Picks and Pans Review: Overnight to Many Distant Cities

updated 12/12/1983 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/12/1983 01:00AM

by Donald Barthelme

Here are a dozen deceptively simple short stories, between which are set fragments in italic type without titles. These evocative scraps serve as bridges, making the stories, which vary widely in theme and style, seem of a piece. "Visitors," the first story, is about a divorced man whose 15-year-old daughter is staying with him. The girl, ill and in need of comforting, gets a tender, witty lecture on art to put her to sleep. In "Affection," a woman meets "Sweet Papa Cream Puff, a new person. He was the house pianist at Bells, a club frequented by disconsolate women in the early afternoons." (Between those two stories the fragment concerns a disgruntled newspaper employee who writes, "Top management has vowed to stop what it is doing—not now but soon, soon.") In "Lightning," a writer gets an assignment from Folks magazine to interview nine people who have been struck by lightning. In the title story, the narrator comments on fleeting memories of Versailles, Paris, Stockholm, London, San Antonio, Copenhagen, Mexico City, Berlin and Barcelona. Each city is an occasion for an odd, perhaps autobiographical detail. These stories all seem purified and supremely controlled; the essence of life today is exposed, with excess narrative squeezed out. Barthelme's writing is wondrously funny and terribly touching. (Putnam, $13.95)

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