Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Donald Barthelme

If you're the kind of person that always wants to get McSweeney's Quarterly but can't quite stomach the price, this is the month to take the plunge. Why now? Because this issue has an excellent section devoted to none other than Donald Barthelme!

Donald Barthelme, for those that aren't aware, was considered one of the greatest writers of the second half of the 20th century. He's primarily known for the anthologies 60 Stories and 40 Stories, both of which have some of the funniest and most bizarre stories I've ever read. Reading Barthelme, who before his death was frequently found in the New Yorker and other major magazines, is a reminder of a time when the word "experimental literature" didn't make every non-graduate student want to flee the room. With a casual style that belied the weightiness of his subject matter and themes, Barthelme was able to draw in the sort of readers that would be just fine avoiding for the rest of their lives any fiction that could be referred to as "challenging."

Additionally, there's a great page dedicated to him, complete with stories and essays that is well worth checking out. In order to get you started, here are a few of the best stories from the site that you should print out and read tonight on the subway home (or, sans subway, perhaps by a roaring fire in your den?):

Rebecca: Possibly my favorite Barthelme story. I find it hard to describe appropriately, other than to say that (a) it is about a slightly green woman with the last name "Lizard" and (b) that the story has one of the most hilarious and unusual narrators you'll ever find. Also, it has one of my all time favorite closing lines:

The story ends. It was written for several reasons. Nine of them are secrets. The tenth is that one should never cease considering human love, which remains as grisly and golden as ever, no matter what it tattooed upon the warm tympanic page.

The School
: A perennial Barthelme favorite. Very funny, then horrifying, then sort of funny again, then decidedly horrifying.

Me and Miss Mandible: A 35 year-old man find himself enrolled in an elementary school. Needless to say, office politics and sex ensue.

Some of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Colby: After a friend "goes to far," what do you do? What any sane group of friends would: hang him.

So, there's a start. Although I've found Donald Barthelme to be an incredibly polarizing author, I hope that you find something to enjoy in these funny, strange, and (in their way) "experimental" stories.


MDD said...

Barthelme is the man! If you haven't read him, you must, and soon.

The School is one of my all-time favorite stories, as it manages to be funny and sad and about death and the circle of life in about 3 pages.

One that you didn't mention that I also love is At the Tolstoy Museum, which has an all-time great first line: "At the Tolstoy Museum we sat and wept. Paper streamers came out of our eyes." Another 5 page story that ends being about something profound, namely the crisis of post-modernism.

The man is awesome, and his novels are good too. The Dead Father in particular. But the 2 story collections Josh wisely recommends are the place to start.

Megan said...

My favorites are Colby and Batman.
I read them in your copy of 60 stories, i think!