Style and Technique
A key to Barthelme’s fictional approach lies in a statement that occurs twice in this story: “Fragments are the only forms I trust.” If the term “montage” applies to Barthelme’s overlapping planes of narrative perspective, then “collage” aptly describes the effect of his narrative style. His stories generally, and this one most assuredly, seem assembled from a jumble of unrelated materials: pedantic literary allusions, current events, scraps of scientific jargon, profound philosophical issues, trendy pop culture. Moreover, the tone of his writing oscillates freely from hysterically comic to sad, from whimsical to deadpan earnest.
Thus, to take but one significant example, the narrator calls his unborn child “Gog,” using the name of the biblical monster and legendary English giant in a humorously ironic way. The sound of the name in turn prompts an allusion to the old sentimental tune “Peg o’ My Heart.” The parents’ apprehensions about the impact the child will have on their lives leads to an extended, metaphorical comparison of the child to a battleship. Finally, the narrator’s hopes for a bright, intelligent child who will mature into wisdom leads to a reference to Pallas Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, who according to myth leaped fully armed from her father Zeus’s head (“in another month Gog leaps fully armed from the womb”).
The zany collage style of the story reflects Barthelme’s postmodernist sensibility. Like so many contemporary artists, Barthelme seeks to create a coherent vision of life yet profoundly mistrusts the conventional techniques of “serious” art. Thus, his kaleidoscopic manipulations of thought and language are central to his artistic purposes: Only by such unconventional means can a valid image of life in the contemporary world be presented. The narrator, in justifying his self-revelations, also would seem to be speaking for the author when he says, “It’s my hope that these . . . souvenirs . . . will someday merge, blur—cohere is the word, maybe—into something meaningful.”