Snow White is the first of Barthelme’s four novels and is one of his most lucid works of any length, largely by virtue of the clarity with which he indicates to the reader at all points what it is that he is doing—or rather, what he is avoiding. The work includes references to what is being avoided so that the reader is aware of the avoidance.
Every reader knows the characters of the standard version of the fairy tale: Snow White, the handsome prince of whom she dreams, the wicked stepmother, and the seven dwarves who live in the forest and with whom Snow White finds refuge. Indeed, all of these have their equivalents in the characters of Barthelme’s version, along with several others not in the fairy tale. In this version of the story, Snow White is twenty-two, lives with seven men with whom she regularly has unsatisfying sex in the shower, and seems to have confused herself with Rapunzel from another fairy story, as she continually sits at her window with her hair hanging out. Her dwarves have modern names such as Bill (the leader), Clem, Edward, and Dan, and they suffer from a series of ailments, of which the most important seems to be that Bill no longer wishes to be touched. During the day, the seven men work in a Chinese baby-food factory.
The closest thing this retelling of the tale has to a prince is a man named Paul, who does not seem to want to fulfill his role of prince. Avoiding Snow White, he puts in time in a...
(The entire section is 598 words.)