Critical Overview

Although responses to Barthelme's fictions have been usually positive, John W. Aldridge wrote a particularly severe critique of authors of black humor in general and Barthehne in particular. Titled "Dance of Death," Aldridge's article reviews the 1968 short story collection in which "Robert Kennedy Saved from Drowning" appeared, Unspeakable Practices, Unnatural Acts, as well as the earlier Come Back, Dr. Caligari, and states: "The stories are quite literally verbal immersions in dreck, the evacuated crud and muck of contemporary life, and they very effectively dramatize the sensations of being suffocated and shat upon and generally soiled and despoiled in soul and mind which accompany our daily experience of contemporary life."

Aldridge represents an extreme reaction against Barthelme and his fellow experimenters, and picks upon what one of Barthelme's dwarves' says in Snow White, which was published a year earlier: "We like books that have a lot of dreck in them." Clearly, Aldridge does not appreciate dreck as much as his fellow critics do. These early critics praised Barthelme's playfulness with literary forms and his so-called metafictional impulses. (Barthelme himself denied that he wrote metafiction, or fictions about the status of fiction as fiction.) Later critics recognized that Barthelme was up to something more serious than mere play. Both William Gass and Raymond Carver (themselves fiction writers) have remarked upon Barthelme's innovations with the short...

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