A few years ago Barthelme said, ""the collage is the central artistic mode of our time."" The Dead Father, his first novel since Snow White, is of course a collage. Perhaps using more paste in the beginning--the paste which makes it possible to ""not only make a treasure out of trash"" (as Gass once said) but to put together a whole gobbledybook of chaotic irrelevancies, pollinating words such as ""hunkwash"" or ""great endifarce teeterteeterteetertottering,"" unexpected sidetrips (a grove of musicians with a thesaurus of instruments, a jungle of wildebeests) and the special Barthelme touchstone which has been officially categorized as blague. In fewer and simpler words--all that the narrative requires--the dead father (be he father, be he God, be he dead) is a giant 3200-cubit construct or concept lugged across the countryside by two young people. He is ""dead but still with us, still with us but dead,"" issuing ukases in his golden robes, strung up on cables he sometimes escapes. He has one mechanical leg and a seven-meter-high foot which enables him to extend the experience of the technological world via its glorious prosthetics. The schlepp is a little slower and the parody more intellectualized at first. But by the time you reach ""A Manual for Sons,"" Barthelme is at his playful best: i.e., ""To find a lost father: the first problem in finding a lost father is to lose him, decisively. . ."" while the will (""a good deal of handwashing there"") and the interment--covered with admiration and good black earth--is a triumphant terminus. Barthelme admirers should find this as entertaining as anything he has written in years. Tease the meanings in any direction, or don't--if you're lazy, but enjoy it for the nonesuch blague that it is scattering ashes of truth here and there.