Sunday, January 2, 2011

The School by Donald Barthelme

Since I likely won't be reading a book a day or even a week, I thought I would fill in with the instant gratification of short stories. I don't know why short stories aren't more popular. They're quick and potent like poetry.  Kevin is teaching The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction: 50 North American Stories Since 1970 (Touchstone Books) in class, so I'm picking out some stories from that one first. "The School" by Donald Barthelme is popular enough that I have come across it before. The first time I read it years ago, I thought it was charming and funny. But I'm older now, and my father recently passed away, and I have a baby on the way, and I often wonder, what have I done? What have I done bringing a child into this?

In fact, ironically, the first thing I noticed was not something about the story at all, but the author's birth and death dates. That's what I do now, I measure other people's tragedy against my own to determine how indignant I should be with the universe. Barthelme lived from 1931-1989, just 58 years. I looked it up; he died of cancer.  He was able to say something about life and death before he experienced the latter. That seems important.

Reading it now, it doesn't make me laugh. It makes me cry. Like the children, I want to know where, where, where. Like the children, I would like an assertion of value.

1 comment:

  1. I don't think short stories get nearly enough attention, but I love reading them! :)


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