Monday, April 07, 2014

Guttersnipe Bookshelf: Barthelme, 40 Stories

Donald Barthelme, Forty Stories Penguin, 1989 introduction by Dave Eggers (2005) Short fiction is capable of drastically more than we use it for. Donald Barthelme is proof of the fact. It’s like that cliche about the brain, that we only use ten percent of it. If you’re new to Barthelme, I suggest starting with Sixty Stories. All of his stories are mad and wildly inventive, but there’s something to be said for proceeding chronologically. For me, enjoying Barthelme meant using strategies I learned while reading poetry. Some stories will grab you from the first line (“Never open that door, Bluebeard told me, and I, who knew his history, nodded.”), others may remain doggedly opaque. Persist, a little, and if you become frustrated, try another. How I would love to have a group of misfit friends who knew this book and talked about what they had discovered and loved, as well as what they did not yet understand. Along with the stories I loved (“Lightning”, “The Genius”, “Paul Klee”, “The Temptation of St. Anthony”) and those I found impenetrable (“Construction”, for example) there was at least one story I adored AND did not understand: “Great Days”. Barthelme’s stories are like any of the great questions of life -- you have to be patient with your own un-knowing. The stories are tremendous fun and fuel -- even when you are dizzy, even when you have no clue how it is all being done.

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