Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Edward, like other protagonists in Frederick Barthelme’s works, has been wounded in some ill-defined way and as a result is unwilling or unable to engage himself in any significant aspect of life. The encounter Barthelme describes here can be assumed to be typical, in that it comes about without having been planned, offers no particular pleasure or interest, and then dwindles away without altering Edward’s inner or outer life. “Moon Deluxe,” therefore, can be seen as a parable of the rootlessness and meaninglessness of American life in the late twentieth century. What gives significance to human existence, ordinarily, is work that matters and serious, lasting relationships. Here both are missing. Barthelme does not say what Edward’s job consists of; the reader can deduce only that it provides him with enough income to live well in material terms and that he is not sufficiently interested in it to think or talk about it. As for relationships, he had only a “small thing”—as opposed to a full-fledged, fully committed love affair—with Carmen, and when she moved out, the “thing” ended. He could not find interest or energy enough to pursue her; to one or both of them, then, it was simply an affair of convenience.

He shows no real interest in Lily, though she is attractive and eager; he is willing to be pursued, however, and might even drift into another Carmen-like affair, but then Tony enters the picture. At that point, with little at stake anyway, he runs. The hint of competition, complication, perhaps real emotional danger, is too much for him.

Edward has lost his innocence. He merely drifts through life, apathetic and perpetually a bit unnerved. Life holds no real possibilities for him because he is unwilling or unable to take risks. In “Moon Deluxe,” as in his other fiction, Barthelme has painted a bleak (and decidedly one-sided) picture of modern life.