Book Review : "Forty Stories"

Forty StoriesForty Stories by Donald Barthelme
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've been reading a lot of surrealist-type writing lately and all of them harken back to that master of the form, Donald Barthelme, so I have pulled out this volume. I mean, why not just go for the Real Thing?

I bought a collection of Barthelme's stories off a paperback rack as a teenager and loved it. My favorite was a story about a human fly scaling a tall building with the help of two plumber's helpers (plungers). It was hilarious and different and as someone has said, merry and melancholy at the same time. I've been a fan ever since, and Barthelme has influenced my own writing more than any other writer.

In this collection, we encounter a trail drive of porcupines onto the grounds of a university, a group planning to hang their friend Colby for "going too far" with marvelous attention to music and refreshments, and a contemplation on what goes on the mind of a bodyguard. No two of the stories are alike, all are written with intelligence and style, none of them drag, and all of them are suffused with bizarre details and/or premises. That's the marvelous thing about Barthelme as compared to his imitators--he knows how much of that sort of stuff is enough, and doesn't wear out the reader with a barrage of it. He uses just enough acid-trip nuttiness, with just this thing or that things crazily out of place, to make it fascinating and readable and funny and even revelatory. Barthelme was one of a kind. Don't be fooled by cheap imitations. Highly recommended.

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Comments

Sioux Roslawski said…
Shay--Wow. You are stingy with your stars, so this must be a good one. I am looking for a good book to read--one that I can read while I'm also reading a novel. This might be the perfect one.

Thanks for the recommendation.

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