Picks and Pans Review: Forty Stories

updated 10/05/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/05/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Donald Barthelme

Donald Barthelme almost single-handed has revived the genre of the short story and made it a fresh art form. His early stories, written in the '60s, seemed raw, even shocking in the way odd snippets from life were joined. This new collection, which follows Sixty Stories, published in 1981, supplies ample evidence that there is always a playful intellect at work, and there is no such thing as a typical Barthelme story. He can, and does, write stories of every kind. The opening tale, Chablis, seems like a wry and witty autobiographical account of a man whose wife and baby want a dog. The New Owner is a New Yorker's paranoid nightmare about a landlord who sneaks in to leave roaches and "take away the heat." A story called Sentence is just that, a single sentence that runs 6½ pages and concludes by noting that this grammatical unit is "a structure to be treasured for its weakness, as opposed to the strength of stones." There is no period to end either the sentence or the story. Barthelme often has fun with language. In Great Days someone who is growing older is "just gonna sit in the wrinkling house and wrinkle." And in The Flight of Pigeons From the Palace, the narrator says, "It is difficult to keep the public interested. The public demands new wonders piled on new wonders." That could be Barthelme himself speaking, as he continues to provide new wonders in the art of the short story. (Putnam, $17.95)

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