Pittsburgh Stories: The Selected Stories by Clark BlaisePittsburgh Stories: The Selected Stories by Clark Blaise

Pittsburgh Stories: The Selected Stories

byClark Blaise

Paperback | October 15, 2001

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`Written over four decades, Pittsburgh Stories, is the second in a projected four-volume set of Clark Blaise's selected short stories. Set largely during the forties and fifties, these nine stories, with one exception, are reminiscences about a distant Pittsburgh adolescence. The previous and inaugural collection in the series, Southern Stories, was also unified by one locale.

`Blaise's prowess as a writer is evident from the outset. The opening story, ``The Birth of the Blues,' written in 1983, is clearly the work of a skilful, deft craftsman. A well-honed tale, it impresses with its subtlety and detail. The protagonist, young Frank Keeler, witnesses his father's humiliation before a woman who has hired him to fix her pipes. Standing before the two Keelers in her bathrobe, she reprimands Frank's father and summarily dismisses him. In so doing, she sets both father and son alight with desire, ``becoming for Keeler, the prototype of all beautiful women. For his father, the most perfect bitch.' '

Clark Blaise has taught in Montreal, Toronto, Saskatchewan and British Columbia, as well as at Skidmore College, Columbia University, Iowa, NYU, Sarah Lawrence and Emory. For several years he directed the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. Among the most widely travelled of authors, he has taught or lectured in Ja...
Title:Pittsburgh Stories: The Selected StoriesFormat:PaperbackPublished:October 15, 2001Publisher:Porcupine's QuillLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0889842272

ISBN - 13:9780889842274

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Read from the Book

The narrator of Clark Blaise's story `Identity' describes a life `of sharp and inexplicable and unmendable breaks', a life `without completion' and, in that sense at least, much like the lives of the other protagonists in Blaise's Pittsburgh Stories. These are, for the most part, coming-of-age stories in which no one quite develops or advances in the accredited way, stories permeated by an air of obstruction and regret. Everywhere the will to explain and understand is confronted by the sheer, recalcitrant, unlovely obstinacy of the world. Even the familiar assumes, in Blaise's stories, the status of the `off plumb', the `slightly skewed'. Reality itself, for Blaise's characters, is more than a little problematic, so that `concept' and `theory' and `myth', however vague or unreliable, are inevitably invoked as alternative, if hopelessly inadequate, ways to think about the truth, ever seductive, ever out of reach. Even place is problematic in Blaise's work, `Pittsburgh' being at once a set of physical coordinates and a state of mind prompting characters to dream of an impossible, lost, beckoning someplace else. Often the other place is a Europe remembered or read about, but it is just as likely to be an even more remote someplace -- `anything that spoke of vast distance and remote time. Realities other than the South Side of Pittsburgh,' says the character in `Sitting Shivah with Cousin Benny', `earned my traitor's allegiance.' All the same, Blaise's Pittsburgh is not entirely without its charms. Occasionally there is nostalgia for the `real' Pittsburgh where the working-class or defeated Blaise protagonists cannot afford to live, the `East End' Pittsburgh of the genteel Carnegie Museum where on weekends a boy `sketched the animals and skeletons, then walked across the parking lot to Forbes Field to take advantage of free admission to Pirates' games after the seventh inning.' There are, in addition, nostalgias associated with the Pittsburgh of Willa Cather, Kenneth Burke and Malcolm Cowley, a mythic city where conversation bristles with ideas and the provincial has been permanently banished. But that Pittsburgh is rarely accessible to the hungry imagination of Blaise's youthful protagonists, and the longing for yet more remote, alien worlds is never far from the surface even in the more optimistic stories. It is tempting, of course, to account for the inexorable attraction to otherness by citing the facts of Blaise's peripatetic, cross-border, U.S.-Canadian life. This is a man, after all, who has been identified with several locales, who entitled one of his mixed-genre, semi-autobiographical books Resident Alien, who has seemed, in the words of Fenton Johnson, always `of and apart from the country of which he writes.' And yet the resort to biography, to Blaise's wanderlust and mixed Canadian-American identity, here seems just a little too easy. Blaise, after all, has been deeply invested in the places he writes about. It is not as if he offers to us in his stories mere tourist inventories of the American South, or Montreal, or Pittsburgh. In stories like `Dunkelblau' we can see the numbers on the Pittsburgh trolleys, smell the `acrid fumes', hear `the coughs and page-shufflings of the white-haired men and women' in the public library, with its `six-storey ceiling' and `polished wood'. The men coming home from work in Blaise's stories of the forties and fifties are `sooty, sweating', the buildings `smoke-blackened'. On clear days, `a rarity in Pittsburgh in those years, you can see through the blackened branches to the top of the Gulf Building.' A woman keeping house finds that, because of the pervasive soot, she has to launder the white curtains every week. Nor is the detail merely a matter of local colour. Blaise's characters move through Pittsburgh and its environs alert to its class conflicts and its baulked ambitions, its `Hunkie and Polack origins', its gilded age and its status as `the dirtiest city in America, with the ugliest history'. The desire to escape or at least to dream of escape is matched in intensity by a compensatory sense of reality, of a place with palpable claims on one's imagination, if not on one's loyalty. The Jewish names on the Pittsburgh Pirates' 1950s roster, intoned one after the other in `Sitting Shivah with Cousin Benny', constitute an inescapable token of intimacy, involvement. `They were ``our boys'',' the narrator concedes, though he is not a Jew, and he understands entirely when his Jewish uncle asks, `What are we running, a schlimazel farm? Too many of our boys on the field, not enough in the front office.' The world of this boy's childhood is not alien, not at all what some have described as an outsider's `placeless place' in a `timeless time'. No doubt there are mysteries and gaps in Blaise's several worlds, missing facts that make his Prairie towns, or h

Editorial Reviews

`More often than not, Blaise meets the high standard he has set for himself. In story after story, he deftly blends musings and incidents, subjecting all to searing analysis that never lapses into pat explanations. He's one of those ``genuine artists'' Chekhov celebrated in yet another letter to Suvorin, the ones who know full well you'd best keep your eyes wide open.'