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Montreal Stories

by Clark Blaise

Author Clark Blaise has been publishing short stories for over 30 years, but many of his books have gone out of print. The Porcupine’s Quill deserves high praise for republishing selected stories in four volumes.

Readers of Clark Blaise will recognize the landscape in Montreal Stories. Much of his work is set in Montreal, Florida, and Pittsburgh, with shifts in place serving as a metaphor for the shape-shifting self grappling with identity. The collection gathers together some of the Blaise classics, including “I’m Dreaming of Rocket Richard” and “Eyes” – two of the strongest pieces in the collection. In “Rocket Richard,” a young boy’s alcoholic father moves his family from Montreal to Florida to make a fresh start. In “Eyes,” a newcomer to Montreal uneasily moves from anglo enclave to inner-city row house to Greek neighbourhood.

The collection adds two more recent stories, but these are less successful than the earlier material. In “Life Could Be a Dream (Sh-boom, Sh-boom),” the narrator’s college reunion is contrasted with a reunion of First World War vets 40 years before. In “The Belle of Shediac,” a teacher is imprisoned during the FLQ crisis, mistaken for a militant author whose work he has translated. Blaise tries to bring alive a Montreal he knew in the 1970s, but too much has changed – in the city and the world – for the story to be convincing. Here Montreal feels more reimagined than actual.

While it is a rare treat to see Blaise’s stories reassembled, the work is not well served by the series’ emphasis on geography. Blaise’s true terrain is the playing field of identity with all its internal divides: American/Canadian, English/French, Northern/Southern, past/present. When we see his Montreal stories forced to cohabit, it becomes apparent that Blaise’s obsessions, recurring images, and fictions/ non-fictions are really an evolving inner monologue that could be set anywhere.