On the Line: Readings in the Short Fiction of Clark Blaise, John Metcalf, and Hugh Hood


130 pages
ISBN 0-920802-31-1





Reviewed by Elizabeth Stieg

Elizabeth Stieg taught English in Toronto.


Robert Lecker’s critical study of the short fiction of Clark Blaise, John Metcalf, and Hugh Hood is a careful and detailed evaluation of each author’s attitude toward the narrative act. Rather than viewing these writers in terms of thematic contexts, Lecker has focussed on what is distinctive in the work of each, dealing in minute particulars rather than in generalizations and eschewing traditional “critical frames” in favour of direct confrontation with the printed word.

In his examination of the fiction of Clark Blaise, Lecker finds a recurring pre-occupation with the tension between life and art, what Lecker refers to as “raw” versus “cooked” experience. In Blaise’s fiction, the narrator is confronted with the destruction of his carefully erected patterns of order and catapulted into a tragic awareness of life as perverse chaos. “Blaise,” Lecker remarks, “is primarily concerned with isolating discrete instants of awareness which, in retrospect, give the maturation process meaning and form.” These “instants of awareness” are also what give the narrative process its distinctive “meaning and form.”

Lecker organizes the chapter dealing with Metcalf around the three stages in perceptual evolution which he sees depicted in that author’s work: boyhood, adolescence, and manhood. At each state he observes a progression in awareness of self and of art to which the former is intimately related.

In the book’s concluding chapter, Lecker provides an intensive reading of Hugh Hood’s “Looking Down from Above,” a story which he finds “self-consciously explores and interrogates the narrative act.” He charts the evolution of awareness in the narrator through his encounters with individuals and his natural surroundings as he ascends the mountain of vision. It is a sensitive and convincing reading of the short story which relies on the details of the text rather than on critical preconceptions. The appending of the story itself to the criticism is further evidence of Lecker’s concern with a direct response to the fiction rather than one which is mediated by critical theory and contexts.

Lecker chose to focus on the fiction of Hood, Blaise, and Metcalf because he believes them to be “the most accomplished short story writers in Canada today.” This study should do much toward encouraging others to share that assessment.


Lecker, Robert, “On the Line: Readings in the Short Fiction of Clark Blaise, John Metcalf, and Hugh Hood,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed February 22, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/38655.