I like watching old movies. Like The Phantom of the Opera starring Lon Chaney from 1925. Although my favorite Lon Chaney movie is The Unknown where he pretends to be an armless knife thrower. The Phantom of the Opera is also about tragedies befalling the disfigured, like an early Elephant Man.
When I was looking through Donald Barthelme’s stories, “The Phantom of the Opera’s Friend” stood out as potentially being funny or interesting, as the original phantom was friendless and what would being a friend to the phantom be like? I imagined the friend calling the phantom to hang out but the phantom being too busy haunting the opera. I imagined the friend wishing the phantom were a better friend. And that’s not exactly what doesn’t happen.
The story wasn’t what I expected, but I feel like I’ve been overly negative with my reviews of the stories I read here. So there were certain things I thought were interesting, mostly how a lot of the prose came at you in single-sentence paragraphs and were not necessarily plot driven but more episodic, or I don’t know. It’s built off something else. “Everything that can be said has been said many times,” Barthelme writes. “I have no new observations to make.” So that instead the sentences are more like commentaries: “Is one man entitled to fix himself at the center of a cosmos of hatred, and remain there?” That’s like an exquisite gem just sort of tucked there.
He quotes Edmund Burke: “All men that are ruined are ruined on the side of their natural propensities,” which fits the phantom and may be used to fit the author, Donald Barthelme himself, who knows.
I liked how the phantom’s friend tries to help him out, convinces him to leave the opera, but only after the author of the original story, Gaston Leroux, releases him, as if the phantom is also a Phantom of The Phantom of the Opera.