Like A North American Education, Clark Blaise's second collection of stories [Tribal Justice] invites a thematic reading. It is about tribes and tribalism—Southerners, Jews, Negroes, Crackers, Quebecers, and assorted other characters caught somewhere between the recognized social groups—dominate these fine stories. But they are concerned as well with the general failure of justice in modern life. Not political justice, though that is dealt with more directly here than in the previous book, so much as the failure of simple human compassion in the most distressing circumstances, the mindless hatred generated by the 'necessary' defensiveness of tribes, beleaguered groups, desperate families, and their pathetic failure to love even themselves.
Within this environment—the contemporary worlds of Florida, Alabama, Quebec, and their recent, still vivid past (Blaise evokes the thirties and forties with great assurance)—the author sets his first-person narrators the task of learning and surviving. The best stories, ironically, are those which do not explicitly deal with the tribal justice motif: "Broward Dowdy", "The Fabulous Eddie Brewster", "Relief" and "I'm Dreaming of Rocket Richard". Here are splendid rites of passage, moments of painful insight, and genuine psychological initiation And there is real feeling, too, an emotional engagement with not only the narrator's dilemma but the other characters and the...
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