The final collection of the influential writer’s previously uncollected stories.
Though the preface by editor Herzinger makes a case that the third posthumously published volume of the author’s work is the “crown jewel of the project,” the fact remains that these are the stories that the writer himself considered the bottom third. He intended his reputation to rest with Sixty Stories (1981), followed by Forty Stories (1987). Not that what remains are dregs of marginalia, unworthy of publication. Many of these first appeared in the New Yorker, where Barthelme’s frequent appearances through the 1960s and early ’70s helped (for better or worse) perpetuate the stereotype of the New Yorker story as one in which people talk a lot about little and nothing much happens. Others appeared in Playboy and even Penthouse (“Presents,” with its recurring but decidedly unsensual motif of two naked women). And many were also republished in the volumes from which previous collections were drawn. Most of these stories have the signature style that made Barthelme as pervasive through the ’60s as Peter Max—the dialogue that never quite connects, as if two people are talking past each other, the non sequiturs that suggest that literary cause-and-effect is merely artifice, an exercise in absurdity. (Take the opening paragraph of “You Are As Brave As Vincent Van Gogh”: “You eavesdrop in three languages. Has no one ever told you not to pet a leashed dog? We wash your bloody hand with Scotch from the restaurant.”) Among the formalistic experiments included are one story written almost entirely in questions (“The Agreement”), another completely in dialogue, without quotation marks, between two unidentified speakers (“Wrack”), another a contest collaboration in which Barthelme wrote the first three paragraphs and invited others to complete it (“Manfred”). There is the first story that he ever published, using a pseudonym (“Pages from the Annual Report”), and the last that he published in the New Yorker (“Tickets”) just months before his 1989 death.
For Barthelme completists only.