Lightning Summary (Donald Barthelme)

Donald Barthelme


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The protagonist of “Lightning,” Edward Connors, is introduced as he begins to interview people who have been struck by lightning, an assignment given him by Penfield, an editor of Folks. He instructs Connors to interview at least nine people, including one “slightly wonderful” person to be featured in the article.

Connors begins his research by advertising in The Village Voice. From the many responses he learns that many people have great-grandfathers or great-grandmothers who were struck by lightning in 1910. (Variations on this factual detail, as on others, will recur later in the story.)

Before the interviews begin, the reader learns of Connors’s past, especially his earlier jobs. He was “a reporter for ten years and a freelancer for five, with six years in between as a PR man for Topsy Oil in Midland-Odessa.” As a reporter, he covered business news, so his moving on to public relations with an oil firm was a logical change (urged on him by his wife, for financial reasons). He had been “in love with his work” as a reporter. The PR job paid three times as much but was dull, so when his wife left him for a racquetball pro at a country club, he left Topsy Oil and Texas for New York City and freelance work: “To each assignment he brought a good brain, a good eye, a tenacious thoroughness, gusto.”

The first man interviewed, Burch, reports that being struck by lightning was the best thing that ever happened to him. After the event he became a Jehovah’s Witness, and he describes his life since then as “Serene. Truly serene.” Connors is impressed. The next interviewee, a woman named MacGregor, reports that being struck led to “some important changes” in her life: She married the man she had been seeing and quit her job, which had necessitated tiring commuting.

Still seeking a feature subject for his...

(The entire section is 775 words.)