Winner of the 2002 Drue Heinz Literature Prize Selected by Elizabeth Hardwick
It is difficult to see what lurks beneath the surface of a muddy river, an alligator-infested lake, or a John Blair short story. The deep currents that drive a demure, devout, church-going woman to shoot her husband; the ripple effect of a midnight rendezvous at church youth camp that goes slightly—then horribly—askew; the sinkholes that can swallow Porsche dealerships—or marriages; what is dredged up in American Standard cannot easily be forgotten.
Set mostly in central Florida, Blair’s stories are filled with people living lives of disquieting longing and stubborn isolation. For them, this is the American standard, as ubiquitous and undistinguished as vitreous china bathroom fixtures.
The characters' flailings and failures provoke that tingle of self-recognition (such anger, such loss could so easily be mine!) which only well-imagined stories can prompt.
Blair is an American original, portraying familiar landscapes from disconcerting angles. The stories in American Standard show a taut lyricism direct as a gut-punch.
Each story is poignant and beautiful, each sentence filled with the same reckless motion as these characters outracing time and last chances.
One of the most remarkable characters in these stories is Central Floida itself. Blair captures the intensity of its sunlight, clouds and sudden downpours . . . He also understands he powers of its lakes as a source of mystery for the young and solace for the world-weary.
There is depth, intelligence, and compassion in his stories. . .
. . . Blair's deepest gifts are in limning the emotional life of men. He can make them shuffle and sign, grunt and run away with the best of them.
Although Blair's flashiest gifts are in sketching a landscape - much of this book takes place in northern Florida and 'American Standard' captures the sad texture of itss sudden bogs and snake-ridden highway shoulders - Blair's deepest talent lay in limning the emotional life of men. He can make them shuffle, sigh, grunt and run away with the best of them.
Well-crafted and memorable stories . . . However tumultuous his plots—and he does sometimes toy with lurid situations—Blair always manages to subordinate the violence to his scenes to a subtle and thoroughgoing investigation of character, using the pressure of extremes not to cheat the reader with easy thrills, but to explore and give dimension to the people he creates. The result is a cast of rich and wholly convincing characters, all the more lifelike and compelling because their quarrels with the world are always grounded first in a fierce struggle with themselves.
John Blair was born in St. Petersburg, Florida. A self-proclaimed army brat, he “grew up everywhere,” but spent most summers visiting his grandparents in Lake Wales, Florida. A professor of English at Southwest Texas State University, Blair lives in San Marcos with his wife and son.