Style and Technique (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Barthelme prefers a mixed mode to pure comedy or tragedy, admitting that he thereby sacrifices the opportunity to move his readers’ emotions. He keeps his readers intelligently alert by shifting from level to level of diction, by finding colloquialisms and clichés to which an odd twist or application can be given, and by including unexpected topics and concerns. In a brief speculation about lightning, for example, Connors thinks: “Lightning at once a coup de theatre and career counseling?” Here the comic juxtaposition of two very different interpretations is reinforced by the dramatic and sociological jargon. When Edwina generalizes from her marriage to a white man, one reads, “She had nothing against white folks, Edwina said with a warm smile, or rabbits, as black folks sometimes termed them, but you had to admit that, qua folks, they sucked.” The sentence is a comic hash of mixed terms where “white folks” and “warm smile” suggest geniality that is cooled by the amusingly denigrating term “rabbits,” is then altered completely by the mixture of a bookish Latin word and the colloquial in “qua folks” (which sounds silly), and is brought to a sharp ending with an insulting slang verb. (The thrice-repeated “folks” is a reminder that Connors is writing for the magazine Folks.)
The most obvious comic device is the story itself. This odd exploration of an odd subject, being hit by lightning, is a typical Barthelme...
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Bibliography (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Barthelme, Helen Moore. Donald Barthelme: The Genesis of a Cool Sound. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2001.
Gordon, Lois. Donald Barthelme. Boston: Twayne, 1981.
Hudgens, Michael Thomas. Donald Barthelme: Postmodernist American Writer. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2001.
Klinkowitz, Jerome. Donald Barthelme: An Exhibition. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1991.
McCaffery, Larry. The Metafictional Muse: The Works of Robert Coover, Donald Barthelme, and William H. Gass. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1982.
Molesworth, Charles. Donald Barthelme’s Fiction: The Ironist Saved from Drowning. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1982.
Olsen, Lance, ed. Review of Contemporary Fiction 11 (Summer, 1991).
Patteson, Richard F., ed. Critical Essays on Donald Barthelme. New York: G. K. Hall, 1992.
Roe, Barbara L. Donald Barthelme: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1992.
Stengel, Wayne B. The Shape of Art in the Short Stories of Donald Barthelme. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1985.
Trachtenberg, Stanley. Understanding...
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