canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

Montreal Stories: Selected Stories 3
by Clark Blaise
The Porcupine’s Quill, 2003

Reviewed by Kane X. Faucher

CLARK BLAISE: Where is our Artaud and Beckett?—Instead a conventional John Metcalfery. The People Are Missing.

Let me preface by saying that I do not know how to re-view for a review, but that I will view in terms of singularity, and all repetition will take the form of viewing again in light of other things once.

The pitter patter of Canadian nostalgia through the monotonous filter of the explanatory voice of a narrator a bit too content to rest upon the pointing toward those nostalgic signposts can be a bit much to bear. The entry point of these short stories by Clark Blaise is acquisition of language, and there is innocence and irreverence, intransigence and a defiling, in terms of the narrator’s mediation with an alien tongue. But however thinly sliced and arranged for the readers, this struggle for language is precisely a sloppy metaphor for a horny little uprooted boy in a city luridly drenched in sex and Catholicism. As literature, O greatly touted Category, it has a very pedestrian feel, leveraging itself toward prizes rather than challenging readers…Which is to say, dearest ones, it is a work that makes a cheap grab for topical stereotypical elements and Canadiana signifiers so as not to clash with one’s IKEA decor. But I suppose we all get the literature we deserve.

Blaise pulls in the pirate channels by makeshift antennae, but what exactly will be done with this kludge of waves and language? And when language proves too problematic, aim for nationalistic genealogy, the order of the name, the staatsangehorigkeit of the familial naming familiar, languishing in the irony that a name with an allegedly clear geographical origin has no bearing upon the language of the singularity that holds it. Quaint Canadian anecdotes, conventional text, all the rage among those who enjoy quaint Canadiana, positioning itself for its grimy dub under Guv’nor General citations. If you want the challenging content of a succinct Borgesian short story with levels and layers enough to give you vertigo, then this book is not for you.

But Clark Blaise has been luridly decorated enough, with a long list of grand ol’ accomplishments and institutional gypsying about the world. So much so that I am sure that he can take a few potshots from this unknown marginalia critic. If you are of the coffee table book persuasion, eroding away in your posh hovel to Mozart and a basement with a few naughty magazines, altogether a very plain individual who wants to be stirred gently and not shaken vigorously, then by all means make this book a great ziggurat in your collection of treasures. But if you want to get sick, mad, twisted, and more than just graze the surface of the real conditions of experience, this book is better done justice torn apart and used as bookmarks.

Blaise reminds me of a craftsmen friend of mine who made tables for a living. He knew exactly how to fabricate anything you asked him to, but never could spontaneously break from style without a concrete design hanging over his eyes. As it stands, Blaise recreates another quasi-bourgeois drizzle, another not-quite penny dreadful but a passable text replete with cute phrasings and other technical wizardry they teach in all the elite writing schools in the country. But then again, I’m not key on John Metcalf as much as the others, and am waiting like an anxious schoolgirl for a Canadian Celine or an astrozoic Artaud to give me a body without organs, a text without explanations. These infinitely drawn out apologies make for yet another saccharin hash of well-worn tropes we have all become weary of. At most, this reflective text gets “zany”, and perhaps would serve its function as a touristy book of polite anecdotes for those locked in a dialectic of form and content in a Montreal hotel room. Just when the short stories become interesting, that there will be some grand cathartic narrative trajectory that sends us hurtling on a wild toboggan ride through Hades, the story stops, as if the writer became tired and frightened. Where is the dissolution? When do we get off this rambling train of memorabilia and little arrayed doilies? Blaise sets all his scenes behind glass partitions, which makes it hard for me to care what happens. He holds the hammer, but he fails to employ it and make merry with shards of narrative that threaten complete evisceration. I will say this: the dialogue was a bit blocky and wooden, but it redeems itself as Blaise gets rolling to the terminus. But on the whole, a passive vehicle for passive vehicles. Despite the travails of Montreal’s iron-fisted Catholic history, Blaise still makes a pretty floral arrangement of safe props in an arcanum of tired grey things, retaining some innate beautiful image of a city where all the streets are named after saints and separatists. And, as our pal Freddy the Syphilitic says, to “experience a thing as beautiful necessarily means experiencing it wrongly” (Nietzsche, Writings from the Late Notebooks, 10:167).

Kane X. Faucher is a dystopic polemical poststructuralist and novelist. He reads Celine’s later works aloud to Dickensian street urchins and downwardly mobile corporocrats. He drinks cheap wine and yells at his neighbours.






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