a reader, depending on how deep a dive into exploitation fiction you want to take.

Amidst and despite all the violence and depravity layered within these pages, Lambert illustrates his shameless protagonist and his unapologetic deviance as consistently "honest and natural."

Definitely not for the easily offended, only fans of the kind of bizarre, perverse, and controversially provocative fiction that put writers like Dennis Cooper on the literary map will enjoy discovering Lambert's graphic yet lyrical language style, unfettered storytelling bravado, and, of course, his intense, daring vision.

'Querelle of Roberval' by Kevin Lambert, translated from the French by Donald Winkler; Biblioasis, $16.95

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