Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

If a conventional label need be applied to “The Glass Mountain,” “fable” works best. Actually, the text merges fable, fantasy, and grotesque fairy tale—which is unsurprising, as collage was Barthelme’s favorite creative principle. He said, “The point of collage is that unlike things are stuck together to make, in the best case, a new reality.” The writer demonstrates this principle in the story, defiantly tying the mere “signs” of today’s society to “sacred” symbols of literature and watching them fly together as a new reality.

Presented in numbered paragraphs composed of simple sentences, the clarity of the prose draws readers in. So clear are its statements that some time passes before readers realize that although such events might happen, they cannot happen on a glass mountainside. Likewise, the story’s events can be clearly plotted in a conventional pattern, almost to the end, but those events, themselves, remain unconventional.

Like collage, these unconventional aspects typify Barthelme’s postmodern style. In merging “new realities,” this fiction about itself comments on the plight and promise of literature. It helps to examine sophisticated fiction as an effective sample of postmodern work. “The Glass Mountain” appears to be a somewhat odd but fairly ordinary, story until the moment a climbing iron clangs. Then glass shatters and a plunger comes unstuck and it is clear that the story is anything but conventional.