(Pittsburgh)I grew up in Florida and John Blair writes short stories about people in Florida. But Blair's Florida sure ain't the Florida I remember. Perhaps it has something to do with what we lit teachers used to call point-of-
view.The Florida I remember was bright sunshine and sudden wonderful lightning- and- thunder storms, weekends at Pablo Beach swimming in the womb-warm waters of the South Atlantic. We'd leave the house open whenever we went somewhere, and when we'd come home, all the dishes and furniture and radios and kitchen utensils would still be there. It was a sunny time, in a gentle land, filled with ease and sub-tropical beauty.The Florida of John Blair is filled with creatures out of the swamps which, in most cases, are not your crocodiles, rats, coral snakes or water-moccasins but people. When the weather turns up, it is either hot, sultry, uncomfortable or filled with storms to blow you away. The kids are a mess.
There are drug dealers on motorcycles getting in bloody wrecks. If you go swimming in the old swimming hole, there is "the glare of cold eyes" all around you. There are screwed-up women either dancing joylessly, naked, or murdering their boyfriends. There are hysterectomies, drunks fighting each other, and runaway juveniles.
For a change of pace, we get suicidal pastor's wives, condoms sprinkled all over the landscape, and this church scene in which everything is not so copacetic:
he pitched forward and threw up onto the seat of the pew in front of him, what was left of a half of a case of Miller High Life tearing loose like something vital. His chest cramped and he couldn't get his breath, and then he vomited again, into the aisle.
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Maybe it all has to do with, as we used to say in the south, the way you were "raised up." After all, I was there in the 40s and 50s with a family that was only mildly dysfunctional, in a town where the drunks did their barfing down on Duval Street rather than in the Presbyterian church and the kids weren't sticking needles in their arms, listening to rap music talking about rip-offs and "hohs" and "fuggin'." Hell, I don't know: maybe television and the American Capitalist System and natural born greed has finally done its job, turning Florida into just another one of Dante's Circles.
Or maybe Blair is a guy with the required peckish view of humanity that you need to get published these days. In my salad days, those who wrote about the south --- William Faulkner, Erskine Caldwell, Eudora Welty, Richard Wright, Truman Capote, James Agee --- offered up to the reader the most deprived, hopeless cases, battered by poverty, injustice, racism --- rednecks or crackers or blacks in the most desperate conditions of sweaty poverty. But in their writings there was always a small flower of nobility given to even the most piteous of them --- an edge of hope that could turn a Snopes into a character of wonder.
Not so in American Standard. All hope is blotted out with blood, lunatic suicides, and old people full of the "yellow smell of their age."
God knows why people would ever want to read this trash, and god knows why a respectable university press sees the need to spawn this morbid view of the universe of men. The motto of the first story is , Be careful, watch for alligators, stay away from men like me. The last: God knows what's in your heart. "American Standard" is the trade name you see on toilets. Figures.