Barthelme: Paradise

The first pages of Paradise begin with, “After the women had gone …” and conclude with “He inspected his prick and said, ‘My you’re looking fresh and pretty this morning.'”

images-1.jpgThe remainder of the novel deals with a strange and magical relationship between Simon, an older man on sabbatical from his normal life, and three nubile young women who pause in their own burgeoning life experiences to move in with him. As the publisher tells us on the inside cover teaser:

Simon, a fifty-three year old Philadelphia architect, has been given an almost miraculous gift—a year of his own, to do with as he wishes. In a large, bare New York apartment, he lives like a ghost, thinking back on an unsuccessful marriage and his working life. Through a combination of circumstances he becomes involved with three young and beautiful women, who come to live with him. He is twice as old as they are, as they cheerfully and repeatedly point out, yet is drawn into a shifting, complex relationship. The three women, Dore, Veronica, and Anne, are very different, lively and intelligent but in important ways lost in the world, grappling for purchase. For the eight months of their stay, alternatively advancing and retreating, they test the possibilities of the liaison, as Simon, from the special perspective of one not young, awaits their inevitable departure.

This spare, deliberate novel, at once horrifically comic and bluntly melancholy, is a splendid achievement, astonishing in its erotic directness.

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XFX: Donald Barthelme

We have mentioned Barthelme before but now it’s time for a closer look. Donald Barthelme, although he has written a few novels, is best known for his short fiction (short stories and long stories). Few of us have been able to read Barthelme’s stories when they were originally published in magazines and journals but there have been several collections of stories published, republished, rearranged and published again, so that anyone should be able to find a nicely representative collection of some of the author’s hundred plus short stories.

Two points about Barthelme’s writing:  first, he is representative of a postmodern view of literature and at the same time extremely personal and quirky; second, Barthelme suggests himself that his writing has no agenda … it just IS. Now, we know not to be too trusting of what an author says about his own work and it doesn’t require a lot of reading to begin to see how Barthelme may be working out some of the problems and questions in his own life through his imaginative fiction.

Wikipedia maintains an excellent bibliography of the works of Donald Barthelme.

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XFX: Fourth Quarter Reading

The new quarter has snuck up on us here and we want to introduce the exellent titles which have been selected for reading over the next three months.

The first book (10-16) is by an excellent German author that should be required reading for anyone interested in post-war literature:  Hermann Broch. The title we selected isn’t one of the author’s big and hairy novels but the more approachable novel: The Unknown Quantity. Here is a little review:

Born in Germany in the early twentieth century, mild and sensitive Richard Hieck endured a quietly difficult childhood. Raised in humble circumstances, Richard was profoundly influenced by his withdrawn mother and by his father — an enigma whose devotion centered not on his five children but on his mysterious career. From his father, Richard inherited an interest in the night sky, learning to love the constellations and to take comfort in the strength of Orion and the warm radiance of Venus. At the same time, his shadowy, elusive father influenced Richard to pursue studies in mathematics, a field offering the discipline Richard had craved as a child.In The Unknown Quantity, Hermann Broch examines the underlying chaos — and, finally, the impossibility — of life within a society whose values are in decay. As Richard seeks to reconcile the conflicting demands of love and science, of passion and reason, he and those in his orbit must endure the effects of societal and family values — even as the values descend into madness.

The second book (11-01) is another sorter novel from the twisted and always fascinating mind of William S. Burroughs. Many have read Naked Lunch and do not realize that Burroughs has many other novels to his credit; this one starts the Nova Trilogy and is titled, The Soft Machine.

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