Books by Frederick Barthelme

THERE MUST BE SOME MISTAKE by Frederick Barthelme
Released: Oct. 7, 2014

" Understated, seemingly offhanded, Barthelme's writing conveys much about the oddities of contemporary life with warmth and welcome humor."
With a divorced male in his 50s living on the Gulf Coast and sorting out various female attachments, this 15th book of fiction from Barthelme (Waveland, 2009, etc.) covers turf similar to that of his last two novels.Read full book review >
WAVELAND by Frederick Barthelme
Released: April 7, 2009

The Mississippi Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Katrina provides the backdrop for a man in hell, in Barthelme's latest novel (Elroy Nights, 2003, etc.). Read full book review >
ELROY NIGHTS by Frederick Barthelme
Released: Oct. 1, 2003

"'It's not as simple as they make it on TV,' says Freddy. Says the reader, oh, dear, but yes it is."
Veteran Barthelme (stories: The Law of Averages, 2000, etc.) sets a semi-successful professor to wondering about the meaning of life—and the reader can actually take him seriously now and then. Read full book review >
THE BROTHERS by Frederick Barthelme
Released: April 1, 2001

Barthelme's new publisher is returning to print some of his fiction, beginning with this, his novel from 1993, a tale of marital indiscretion and brotherly betrayal set in Biloxi, a familiar terrain in Barthelme's dark and contemporary social comedy. When one brother sleeps with his sister-in-law after the other brother takes off on a midlife-crisis jaunt, the situation begins to grow weird. Kirkus was amused by the "scathing portraiture" of the minor characters but exulted over Barthelme's description of Biloxi with "its tawdry but lovely gulfside edge." We also measured the advance in Barthelme's vision, " a new and fine melancholy never before quite as codified in Barthelme's fictional world." There's the unusual suggestion of redemption, which "gives the book hope and some shape." The final image of brotherly revenge is indelible, making this, Kirkus suggested, "one of Barthelme's more haunting novels." Read full book review >
TRACER by Frederick Barthelme
Released: April 1, 2001

The second reprint in Barthelme's multibook deal with Counterpoint (see above), this novella from 1985 introduces more of the writer's whacked-out middle-aged couples, divorced and sleeping with the wrong people (i.e., marital relatives). The new divorce in this series of vignettes manages to find solace in his ex-wife's sister's arms at her Florida motel, a place peopled with all sorts of "screwball-comedy buffoons," thought Kirkus. We also discerned the emotions under the typical Barthelme "surface disposability," part of what brought the novelist out of his previously "mannered" style. In the past, we were put off by the author's "wise-guy," "too hip for its own good" dialogue, but here it nicely contrasts with "those times when true if ineloquent feeling breaks through an otherwise numb mosaic of beach days, eccentricity, and boredom." At the time, Kirkus considered it the novelist's "best work yet." A tropical breeze of a book that we pronounced, simply, "artful." Read full book review >
THE LAW OF AVERAGES by Frederick Barthelme
Released: Oct. 1, 2000

Some contemporary short-story writers create a sense of ennui by dispensing with plot; generous Barthelme often spins out more events in an opening paragraph than you'd expect from a whole story, then goes right on spinning till his people are tangled in a world so thick with incident that their lives seem spun even more hauntingly out of control. In the 6 new stories among the 29 collected here, a father worried about his teenaged daughter looks up from charting his favorite stock on the computer when he hears a car hit a tree in his front yard; romance blooms with suspicious ease between a history teacher and the woman he meets at a car wash; a teenager's parents recover from their wounding by convenience-store robbers, but then Mama shoots Daddy for playing around with Riva Jay. And that's just for starters. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 29, 1999

Neither Frederick (Bob the Gambler, 1997, etc.) nor Steven (And He Tells the Little Horse the Whole Story, 1987, not reviewed) has tried his hand at an extended work of nonfiction before, but this grim tale of compulsive gambling and personal disaster should present no problems apart from the ones built into their subject. Rick (as Frederick is called) and Steve were transplanted Houstonians, now teaching writing at Southern Mississippi, when they discovered the casinos moored in the Mississippi River in Gulfport, an hour's drive from them. The sons of an eccentric but highly regarded architect and a former schoolteacher and actress, they plunged into the timeless, neon world of the casino with abandon. When the death of their parents brought them a substantial inheritance, they began to gamble with a feverishness that resulted in their loss of over a quarter of a million dollars over some two years. In the end, they found themselves indicted on charges of conspiracy to defraud their regular casino, allegedly in cahoots with a dealer they barely knew. The memoir that results from this spiraling journey into darkness is strange in the extreme. Although neither of the authors denies he has a serious problem, their narrative all too often reads like the series of rationalizations a compulsive gambler gives before he runs out of excuses. Rick and Steve describe a sort of sealing off of emotion as a family trait, one that became a dangerous safety valve in the casinos, where their studied uncaring made it possible to withstand the batterings of repeated loss. Regrettably, that sealing off comes into play in their own writing, giving it an eerily disembodied quality that makes for depressing reading far beyond the darkness of the subject matter. A queasy, uneasy mixture uniting confessional autobiography with arch literary navel gazing. (16 b&w photos) Read full book review >
BOB THE GAMBLER by Frederick Barthelme
Released: Oct. 16, 1997

