PAINTED DESERT by Frederick Barthelme


Email this review


 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.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-670-86469-2
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1995


FictionTHERE MUST BE SOME MISTAKE by Frederick Barthelme
by Frederick Barthelme
FictionELROY NIGHTS by Frederick Barthelme
by Frederick Barthelme
FictionTHE BROTHERS by Frederick Barthelme
by Frederick Barthelme