Clark Blaise

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Anthony S. Brennan

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 453

Clark Blaise gives us in Lunar Attractions what almost amounts to an anthropological study of the initiation rites that an American boy, David Greenwood, passes through in the 1940's and 1950's. The boy elaborates, in a childhood in Florida and an adolescence in a northern city named Palestra, a magical world of myth, ritual, and totemic significance that seems as strange and exotic as that of a primitive tribesman in New Guinea…. The book moves the hero along steadily through experiences which close down chapters of innocence. There are lovingly detailed accounts of the arcane lore of Triple A baseball, stamp collecting, museum haunting, archaeology, and the secret thrills to be experienced in burlesque houses. Though there are connective tissues in these vividly written sections, there is a sense at times that they could be detached and presented as short stories or as essays for The New Yorker. Blaise summarizes each phase of Greenwood's life with generalizing comments, but what is missing is the more pervasive irony that Joyce applied to Stephen Dedalus in putting the whole career into perspective. We are at times locked into the obsessive egocentrism of adolescence. Though much of this is deliberate, the result is that many of the secondary characters—the parents and the friends Wesley, Irving, Paul Gaylord—persist as static shadowy grotesques. Out of all the confusing influences, however, we are made to feel how lonely and bewildering is David's task of trying to frame an identity for himself. The sexual confusion he experiences culminates in an extraordinary relationship with a schizoid youth, Larry Zywotko, who transforms himself into a girl, Laurel, to seduce his schoolmates. In the bizarre murder of this youth, we have a compelling image of the tragic maladjustment that results from the puritan restraint writ large in the world David has to cope with. In such passages the imaginative flourish of Blaise's prose marks him as one of the most gifted writers of his generation. (pp. 139-40)

[There] is a limitation in this novel that is a little troubling. The accumulation of detail about Greenwood's life, though brilliantly vivid, is in the end a bit oppressive. There are times when the obsessive self-analysis is too knowing, too clinically close to a casebook study. This may simply be an accurate reflection of the adolescent's need to come to terms with all the ambiguities in his life…. Blaise presents such an overkill of detail that we feel close to the clinical studies of O'Neill and Pinter where the ethical choices of true tragedy are occluded. (p. 140)

Anthony S. Brennan, in a review of "Lunar Attractions" (copyright by Anthony S. Brennan; reprinted by permission of the author), in The Fiddlehead, No. 122, Summer, 1979, pp. 137-40.∗

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