Clark Blaise's I HAD A FATHER is perhaps the best memoir I have read since George Bowering's Pinboy. (And I read a LOT of memoirs, one of my favorite genres.) Both are Canadian writers and in fact I learned of Blaise from reading Bowering. As Blaise puts it, the two were "softball buddies" in Montreal back in the 70s. Bowering went on to become Canada's first Poet Laureate and achieved considerable fame. Blaise not so much. But it's certainly not because of a lack of talent. Because his tale of a poorly educated, reckless and ill-fated French-Canadian father who married several times - "an opportunist, a self-deceiver, and a con-man" - is an absolutely fascinating read.
And Clark's own story is no less absorbing. Born with a mysterious type of dystrophy, he didn't walk until three or talk until four. But his mother was his champion, nurturning and encouraging him throughout his hardscrablle childhood, lived in backwater Florida swamp country (where worms invaded his soles and rectum), inner city Cincinnati (where he was taunted and beaten) and various other short term places all over the U.S. and Canada. But he overcame all this to earn graduate degrees and several prestigious administrative and teaching positions at various colleges and universities, most notably at the University of Iowa, where he stayed for many years.
At the heart of this book, however, is an attempt to understand who his father was and where Blaise himself belongs in the overall scheme of things. Is he Canadian or is he an American? Because although both his parents were Canadian, Blaise was born in Fargo. His whole life has seemed to be a quest for a lasting identity.
But I don't want to overanalyze this book. It is simply a beautifully told story of one man's unusual life, which also sheds valuable light on the history of the French-Canadian people - their insularity, their Catholicism and their refusal to respect international borders, a diaspora of sorts.
This was simply one hell of a good read, hard to put down. Very highly recommended. As a writer, Clark Blaise may be somewhat obscure, but now that he's on my reader's radar I've got to read a few more of his books. Soon, I hope.
- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER