Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

"Moon deluxe" by Frederick Barthelme (Penguin, 1984)

13 of the 17 stories were in the New Yorker. They're all about the same length - 12 pages or so. Several of them have a first person male PoV, a rather passive man who's approached by an attractive woman (shop assistant, waitress, etc) who uninhibitably wants to socialise with him. Men are unconcerned if their wife/underage-daughter goes off with other men. The women's appearance and clothes are described - lots of white shorts. There are breaches of social etiquette - light comedy at the expense of realism. No nasty, manipulative people - characters are trusting and nothing goes wrong. People are unexpectedly, suddenly friendly or distant, with no later explanation. Lots of outdoor pools, slaps on backsides, sending out wrong messages, unusually tall/short people. Men turn down sex.

The stories at the start seem the weakest to me. The title story has more going for it - two couples fall out when their dogs fight, with cake-making and an escaped toad adding to the drama. "Pool lights" is ok too - an accumulation of incidents (the narrator shops with a woman he barely knows who fancies him. She causes a scene in a butchers by complaining about the quality of the produce, etc).

The stories towards the end have more variety, with sufficient interest to make me feel that reaching the open ending was just about worthwhile.

  • "You've got to keep after it," I say to Teller. "Can't lay off."
    "Yeah," he says, "The lungs go. Like horn players."
    "The lips go on horn players," Clare says.
    "Lips, lungs," Teller says, "Whatever."
    "Yeah," I say.
    Jennifer sees me and waves at my pants with a piece of meat on the end of a toothpick. "Snappy, Bosco," she says.
    "Bosco?" Teller says. "Your name is Bosco? Did you know that there used to be this drink called Bosco? Wow. That's neat."
    "Thank you," I say.
  • I like the way we both stop and wait for the remark to get sexy; in eight months as neighbors, this has become a routine. (p.162)

Other reviews

  • Kirkus review (Barthelme's stories--and their vapid narrators--are as interchangeable and affectless as plastic stacking chairs: examples of the new Yorker story at its most trendy, precious, and Warhol-flat.)
  • Rebecca Rosenblum (Though they vary in quality, all 17 of these stories are about male protagonists with very little will or desire, who are lusted after by beautiful women who don’t get them, or not really. But that’s ok, because the women require little from them other than that they go to many restaurants and hang out by the sides of pools.)

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