Bette Pesetsky David Montrose - Essay

David Montrose

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Bette Pesetsky assembles short declarative sentences into very short stories, the kind that are now usually called fictions, their traditional "story" elements having been minimalized…. [Pesetsky] reflects the influence of Donald Barthelme, revered in creative writing classes for his apparent imitability. All fifteen stories in this first collection incorporate Barthelme's early "see-Jane-run" manner and his "fragmentary" method of construction. Typically, Pesetsky's narrator (always a woman) presents a mosaic of autobiographical episodes linked thematically or by association (the title story, an exception, comprises six récits in no particular order). If the resulting arrangement appears to skip inconsequentially between two points, this is because it is designed only, in Barthelme's words, to "supply a kind of 'sense' of what is going on".

Pesetsky has borrowed Barthelme's method, but not his madness, eschewing the surreal for a firm attachment to the quotidian…. Her world, though, is the familiar made strange: second-hand echoes of Kafka—as distilled, that is, through Barthelme—permeate these stories. Their heroines are anonymous inhabitants of anonymous places; when familiar locations are named, they have no more substantiality than that of words on the page; other people exist only as one-dimensional shadows. Neurotic, lonely, sad, Pesetsky's women endure lives of quiet desperation and write anxious, jerky...

(The entire section is 549 words.)