, the first volume of Clark Blaise's selected stories, drops the reader waist-deep in the swamps of Florida. This is not the Florida of oranges and tourism. It is the South of segregation, cross burnings, and police brutality, where poverty makes the characters aware of the minute details of their physical environment: "It was blistering hot inside. Even the swarm of fruit flies buzzing around the mounds of lavender-crusted oranges were anxious to escape."
Many of the stories revolve around the experiences of young boys, giving Southern Stories the feel of a memoir. (Blaise, born to Canadian parents, spent much of his childhood in the American South.) Characters reappear, usually in or near the town of Hartley. While the harsh circumstances there can sometimes harden, some people, like Frankie in "Giant Turtles, Gliding in the Dark," remain sensitive: "What was bad about worms was their helplessness. They were meant to be hurt. There wasn't anything that could happen to a worm besides getting stepped on in the rain or being squished on a hook." Later pieces examine a Canadian family's pursuit of the American Dream. "A North American Education" begins as a young boy's suburban sexual awakening--"How close it was to madness"--and ends as a sweet tribute to his father, bringing to mind Philip Roth's early works. In a book rich with history, Blaise, with his French-Canadian characters leaping into the American melting pot, showcases an increasingly common figure, the North American. --Moe Berg
From Publishers Weekly
Canadian Blaise (author of 12 previous books, including Lusts and If I Were Me) gathers 13 early short stories, all set in the grim, steaming poverty of north-central Florida in the 1930s, '40s and '50s. Autobiographical in inspiration, they reflect Blaise's own childhood as an intelligent child of Canadian parents struggling to make their way in a world of rednecks, migrant workers, tarpaper shacks, swamps and privation. Carefully worded and beautifully constructed, these tales reveal Blaise's talent as a storyteller, as well as his dark view of human nature. In "A Fish Like a Buzzard," two quarrelsome young brothers go fishing on a Florida lake, but only one may come back. In "A North American Education," a father takes his son to a county fair peep show to teach him about sex, but the lesson has unpleasant consequences. "The Fabulous Eddie Brewster," a clever story of clouded family loyalty, suspicion and wartime secrets, is one of the collection's strongest. Entries tell of infidelity, racism and religious intolerance-of a boy's deep and inexplicable admiration for his father, driven by "blind lusts," and a family's business betrayal and their subsequent retreat to escape their failure and humiliation. Though Blaise's volume is a superb example of controlled, elegant writing, readers should not expect to find many moments of humor or happiness. As Johnson notes in his introduction, "an open-ended terror underlies these stories.... [and] the characters never fully comprehend the forces that have been brought to bear upon them.
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