By Frederick Barthelme
(Doubleday, Hardcover, 9780385527293, 240pp.)
Publication Date: April 7, 2009
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina on Mississippi's Gulf Coast, mostly retired architect Vaughn Williams, who is beset by the routine but no less troubling difficulties of late midlife, is doing what he can to remain, as he says, “viable.” He scans the channels, reads newspapers and blogs online, Googles practically everything, teaches an occasional class at the local junior college, and worries perhaps overmuch about his late father.
When his ex-wife, Gail, is assaulted by her hot-tempered new boyfriend, she asks him and his landlady/girlfriend, Greta, to move in with her. Perhaps a little too cavalierly, they agree, and complications distinctly Barthelme-esque follow, including manly confrontations with the perp, lamentations of his father’s life and death, casual moonlight drives, gambling for money, adults playing with trains, and the eventual untimely arrival of Vaughn’s annoyingly successful younger brother, followed closely by Vaughn’s ex-wife’s invitation to remarry.
The tattered landscape of the post-hurricane Gulf Coast is the perfect analogue for these catastrophically out-of-order lives, and in this setting the players work into and out of almost all their troubles. In the process, and en route to a satisfying set of resolutions, Barthelme’s acute eye and subtle wit uncover and autopsy an inner landscape of mortality, love, regret, and redemption. The result is his most emotionally resonant work of fiction yet—and a new reason to celebrate him as an American master.
FREDERICK BARTHELME is the author of twelve books of fiction, the most recent of which, Elroy Nights, was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and a New York Times Notable Book. He directs the writing program at the University of Southern Mississippi and edits the Mississippi Review.
Praise for Frederick Barthelme
“For an alleged minimalist, Frederick Barthelme has always displayed a hearty appetite for the luminous and the extravagant, a faith in the power of serendipity to transform the anesthetized life. His disaffected characters drift through their New South condo complexes . . . their responses so disconnected and elliptical that astonishment has ample room to sneak into the spaces between.” —Francine Prose (On Two Against One)
“It’s impossible to conceive of any writer doing what he does any better than he does it. . . . His textures are impeccable: Rich, brightly colored, they seem to float on an underlying vacancy like mirages, leaving the reader dizzy and a little sunstruck. He has a hard, shiny, many-faceted insect’s eye for the surfaces of things . . . second only to Raymond Chandler’s.” —Margaret Atwood (On Moon Deluxe)
“I admire Frederick Barthelme’s peculiar grasp of the slant side of human relationships . . . superbly written and very funny.” —Raymond Carver (On Moon Deluxe)
“In the more full-bodied stories in Chroma . . . Mr. Barthelme really demonstrates his gifts as a writer—his ability to move us while also making us laugh and see. On the surface, nothing terribly significant appears to happen . . . and yet, in the course of such stories we are allowed to witness tiny, hidden moments of vulnerability, intimacy, and even beauty.” —Michiko Kakutani (on Chroma)
“Frederick Barthelme is doing for the ‘80s what Raymond Chandler did for the ‘30s. He does for the 7-Eleven what Edward Hopper did for the all-night diner.” —Baltimore Sun (On Tracer)
“One of the constants in his highly praised fiction has been his dead-on presentation of suburban life, of an apartment-complex and mall culture where, as the Holiday Inn slogan puts it, ‘the best surprise is no surprise.’ Another constant has been a quality of fast, fresh exchange that makes the dialogue in so many other novels and stories sound like—dialogue.” —Amy Hempel (On Natural Selection)
“[Barthelme] is one of the most distinctive prose stylists since Hemingway, capable of writing sentences so sharp and crisp and suggestive they have a palpable glow.” —Bret Easton Ellis (On Painted Desert)