Most helpful critical review
14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
A good, if a bit uneven, collection
on November 25, 2001
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. So despite the fact that many of the stories in this collection are great, I'm only giving it three stars.
I would recomend this to anyone in search of a humorous, challenging read. I would also, recomend this to someone who is interested in cutting edge, stylized short stories (after all 25-30 of them in this collection are very good). Many of the short stories in this collection are written in an unusual manner. For instance, "The Bodygaurd" is compose almost entirely of questions. I'm also of the opinion that those of you who like both Kurt Vonnegut jr. and Thomas Pynchon would find this collection interesting.