Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

All Barthelme’s stories display his interest in the techniques of storytelling, and the use of dialogue stripped to its barest elements is a technique he has often used. (He is probably indebted to Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, [1952], for his earliest interest in the form.) He likes the form because it engages the reader’s attention, it lends itself to suggestive patterns, and it permits an almost poetic intensity of language.

The reader’s attention is engaged from the start in this story because he must figure out what situation he is witnessing. Then he must continue to read attentively, because clues appear slowly and side issues recur and accumulate emotion.

The speeches are heightened beyond ordinary conversation by their patterns of topic and phrasing. The recurrent topics of divorce—loss, sadness, isolation, alteration, need for consolation—are evoked as each item on the list of possessions is named and discussed. A rough rhythm therefore shapes the conversation. Another rhythm is imposed by the recurrence of specific sentences—for example, “Cold here in the garden” and “Well, you can’t have everything.” The odd exchange concerning the painting of trucks, which occurs early in the conversation and ends with “Surely not your last word on the subject,” recurs almost word for word as the last words of the conversation.

The poetic intensifying of the language is too complex a topic to...

(The entire section is 533 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Barthelme, Helen Moore. Donald Barthelme: The Genesis of a Cool Sound. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2001.

Gordon, Lois. Donald Barthelme. Boston: Twayne, 1981.

Hudgens, Michael Thomas. Donald Barthelme: Postmodernist American Writer. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2001.

Klinkowitz, Jerome. Donald Barthelme: An Exhibition. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1991.

McCaffery, Larry. The Metafictional Muse: The Works of Robert Coover, Donald Barthelme, and William H. Gass. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1982.

Molesworth, Charles. Donald Barthelme’s Fiction: The Ironist Saved from Drowning. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1982.

Olsen, Lance, ed. Review of Contemporary Fiction 11 (Summer, 1991).

Patteson, Richard F., ed. Critical Essays on Donald Barthelme. New York: G. K. Hall, 1992.

Roe, Barbara L. Donald Barthelme: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1992.

Stengel, Wayne B. The Shape of Art in the Short Stories of Donald Barthelme. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1985.

Trachtenberg, Stanley. Understanding Donald Barthelme. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1990.

Waxman, Robert. “Apollo and Dionysus: Donald Barthelme’s Dance of Life.” Studies in Short Fiction 33 (Spring, 1996): 229-243.