cover image Forty Stories

Forty Stories

Donald Barthelme. Putnam Adult, $17.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-399-13299-5

This collection of pithy, brilliantly acerbic pieces is a companion to Sixty Stories, Barthelme's earlier retrospective volume. Barthelme spotlights the idiosyncratic, haughty, sometimes downright ludicrous behavior of human beings, but it is style rather than content which takes precedence. He plunges into each situation without preamble, then utilizes sinewy, staccato prose to snare our attention. In ""The Genius,'' a man of extraordinary intellect receives endless accolades and homage, but privately, he is just an eccentric inebriate who loathes children and totes important papers in a green Sears, Roebuck tool box. ``Concerning the Bodyguard'' is a fusillade of typically gossipy questions about those who shield the famous and mighty: ``How much does pleasing matter?'' ``Is the bodyguard sufficiently well-paid?'' ``Is there a pension?'' In ``Conversations with Goethe,'' Barthelme dethrones the renowned German author, who here spouts comical aphorisms such as ``Art is the four percent interest on the municipal bond of life,'' and ``Actors are the Scotch weevils in the salt port of honest effort.'' As demonstrated throughout this volume, Barthelme's manner of expression is strikingly unique, and his insights are consistently on target. (September 30)