GREAT DAYS by Donald Barthelme
Kirkus Star


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All the various Barthelmes are given good definition in this new gathering. The arch aesthetician (""Yes, it isn't often you hear a disco version of Un Coup de DÉs. It's strengthening""). The Texas humorist, in ""Abduction from the Seraglio,"" a Perelmanish and hilarious vernacular satire. The maker of elaborate, fussy conceits--an objet-trouvÉ from Godey's Lady's Book; a parody of Grace Paley's work; imagining Edward Lear's death--that seem more than anything like products of boredom, shuffling surfaces for the lack of something better to do. And Barthelme the fabulist, in ""Cortes and Montezuma,"" or the sweet and loving ""King of Jazz,"" or ""The Zombies,"" with its devastating panorama of single men in our times: ""If a bad zombie gets you he will weep on you, take away your whisky, or hurt your daughter's bones. . . . The good zombies skitter and dance. 'Did you see that lady? Would that lady marry me? I don't know! Oh what a pretty lady! Would that lady marry me? I don't know!'"" But, perhaps most importantly, a newly developing Barthelme appears in seven pieces that are just dialogue, often between two women. It's a flat form that allows Barthelme both freedom and, by sheer propulsion of voice, the opportunity to sidestep the sort of junk he's littered his earlier work with: the transpositions, the sociological cheap-shots, the gleeful harping on skewed context. In some of these dialogues--like ""The Leap"" (into faith: should we put it off a day, you think?) and ""The Apology""--Barthelme approaches some of the wobbly pathos, if not the attention, of Beckett in Endgame; no easy thing to do. The funnier Barthelme becomes, it seems, the more truly (not trashily) ambiguous he also becomes. Great Days is consequently a very interesting book, the work of a writer who's just possibly firming up into someone really significant.

Pub Date: Jan. 3rd, 1978
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux