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The Canadian Review of American Studies, Volume VIII, Number 2, Fall, 1977 Boundaries: Both Physical and Metaphysical Suzanne Henning Uphaus Joyce Carol Oates. Crossing the Border. New York: Vanguard Press, Inc., 1976.256 pp. Joyce Carol Oates is an author known for both the quality and the quantity of her work. More specifically, her many novels and short stories deal 1 most frequently with violence, both physical and psychological, and they, often feature lower class protagonists. Firmly rooted in the tangible and sordid details of American life, her fiction is typically set in the back streets or the suburbs of specific American cities or in the dreary shacks of the1 poor white in the South or the American Midwest. Indeed, the particularization of the oppressive details of lower class American life has become Oates' trademark. It is with some curiosity, therefore, that we turn to Crossing the Border, a collection of fifteen short stories, twelve of which are set in Canada. What has this formerly uncompromisingly American writer to say of Canada? For those who know that Oates has long been teaching and living in Canada the volume assumes added importance, for the observations in it can be neither cursory nor superficial. Teaching, as she does at the University of Windsor, located on the U.S.-Canadian border, Oates would seem to be an ideal source of information concerning the cultural differences between the two countries. This differentiation between the American and Canadian cultures isa topic of inexhaustible interest to contemporary Canadians. We need to have reaffirmed the belief that Canada is not totally Americanized and thus we are eager to learn how outsiders perceive us. We wish such perceptions to reinforce our belief that there are distinctions to be made between the two cultures, perhaps hoping that inherent in the differentiation will 237 , heanacknowledgement that the Canadian way of life 1ssomehow superior. Ofcourse Oates is far too intelligent for such meaningless value judg~ ments.Instead she deals with the individual, the individual American movingto Canada, the individual Canadian academic. Joined, these two themesreflect Oates' private and professional lives as an American who hasmoved to Canada to teach as a member of a Canadian academic 1 community. Severalof the stories in Crossing the Border actually deal with the physical activity of crossing the American-Canadian border. Almost all of the stories, however, can be said to deal with a different "border:· the thin and often 1 indistinguishableboundary between the "Canadian" and the "American"· cultures.That there are differences, psychological rather than physical : boundaries, Oates repeatedly demonstrates. But to pinpoint the exact nature ofthesedifferences is far more difficult. 1 Halfof the stories in Crossing the Border deal with an American couple, Evanand Renee Maynard who, in the first and title story, are "Crossing 1 theBorder" into Canada. The Maynards have emigrated because Evan, ' abrilliantyoung biologist, discovers that the U.S. government project for ; which he has been working, euphemistically called "defense biology" (p. 13), 1sinfact '"manufactured death" (p. 209), disease warfare. Appalled, Evan ' andRenee emigrate to Canada; at the border they suddenly feel "released, 1 free, blameless" (p. 11). Renee believes that "Crossing the border she will 1 forget"(p. 12), and even her name reflects her hope for "A new life, a newcountry" (p. 13). And as Renee looks at the map in her lap, a few blocks from the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit, she realizes that the "border , between two nations is always indicated by broken but definite lines, to 1 indicatethat it is not quite real in any physical sense but very real in 1 ametaphysicalsense" (p. 13). I Themetaphysical border is what Renee shortly becomes aware of, a I barrier which persists in all her contacts with Canadians. , TheCanadians of her acquaintance were always mocking their own city, their own university, theirown music and galleries ... Renee could not quite understand why. She wondered if theywere deliberately testing her and other Americans? ... but no, they were sincere enough. If she pointed out something that was genuinely good, they resented her intrusion; 1f shesaid nothing they resented her silence. When they were most fiercely and unreasonably nat1onahstic- insisting that their work, their art should supplant Chekhov, and Picasso, andYeats...


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