Donald Barthelme’s had his critics, but even his supporters can miss the mark

Our own Morgan Meis in The Smart Set:

ID_IC_MEIS_BARTH_AP There's a Donald Barthelme revival afoot. These things sometime happen to writers who have the temerity to die. Time moves on. Literary fashions wax and wane. Great writers are inexplicably forgotten. Forgotten writers are suddenly reborn in the literary imagination.

Such is the story with Barthelme. He was never exactly forgotten (he died in 1989), but his name hasn't been at the forefront of the collective literary mind since then. I suspect that the new biography by Tracy Daugherty, Hiding Man, signals a change in all that. There's also been a number of prominent “reconsiderations,” including a longish essay by Louis Menand in The New Yorker.

All of this was predicted by Thomas Pynchon, who wrote an introduction to a posthumous collection of Barthelme's “satires, parodies, fables, illustrated stories, and plays” called The Teachings of Don. B. Pynchon says that:

All things, in any event, will be set right when the biopic or Donald Barthelme Story is aired at last. … He will get the key to the city and a ride on a fire truck. Reviewers who trashed his work years ago will now fly into town, paying the full fare out of their own pockets, to apologize abjectly. All his books will show up again on the best-seller lists. Mike Ovitz of CAA will call from Hollywood with high-budget movie plans for some story the author has forgotten he wrote, and Barthelme will put him on hold while he goes to the fridge for another beer.

It's ironic that this comes from Pynchon, since it is people like Pynchon, DeLillo, and (more recently) David Foster Wallace who picked up where Barthelme left off and rendered him, at least temporarily, superfluous.