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Forty Stories (Penguin Classics) Paperback – January 25, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Like the title says, here are 40 short works culled from across Barthelme's career. Along with the similarly titled 60 Stories, this book provides one of the best samplings currently in print of Barthelme's unrivaled humor, his melancholy, the poetry of his line, and his considerable intellect. It includes pieces such as the famous "Sentence," (a single, several-page-long, unfinished sentence), "The Flight of Pigeons From the Palace," one of the writer's illustrated stories, and "Overnight To Many Distant Cities." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (January 25, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0142437816
  • ISBN-13: 978-0142437810
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #236,207 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Beauregard on June 28, 2000
Format: Paperback
During Barthelme's lifetime, I think many readers thought that his work would permanently alter the short story form. He achieved such powerful effects; his stories were so funny, so moving, so original and offbeat, and yet so deceptively simple and effortless-seeming. I certainly expected that other writers would come along and produce similar stories, since he had shown how it should be done, and we would be innundated with Barthelme-like fiction. But I don't think that's really happened. There have been imitators, of course, but they've been mostly embarrassingly flat, replacing the master's edgy brilliance with silly incoherence. Barthelme defies all imitators; his stories continue to stand as one-of-a-kind monuments, written in a truly singular voice by a truly singular talent, to urban life in the late 20th century. Read them. I particularly love "The Genius," with its poignant and yet absurd portrait of the world's most brilliant man, and "At the Tolstoy Museum," with its hilarious drawings of the great author's supposedly gargantuan coat, etc. It's funny because it's (somehow) true, like all of his work. "40 Stories" is the best introduction to Barthelme, so if you don't know him, this is the place to start.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful By arye orona on November 25, 2001
Format: Paperback
This collection has many great short stories within it. Often, within this book, Barthelme shows himself to be an extremely creative and insightful writer. "Jaws" is a good example of this. Basically, it's a story about how people deal with their dissatisfaction in relationship; how lovers cope with significant others' inevitable inability to meet all their (the lovers') expectations. It follows a workers at a local A & P while he mediates the relationship of two customers (who are married to each other). He acts as a sort of counciler in their marriage. The interaction between the couple is extremely humorous, and yet very sad (as, I suppose, dysfunction can often be). It's an excellent piece of work, and it deals with a common theme throughout this collection: The dissatisfaction of couples in long-lasting relationships. "Chablis," "The Genius," and "Paul Klee..." are also all excellent short stories. They exhibit Barthelme's ability to be humorous and yet still get at an interesting/serious point (that is, not lose himself in zaniness).
After such praise, however, I must admit that this collection isn't without flaw. Out of the forty stories that are included in this book, I felt that about ten of them could have been pruned away. These stories (for example, "On the Deck," and "Blue Beard") seemed unfulfilled, and worse, overwritten. These, perhaps could have used a little more focus on content rather than style. It's true with almost any collection of short stories that not all of them are good, enjoyable, or interesting (that is, not all of them will catch your imagination). However, with this book there seemed to be quite a few of those.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Phil Kretschman on December 8, 1999
Format: Paperback
I agree with every word of the previous review, but think we shouldn't overlook Barthelme's cutting wit. His style of often sarcastic and edgy humour is possibly the most intellectually stimulating out there. It's one thing to be creative, but to not only purvey a state of mind-expansion in your reader but make him/her smile or laugh while doing so deserves kudos. "The Baby" and "Porcupines" are perhaps his finest examples in this regard... brilliant. My dinky little review doesn't quite do this man justice, just pick this book up for starters then graduate to the slightly more challenging "60 Stories" when the hooks are planted.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 28, 1999
Format: Paperback
Bartheleme's work energizes creativity. It is playful in a way that beat writers never achieved. By letting images and thoughts run loose, he inspires creativity in the mind of readers. You do not need to take creative writing classes to learn how to write-you simply have to let your stories come out of what your imagination wants to say. This is the enlightenment that Bartheleme inspires. And reading this collection will vastly improve anyone's writing. It's complex, but never difficult and its effects are always surprising. He was as original and inspiring to writing as Jimmy Hendrix was to music. You will like this book.
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Format: Paperback
Donald Barthelme is one of the very few masters of the short short story. The only others that come to mind are Saki, Borges, and Franz Kakfa. Few of the stories in this collection extend past three pages. All are marked by the same virtues evident throughout the collection: surreality, inventiveness, enormous humor, a sensitivity to our collective culture. Some have commented on the collection being uneven. Perhaps. But the stories are quite diverse, and I suspect that what some find uneven is actually their diversity, some of them appealing more to one's particular bias more than others.
This is a great collection for shaking up your perception, for making you reconceptualize the short story form. Anyone liking these stories should go on to try some Saki (the author, not the beverage). Although not as surreal as Barthelme, his stories are just as short, just as funny, and just as delightful.
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