Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Hail Barthelme!

It's the early 90s, and I'm in graduate school in New York. All the fiction writers I know want to write like one of two men: Raymond Carver or Donald Barthelme. It's surprising to realize how much their work has faded from view. There was a time Barthelme was so hip, MTV used his story "Chablis" as a public service announcement for reading. "Reading: Feed Your Head" was the tag line. Those were the days.

Don B is back in a big way, in part because of all the attention being brought back to him from the publication of Tracy Daugherty's new biography, Hiding Man: A biography of Donald Barthelme.

It's about as close as you'll come to finding a skeleton key to his very strange, unusual masterpieces. (My full assessment, written for the Dallas Morning News, is here)

And for your reading pleasure, I direct you to this online collection of some of his best. My personal favorite, "I Bought a Little City," which is here read by Donald Antrim also happens to have given its name to a cool little coffee shop in Austin. These days, though, with a 14 month old at home, I don't get to coffee shops much and the story I best relate to is this gem, which beings, appropriately, "The first thing the baby did wrong was to tear pages out of her books."

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