Norman Levine

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 413

[In A North American Education and Tribal Justice] Blaise looks at his American upbringing knowing that he is French Canadian from Quebec. And when he makes use of his Canadian material it is with the detachment of having lived for much of his life as an American.

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He calls his pieces "short fiction"—an accurate description. For they are not short stories in the accepted sense. What he is able to do is to trap pockets of sheer messy life. In the novella-length "The March", in Tribal Justice, it is not the opening and the final sections (about American university students who end up marching on Washington for a civil rights demonstration) that are important. They are there to shape the direction of the story. But it is the middle—the bridge section—where the narrator goes to Quebec City for a short while and gets involved with some young French Canadian separatists, ending with a picnic in the Laurentians—that is unforgettable. Several of his pieces work in the same way….

[Blaise is one of] a growing number of young [Canadian] short-story writers whose main concern is to show what it is like to be alive at a certain time, in a certain place, without making a "story" about it. Against this background, the form taken by Clark Blaise's "short fiction" can be better understood.

Of his two books, A North American Education is the more unified. He goes from the present (a university lecturer in Montreal) backwards to his childhood in Florida—stopping briefly, in between, on a trip to Europe. His final section, four stories about his growing up in the South, is the most lyrical. It also contains his most sympathetic character in the portrayal of his father. For Blaise has a sympathetic eye and ear for those that society rejects, whether it is the Southern poor or the European immigrants in the seedier sections of Montreal. I find him less interesting, less convincing, whenever he tries to write a piece as a short story in the more usual form, as in "The Seizure". And now and then, in the way he uses language, and in his preambles, the academic in him overrides the natural writer. But these are small quibbles. He is easily the most exciting Canadian writer I have read in years.

Norman Levine, "The Big Broadcast," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1976; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3870, May 14, 1976, p. 588.∗

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