Clark Blaise Russell M. Brown - Essay

Russell M. Brown

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[A North American Education, a] collection of Clark Blaise's fiction, is most impressive, if at times not fully satisfying. Both these facts arise from the use Blaise makes of an autobiographical voice, the ability, which is his particular talent, of creating the illusion that the reader is the confidant of an author relating anecdotes of an intimate and revealing nature. This sense that one is dealing with autobiographical fiction is unavoidable; it comes from the feel of the stories, it is insisted upon on the dust jacket, it is mused upon by one of Blaise's narrators:

I used to write miniature novels, vividly imagined, set anywhere my imagination moved me. Then something slipped. I started writing of myself and these vivid moments in a confusing flux.

Within his stories Blaise's protagonists experience just such moments in just such flux, and their experiences are shared by the reader as well with striking immediacy. Blaise has elsewhere disavowed the short story as shaped by Joyce and Hemingway, but his stories are still more traditional than experimental in form—and their conclusions frequently have the appearance of Joycean epiphanies. However, rereading shows these to be pseudo-epiphanies which serve not to reveal something, but to lead the reader back into the depths of the story, leaving him to reflect on the experience more than to understand it. Thus in "Eyes", the shortest but perhaps the best story of the collection, the conclusion functions not as resolution but as emblem, encapsulating the emotional mood of the story (indeed of the book), one of alienation, dislocation—a mood the story creates not through straight-forward narrative, but through careful juxtaposition of not obviously related incidents.

It is in the creation of these small incidents of dramatic impact that Blaise shows his skill, finding them in the most mundane events and structuring his narrative around them…. [Blaise's writing tends] to focus on the trivial stuff of quotidian life, with the inherent danger that goes with such focus—that of creating minimal art, of working one remove from the journal. But the stories are consistently made artful by their author's knack of imparting or implying significance in the events that he chronicles…. (p. 114)

The dissatisfaction I feel in reading this book centres around two problems created by the use...

(The entire section is 1006 words.)