Friday, December 5, 2008

Friday Fiction Fix: "The Glass Mountain"

After the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, and now, having matriculated to the mile-high city, I'm pleased as punani to deliver another installment of the "Friday Fiction Fix." This one may or may not stretch interpretation a touch, but given that most of our readers have like seven PhDs, it should be fine. Today's author is a very special individual, one who literally re-shaped the thinking and structure of contemporary literature. He is none other than Donald Barthelme.

Barthelme was born in Philadelphia, studied journalism at the University of Houston, and later wrote articles for the Houston Post. He also taught at Boston University, the University of Buffalo, and the College of the City of New York. A one-time director of the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston, Barthelme, over the course of his career as a writer, won, among others, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a PEN/Faulkner award for fiction, a Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and a Rea Award for the Short Story. He published four novels, a dozen short-story collections, and myriad essays and articles. He died in 1989 of throat cancer.

Style was one aspect of his writing that set him apart from his peers, or any other writer for that matter. "The Glass Mountain" is no exception, given that each sentence/sentence group is numbered.

"1. I was trying to climb the glass mountain."

"3. I had attained the lower slope."

"4. People were looking up at me."

"6. Nevertheless I had acquaintances."

"8. I was 200 feet up.
9. The wind was bitter.
10. My acquaintances had gathered at the bottom of the mountain to offer encouragement.
11. 'Shithead.'
12. 'Asshole.'
13. Everyone in the city knows about the glass mountain.
14. People who live here tell stories about it.
15. It is pointed out to visitors."

"23. My acquaintances continued to comment.
24. 'Dumb motherfucker.'"

"26. In the streets were many people with disturbed eyes."

"34. My acquaintances passed a brown bottle from hand to hand.
35. Better than a kick in the crotch."

"36. Better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.
37. Better than a slap in the belly with a wet fish.
38. Better than a thump on the back with a stone."

"45. No one has ever climbed the mountain on behalf of science, or in search of celebrity, or because the mountain was a challenge.
46. Those are not good reasons.
47. But good reasons exist."

These excerptions from "The Glass Mountain" show examples of Barthelme's humor and wit. They do not however show the tactful inclusions of allusion within this piece as well as within many others. We have studied this piece from the collection Sixty Stories, which was first published by Penguin Books in 1981. It can be purchased here.


Dylan said...

All without a single King Carl reference.(defensive)
Thank you, good sir!