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Southern Stories

by Clark Blaise

There’s a telling scene in “A North American Education,” one of 13 stories in Southern Stories, the first volume in a new series of Clark Blaise’s collected shorter works. The teenaged narrator and his father, two displaced Montrealers starting a new life in the American South, are pressed inside a side-show tent in Kentucky watching an aging stripper taunt and tease the crowd of farmers. The father has taken his son there in lieu of the traditional “facts-of-life” lecture, and as a farm boy writhes on the ground in the grips of his first orgasm, the father quickly ushers the son outside. The narrator is left to decipher the alien ritual he has just witnessed, and this sense of the outsider – usually a Canadian – looking in at another culture informs all of the collection’s stories.

In less able hands, the stories might not rise above the typical male coming-of-age saga, but Blaise turns the familiar territory of late childhood/early pubescence – with its obsession with status, identity, and women’s breasts – into a series of almost allegorical explorations of adult initiation rites. Blaise’s narrators, perpetual outsiders in a Southern culture that has changed little since the Civil War, observe rather than join their host society, and their passage into adulthood is marked by estrangement and mystery.

The pieces collected in Southern Stories are some of Blaise’s earliest works, but even the weakest, which read like artist’s sketches of a yet-to-be-completed work, display the sure hand of a skilled writer. And though Blaise is unflinching in his portrayal of the poverty and backwardness of the post-war American South, a muted sense of wonder leads the reader over some very rough terrain.


Reviewer: James Grainger

Publisher: The Porcupine’s Quill


Price: $17.95

Page Count: 192 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 0-88984-219-1

Released: Nov.

Issue Date: 2001-1

Categories: Fiction: Short