Barthelme's latest exercise in existential pulse-taking (Painted Desert, 1995, etc.) focuses on the democratic vice of gambling, though it's less a study in addiction than a celebration of risk-taking and downward mobility. Raymond Kaiser, his wife Jewel, and her daughter from a previous marriage, RV, all quietly enjoy life in Biloxi, Miss., a ``simple, easy, cheap'' town on the Gulf Coast. With work as an architect drying up, Ray finds himself increasingly interested in the glitzy world of offshore gambling, especially at the Paradise, where Jewel wins over $1,000 on their first trip. In their daily life, ``everything's dull,'' so it's no wonder that Jewel and Ray enjoy the visceral excitement of gambling. They soon graduate from slots to the blackjack table, and slowly find themselves down by over $4,000. Meanwhile, back home, RV seems headed into a downward spiral of teen rebellion—boy trouble, substance experimenting, and body piercings. It doesn't help that her parents are largely absent, spending their nights at Paradise. When Ray's father dies, it sends him further into a midlife crisis. He comes to see himself no longer as ``an ordinary guy,'' but as a full-time gambler. The problem is—he's not very good at it. Spending 18 hours at a time in the casino does nothing but increase his debts. Maxing out a handful of credit cards, he finds himself over $35,000 in the hole, but still juiced by ``the losses, the excitement, the hopes, the desperation, the high.'' Quitting architecture altogether, Ray and Jewel decide to downsize, selling their belongings and moving in with Ray's mother. In their new simplicity, this besieged family finally finds that happiness is not in middle-class stability, nor in the quick fix of gambling's artificial Paradise, but in their everyday Edenic lives. Barthelme strains for topical textures—cool repartee is interrupted only by channel surfing. But the real payoff is straight-up and timeless: a novel of surprising heart and soul. (Author tour) Read full book review >
PAINTED DESERT by Frederick Barthelme
Released: Sept. 1, 1995

A zeitgeisty novelist and storywriter hitchhikes on the info highway, only to endorse a decidedly low-tech, retro view of hope and redemption. Barthelme's post-midlife-crisis narrative resurrects bummed- out and divorced Del Tribute (The Brothers, 1993), now hooked up with 27-year-old Jen, a ``cybermucker'' who downloads all sorts of weird and depressing stuff from the Infonet. She's an angry and obsessed fringe-culturist who's waiting ``for something to happen.'' Del, pushing 50 and teaching at a Podunk community college, sets off from Biloxi with Jen to avenge a forgotten victim of the LA riots: a Guatemalan immigrant who was attacked and had his genitals painted black. Not quite sure of her plan, Jen who e- mails with a scary ranter from Vegas, a dark avenger bent on violence. On their way west, meanwhile, the odd couple picks up Jen's father, only a few years older than Del but living in a retirement ``Stepford community.'' With Jen's college friend Penny also in tow, they head to Dealey Plaza, a truly postmodern landmark that the two deconstruct with much cynical wisdom. Jen fanatically boots up each night to get her fix of ``grim crap,'' while Del channel surfs and inventories the obvious cultural rot. On the road, Jen's father recaptures his youthful sensibility (which he expresses by sleeping with Penny); then, after more freak tourism at UFO sites, the entire group finds themselves decompressing amid the rock formations and desert sunsets. The young women, once desperate to make a difference, now realize the value of nurturing personal relations. They all discover the need to balance the endless horrors of modern life with the sublimities of ``natural wonder.'' For a change and for the better, Barthelme's trendiness deliberately works against itself: His eighth book is less a symptom of malaise than a critique of fashionable despair. A road novel that almost gets there. Read full book review >
THE BROTHERS by Frederick Barthelme
Released: Sept. 1, 1993

Del, who used to do p.r. work in Houston, is given a condo in Biloxi, Mississippi, by his grateful ex-father-in-law after Del divorces the man's daughter. Biloxi happens to be home-base for Del's college-teacher brother Bud, too—plus Bud's attractive and level wife Margaret. When Del arrives in Biloxi, though, it's to find Bud gone to California in a spasm of the midlife crisis he's continually having. Del and Margaret keep each other company a little too well—just skirting treachery—and Del's hangover from this continues when Bud returns and proceeds to hold the indiscretion over him. Meanwhile, Del has found the much-younger and quite weird Jen (she publishes a free sheet of gruesome oddities taken off the CompuServe newslines)—and with her help tries to negotiate life with a quite desperate brother, an ambivalent sister-in-law, and Del's own bred-in-the-bone velleity. Small-time academics and a visit by a priest who'd like to chuck his collar don't help to firm up anyone's life-vision—funny, scathing portraiture. Barthelme (Natural Selection, 1990, etc.) writes with exceptional beauty about what Biloxi looks, smells, tastes, and sounds like—its tawdry but lovely gulfside edge—and there is to the characters' confusions and shamblings a new fine melancholy never before quite as codified in Barthelme's fictional world: depressive Bud at one point tells Del, apropos USA Today, that ``People who are supposed to be removed from what's going on, well, they're all part of it now. Everything that could possibly go wrong has already gone wrong, and now it's going wrong even more.'' This finished-fug suggests a redemption of the failed and gives the book hope and some shape. Not much, but enough to make the utterly fantastical image that ends the book—Del as a half-joke wrapping Bud in gauze and foil and leading him out to the condo's balcony for a while—take on indelibility. One of Barthelme's more haunting novels. Read full book review >