The Beastly Beatitudes of Donald B.
Newly published stories remind us that Donald Barthelme's antic fiction influenced a generation of post-postmodernists.
The Essays and Interviews of Donald Barthelme
by Donald Barthelme
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Donald Barthelme was the Stephen Sondheim of haute fiction—a dexterous assembler of witty, mordant, intricate devices that, once exploded, exposed the sawdust and stuffing of traditional forms. His stories weren't finely rendered portrait studies in human behavior or autobiographical reveries à la Johns Updike and Cheever, but a row of boutiques showcasing his latest pranks, confections, gadgets, and Max Ernst/Monty Python–ish collages. Like Sondheim's biting rhymes and contrapuntal duets, Barthelme's parlor tricks and satiric ploys were accused early on of being cerebral, preeningly clever, hermetically sealed, and lacking in "heart"of supplying the clattering sound track to the cocktail party of the damned. Yet, like Sondheim, Barthelme was no simple Dr. Sardonicus, licensed cynic. His radiograms from the
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