From a High Thin Wire
Beverly Rasporich is a professor in the Faculty of Communication and
Culture at the University of Calgary. She is the author of Dance of the
Sexes: Art and Gender in the Fiction of Alice Munro and Magic Off Main:
The Art of Esther Warkov.
Although this is Joan Clark’s first volume of short stories, she is not a novice writer. Her literary successes include being co-founder and co-editor of Dandelion magazine and author of several juvenile fictions, Girl of the Rockies (Ryerson, 1968), Thomasina and the Trout Tree (Tundra, 1971), and The Hand of Robin Squires (Clarke, Irwin, 1977).
While From a High Thin Wire is directed towards the mature reader, the interest in the lives of girls expressed in her juvenile fiction persists. A number of the stories focus on early, formative experiences for female characters — a first love, a first sexual awakening, a first date with a college hero, even a first operation. As ordinary as these situations may seem, they are developed with some interesting complexities and are occasionally presented from some singular perspectives. The girl’s first love, for example, in “God’s Country,” is shaped by the dramatic environment of a Cape Breton mining community and is reviewed, with a surprise twist, in a middle-aged reunion at the mine. The first sexual experience of the girl in “Her Father’s Daughter” is occasioned by her drunken father and is pleasantly incestuous. In “Historical Fiction,” the date with the college man is interpreted through the fanciful, literary imagination of the college girl. And the appendix ordeal of the girl, Rachael, in “The Tail of the Female,” is narrated by her mother and juxtaposed with the mother’s own similar childhood experience.
Most of these narratives unfold with interest; but unfortunately, for this reader, their resolutions are not always satisfying. Like the celebrated Canadian writer, Alice Munro, whose early work (Dance of the Happy Shades, Lives of Girls and Women) is particularly suggested by Clark’s autobiographical tone and concern with the maturing female, Clark would appear to depend on epiphany, on having us see in a meaningful way, at the moment of climax. Like Munro, Clark supplies us with fragments of experience which are largely realized through “visual effect” (p. 53). In some stories, such as “God’s Country,” this technique culminates in a moment of visionary understanding; in others, this reader is left with the feeling of something missed.
Despite this unevenness, and the odd lapse into overly detailed exposition, this collection is a contribution to that relatively new genre of fiction which deals with the education and aspirations of the female. Such is the thrust of the volume, neatly summarized in the final words of the sister in the last, title story, “From a High Thin Wire”: “We learned to fly ... What more do you want?” (p. 150).