Monday, July 4, 2016
Donald Barthelme and the tone of his era
Donald Barthelme was a writer who truly set the tone for his era - 1970s through 89s I would say - w his short, funny ,mysterious fiction that seemed both absurdist and strangely contemporary. It was an era of irony and edginess, the films of Altman, dylan at his best, celebrity artists, a terrible and absurd war - and Barthelme fit right in somehow his story in 100 years of the best american short stories, The School,mid a pretty good representation of his work though not his most famous or recognizable piece (those would be the Indian uprising or Robert Kennedy saved from drowning): a teacher gives an affectless account of the elementary school where he teaches beginning w the trees the children planted that all died and moving steadily on to recount one failure and death after another - tropical fish, a puppy that the class adopted, unusual number of deaths among the parents, building to an accident in which two of the children died and without our being aware of quite how this comical story becomes increasingly macabre and ghastly.mimagine his reading this aloud - and what would our reaction be? Laughter at first but becoming less certain and perhaps embarrassed by our initial light-heartedness or building in intensity as the story becomes more absurdist in content while the tone remains slick and detached? I can't actually make sense of the ending, which seems off key to me , w the children encouraging the teacher to make love w the assistant teacher, which they begin to do - until a gerbil enters the room. This ending doesn't strike me as particularly funny and breaks the tone - as if The Metamorphosis ended w the entry into the narrative of a giant house fly.