Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Guttersnipe Bookshelf: Barthelme, Snow White

Donald Barthelme, Snow White
Atheneum, 1967

In 1967 the New Yorker devoted nearly an entire issue to publishing Barthelme’s novel Snow White.  It is inconceivable that they would do something so peculiar and interesting now. (Just today I saw that the New Yorker plans to offer novellas electronically.  Which they clearly wish us to believe is terribly innovative and daring -- or, perhaps 10% as daring as they were 50 years ago.)

When I started reading Barthelme a few years ago, the general opinion seemed to be that the stories were what mattered, what held up.  I read 60 Stories, then 40 Stories, then read them both again.  Hungry to read something fresh, I decided to risk this novel and was a little surprised to find it an absolute lark.

Enamoured as I am of Barthelme’s non-stop high stakes language play, I guess I had worried that a novel might be just too much, too exhausting.  I wish I’d understood that this novel is actually even more broken up, more fragmentary and poem-like, than most of his stories.  You could think of it as a collection of 100 rants, or 100 flash fictions if flash fictions were any good, or a even a book of 100 prose poems, if prose poems got off their high horse, fled brunch, and got smashed.

Don B’s brilliant language wizardry is melded to events that are fun and hilarious and somehow just right.  What a joy to throw 6-packs of Miller High Life through the windscreen of a man named Fondue!  (I assert that the courtroom drama that ensues is my favorite court scene in literature -- though I will admit it is somewhat irregular.)

Best of all: let’s poison the prince for once!  Yes, please!  I shouted.  Give Snow White a break!  (Or, as she puts it herself, “I myself am so buffeted by recent events and non-events, that if events give me even one more buffet, I will simply explode.”)

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