cover image Paradise


Donald Barthelme. Putnam Publishing Group, $16.95 (208pp) ISBN 978-0-399-12921-6

What is paradise? Not Adam's who had only one Eve, but Simon's who has three. Simon, a 53-year-old architect ""with a tragic sense of brick,'' gives himself a year's sabbatical from his firm in Philadelphia and his ruinous marriage, takes an apartment in New York and by one of those everyday coincidences that makes urban life so zingy is moved in on by not one, not two, but three beautiful fashion models so impossibly young they don't know the name Benny Goodman or the century of World War II. They do know all manner of games to add interest to rainy mornings, however. A ``male fantasy'' is what the implausibly articulate and well-read ladies call the arrangement, and they tell Simon he's living in ``hog heaven.'' The slight novel, which includes random meditations on a variety of matters, unfolds mainly in dialogue and one-liners, many of them actually in Q & A form. At times, Barthelme strains for his gags and comic effects, and jokes fall flat or topple into whimsy; but it is amazing how often and well the wit comes off. What is even more amazing is that this odd foursome, this ``loving quartet,'' constitutes a kind of family. When the women leave to pick up the frayed threads of their lives, Simon is forlorn, inconsolable, a desolate ``uncle-figure,'' as one of them calls him. By the end of the book, we too miss them. Best known for his short stories (nine books of them so far), Barthelme has written two earlier novelsThe Dead Father in 1975 and Snow White in 1967. First serial to Esquire. (November)