Picks and Pans Review: Paradise

updated 12/08/1986 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/08/1986 01:00AM

by Donald Barthelme

Simon is a 53-year-old architect who is taking a year off from his firm. His marriage is just about over. He "wanted very much to be a hearty, optimistic American, like the President, but on the other hand did not trust hearty, optimistic Americans, like the President." Simon's wife has been left behind in Philadelphia while Simon, living in a big New York apartment, happens upon three beautiful young women who are modeling lingerie in a bar. They are down on their luck so Simon takes them home. Barthelme's first novel, Snow White (1967), concerned a household of a young woman and seven men. Times have changed; the author's fantasies have altered drastically. But his basic themes and details still illuminate life in our times. Simon, for example, discards the Sixth Commandment because he doubts God is "sitting around worrying about this guy and this woman at the Beechnut Travelodge." The three women stay with Simon for eight months. They criticize his toes, teeth, belly, hair and politics. He however adores Dore, Victoria and Anne. He believes that "buildings are about women, cars are about women, landscape is about women, and tombs are about women." The women are not happy though; Simon's paradise is poisoned. It is always a great pleasure that Barthelme can sustain his high-wire prose to novel length, and Paradise is his sunniest, mellowest and most entertaining book. He has fixed his eye on the aging, urban man and liberated woman, noted their frailties, the dreadful chaos of their lives, and smiled. Readers will too. (Putnam, $16.95)

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