Magazine article World Literature Today

The Meagre Tarmac

Magazine article World Literature Today

The Meagre Tarmac

Article excerpt

Clark Blaise. The Meagre Tarmac. Emeryville, Ontario. Biblioasis (Consortium, distr.). 2011. isbn 9781926845159

In The Meagre Tarmac, Clark Blaise adds another eleven short stories to his two-dozen earlier books, all of which attempt to tease out what he has called, in an early essay, "The Voice of Unhousement" (Resident Alien, 1974), "the center of my imagination." Given even a cursory reading of his literary output, it would be difficult to argue that there is such a center. Most often, the failure to secure such a center, or identity, is the result of competing cultural values and practices. While the quest is doomed from the outset, the joy is in watching how, in each book, this question plays out. In The Meagre Tarmac, there is the distinct hope that a center might be possible, but only through a reconciliation of two desires. The desire for American romance is countered by a desire to fulfill the familial expectations of arranged marriages and respect for extended family models. This conflict is never resolved.

Certainly, Blaise explores in this collection an interspace between cultures, specifically in characters of the generation that "came over" from India in the 1960s and 1970s to America to earn their degrees and to make enough money to return, marry, and settle comfortably within their "own" culture. Such is the plan. Most of the men in these stories were part of the dot.com explosion and are well off, at least financially. In all other respects, these men are failures. The nature of these failures, however, is most often foregrounded in their personal relationships with other characters. They are certainly exacerbated by the cultural backgrounds, but these failures might better be described as the result of a kind of "restlessness." Characters continually sabotage their relationships even when it appears they have achieved what they've been looking for. …

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