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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