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Frederick Barthelme

September 23, 2012

Something feels different about this story right from the first paragraph. Starting: “…when it was done I had tears in my eyes because I wasn’t driving one of the cars” to the end of the paragraph. I feel like this story is going to be more like one I would write than any other story I’ve read for this class so far. Why? Is it because it is written by a ♂?

It’s not because this story is about “driving” or “cars” because as soon as it turns towards that, my interest wanes.

There seems to be this kind of flattening, like an insistence on talking in a monotone, a refusal to go past certain points. There’s a seminar paper all about the beauty of ordinary stuff in Frederick Barthelme’s short stories. His stories have been described as dealing with fear of loneliness, hostility. They have been described as Kmart realism(tao lin). But the only thing that happens in this story is a man trades in his average car for one that goes up and down.

The flatness doesn’t seem to be an aim of the story, intentional. That is, it could be flatter. Which means the flatness is a byproduct. Which means what?

There’s something going on between the man and his wife. What make me think this? The first word of the story, ostensibly about the driver, i.e., the man, is “Rita,” his wife. Rita complains about the light keeping her up at night when she goes to bed before him, “which is most of the time.” Maybe he has insomnia. Maybe he’s avoiding something.  He’s confident so long as Rita’s questioning. But as soon as he shows an interest, he starts doubting the trade. “I wonder what it’d be like to keep,” Rita says. “People would stare,” he says. When he accidentally kisses her on the lips instead of the cheek, it’s strange, the accident of it. There is a girl in shorts and skates he seems more interested in her than his wife. “I sat in the Lincoln and thought about how nice it was that Rita could just sleep whenever she wanted to.” He knows where his secretary lives and drives past her house. But nothing is ever stated. Nothing happens. The car goes up and the car goes down. He drives around in the car and then he returns to Rita with a stolen dog.

Nothing happens in this story. The man doesn’t leave his wife for his younger secretary. He doesn’t even contemplate it. Is that what isn’t being stated? Or is he just going through a midlife crisis wanting to spice up the ordinariness of his linear life, a life we don’t even see but can extrapolate from our own lives?

Favorite lines: “A lot of people walked by wearing shorts, and all of them looked good.” “Rita was laughing in a lovely way.”

Next week’s story Ann Beattie’s “The Rabbit Hole as Likely Explanation“.

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One Comment
  1. Very descriptive post, I enjoyed that bit.

    Will there be a part 2?

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