Saturday, October 15, 2016

Donald Barthelme
Flying to America: 45 More Stories
Counterpoint, 2008

This collection contains stories not included in Barthelme’s landmark collections 60 Stories and 40 Stories, as well as uncollected stories, unpublished stories, and stories later incorporated into his late novel, Paradise.  In other words, this isn’t the Don B. book you read first (that’s 60 Stories), second (that’s 40 Stories) or even fourth (don’t miss The Dead Father or Snow White).  This book is for committed, die-hard enthusiasts, those who want to read every last dang thing.  That said, there are stories in this volume that are as weird, grand, and fun as their more celebrated canonized brethren.

I read Barthelme for his sentences, for zany unpredictable more-is-more brilliance, and not one of these stories is bereft of the Master’s touch, even when the overall effect may not be as successful as the stories previously collected.  For those of us fascinated by Barthelme, it’s interesting to see what DIDN’T quite work, especially in runaway stories like “Hiding Man” that are as excruciating as they are brilliant.  Over and over (and over and over), Don B. cruises past one elegant ending after the next, like a car that misses its exit, then 5 exits more, until you begin to panic, until you want to shout, “Help!  I’ve been kidnapped by Donald Barthelme!  Somebody get me the hell out of this story!”  Several of the long stories collected here are like that -- like watching your most brilliant friend descend (ascend?) into mania.

Recognizing that life is short and uncertain and doesn’t include nearly enough time for reading, here’s a list of the 12 stories in this volume that I found most interesting, entertaining, or necessary: Perpetua; The Piano Player; Henrietta and Alexandra; Three; Hiding Man; You Are Cordially Invited; Belief; Heather; The Sea of Hesitation; To London and Rome; The Apology; Florence Green is 81.  Enjoy!

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