Clark Blaise Critical Essays

Introduction

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Clark Blaise 1940–

American-born Canadian short story writer and novelist.

Blaise's fiction is strongly autobiographical and is influenced by the fact that he is a product of several cultures. Born in the United States of a French-Canadian father and a Manitoban mother, Blaise spent his childhood in many parts of the American South and Midwest. He settled in Canada in 1966 and in 1973 became a Canadian citizen. Blaise's rootlessness is apparent in the feelings of alienation and loneliness which permeate his fiction; he understands the problem of being part of several cultures yet belonging to none.

Blaise's first collection of short fiction, A North American Education (1973), is divided into three sections, each with a different narrator and containing stories based on different stages of Blaise's life. The stories are told in the first person, and a common voice narrates them, although Blaise gives him three different names. In the first stories of A North American Education, the narrator is a young man, settled in Montreal but not yet comfortable with his surroundings. The final third of the book, set in Florida, is narrated by the same character as a child and reveals the origins of the narrator's feelings of cultural displacement. The child moves frequently with his parents and is an outcast wherever he goes. The book is filled with horrifying images and situations, including emotional and physical childhood injuries, adolescent sexual frustrations, and adult homes corrupted by voyeurs and cockroaches. Tribal Justice (1974), Blaise's next collection of short fiction, is similar to A North American Education in its use of a single narrative voice and in its emphasis on the protagonist's cultural confusion. In this book Blaise is also concerned with the "tribal" rituals which characterize North America as a whole and which differentiate the various geographical, ethnic, and religious groups within it.

The themes and techniques of Blaise's fiction collections recur in his first novel, Lunar Attractions (1979). Blaise uses a single character, instead of many characters with one voice, and tells one story instead of several related ones. Still, critics note that Lunar Attractions is quite episodic for a novel and thus very similar to his earlier work. Some also contend that Blaise's strict attention to detail detracts from the cohesiveness of the narrative. Blaise's recent novel Lusts (1983) is his least autobiographical work to date. Although the "I" of the story shares some qualities with Blaise's previous protagonists, this tale of a novelist's marriage to a brilliant, suicidal poet is not based on Blaise's life. However, both the protagonist and his wife are plagued by the sense of displacement, of not belonging, which is present throughout Blaise's work.

Blaise has earned almost unanimous approval from critics. He is praised for his ability to create meaningful, often shocking or horrific scenes using only the materials of everyday life. Through careful selection of image and detail from his own experiences, Blaise has created "slices of life" of universal impact.

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 53-56 and Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 5.)