Donald Barthelme has been called "probably the most perversely gifted writer in the U.S." As well as " one of the best, most significant and carefully developing young American writers" (Harte and Riley, 41). He was born April 7, 1931 to Donald and Helen Barthelme in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Barthelme had a wide range of careers during his lifetime. He worked as a newspaper reporter and as a managing editor of Location, and art and literature review (Harte and Riley, 41). His other jobs included serving in Korea and Japan in the U.S. Army (Barthelme Bio, 1), Professor of English at the City University of New York, teacher of Creative Writing at the University of Texas in Houston, and of course author of short stories and novels (Anderson et al, 919). He is the author of a number of collections of short stories including "Come Back, Dr. Caligari" (1964); "Unspeakable Practices, Unnatural Acts" (1968); " City Life" (1971); "Sadness" (1972); "Great Days" (1978); "Overnight to Many Distant Cities" (1983); and "Paradise" (1986).
He also wrote Snow White, a parody of the popular children's fairy tale, the novel. He won the National Book Award for Children's literature for the book titled "The Slightly Irregular Fire Engine: or, the Hithering, Thithering, Djinn" (1971) (Marowski and Matuz, 3?). In 1976 he received the Jesse H. Jones Award from the Texas Institute of Letters for his book The Dead Father. His book Sixty Stories was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the PEN/Faulkner award for Fiction, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize all in 1982. Barthelme also had the privilege of being widely regarded as one of the ablest and most versatile American stylists (Robert et al, 919). Donald Barthelme passed away July 23, 1989 from cancer in Houston Texas.
According to the Literature book Barthelme's stories contain plots that are "unconventional episodic, a clutter of styles, absurdities, and slapstick." In his hands, "a myth is likely to turn into realism, and realism into absurdity." It is said that Barthelme's characters are "two-dimensional parodies of themselves, rather than fully developed individuals." To get a feel for what the way Donald Barthelme writes I read a few of his short stories. Barthelme is a "writer of experimental fiction who creates funny and disturbing stories by putting different parts of stories that are seemingly unimportant to one another together"(Marowski and Matuz, 34). Anatole Broyard says", Barthelme is so funny that most readers will never know how serious he is" (Harte and Riley, 41). I do not agree with either of these people that Barthelme is funny. I do agree thought that he does seem to be a very serious writer. Thomas Leitch says about Barthelme: "Perhaps the most striking feature of Donald Barthelme's fiction is the number of things it get along without. In Barthelme's fictive world, there appear to be no governing or shaping beliefs, no transcendent ideals or intimations, no very significant physical experience, no sense of place or community, no awareness on the part of his characters of any personal history or context of profession or family or, for the most part, personal relationships, no psychology of character, indeed no characters at all in the usual sense of the term."(Marowski and Matuz, 35)I agree with what Leitch says. The short stories I read did not follow the usual way that stories are written. Most of the stories did not seem to have any point at all to the story.
The first story I read was The Game. This story is about two men, that are locked in a room together, whose mission is to insert keys and launch nuclear missiles when they see certain events happen on the televisions that they have. They are completely cut off from the rest of the world and seem to have lost sight of reality.
Chablis the second story I read is about a guy whose wife wants a dog. His wife has a baby so she forgets about wanting a dog. Then she says that her baby wants a dog so that the man will not say no. The whole story is about the man's memory and at the end of the story he gets up from the chair he is sitting in and congratulates himself on his memory before checking on his child.
The third story I read was really different. To me it didn't seem like a story at all. It is entitled On the Deck. The whole thing is describing items that are on the deck of a ship that is out in the water.
Genius is a story about a genius that the whole world seems to spin around. Everyone around him inflates his ego because the give him awards and give him special treatment that regular people do not get. At the end of the story he receives a ceremonial sword after being in a bad mood for a little over week and the sword again gives his ego a boost. I think that maybe Barthelme is trying to say, by writing this story, that there are a lot of weak people that need their egos boosted to make them feel good about themselves.
Another of his stories I read was Opening, a story about a play. The story basically is about how the actors get ready for the play they are putting on, what people think of the play, and finally how the playwright is getting ready for his next play.
Sindbad is a story about a substitute teacher that normally teaches at night, who takes a job during the day. The teacher keeps saying that the students keep asking him to leave. He reads a story about Sindbad to them, but it is a fake version that is about Sindbad owning a store and making everyone that comes into his store happy.
The last story I read was The Explanation. I did not understand what the story was about. It wasn't really a story but a series of questions and answers with squares filled in with black on each page.
All of the stories that I read came from Barthelme's book Forty Stories. He is "widely regarded as one of the ablest and most versatile American Stylist" (Anderson et al, 919). Barthelme does write about a variety of different topics, which does make him a versatile writer. He is a writer that makes the reader think about what they are reading and wonder what he means by what is written.