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The Dead Father by Donald Barthelme
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The Dead Father (1975)

by Donald Barthelme

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It felt tired-- or made me feel so. Trying to hard to be experimental and/or absurdist? Don't know, but I'm not going to wear myself out trying to decide. ( )
  KatrinkaV | Jul 19, 2011 |
Weird. Strange. Surreal. But weird, strange, & surreal can be good. Sometimes. There's nothing wrong necessarily with bizarre.

I don't pretend to understand fully the gist of the Dead Father, so don't ask me what it's about exactly (if it's about anything or even means something) because I'm still scratching my head and I don't have dandruff.

Who is the Dead Father? What does the Dead Father connote or symbolize? Hell if I know. In fact, I'm not sure if the Dead Father is, in fact, dead. Deceased. Is the Dead Father myth, legend, God or god, perhaps; yes to all four? Maybe? Don't care?

Is there a plot? Is their character development? Are you kidding? This is Barthelme, postmodern poster boy, not Nicholas Sparks, so don't ask me about a plot or any other standard literary devices, because you won't find them here. I can tell you what The Dead Father is not....it's not very enjoyable. Something about a long cable (we're given an "aerial view " drawing of the cable with 22 dots along a portion of its continuum delineating, apparently, a motley crue of weirdos) which the Dead Father and his son and daughter-in-law and Emma and others follow along, holding it, the cable, while meanwhile killing literal cardboard characters or real creatures along the way. Funny dialogue, though, might've worked better as a play.

Reading Donald Barthelme's The Dead Father is like, dare I say, reading the Bible. Oh, it's Interesting at times all right; cumbersome at times too; archaic, didactic, and obsolete also; difficult to follow & understand as well; mythic, metaphoric, myopic .

But mostly, despite the good mix of humor & innunendo (salacious scenes of The Dead Father seeking to suck the breasts of his daughter-in law, to give you a sneek peek) I was, all in all, bored with the lack of fully fleshed characters I couldn't give a rip about (only their voices are dressed up nicely and somehow move the novel along) and bored too by the complete lack of plot. Not that I need a plot in a book to recommend it. Not that I certainly expected a plot in what I already knew was a novel by a master experimentalist. But if not plot, then I expect the language or at least the philosophy, psychology, something creative or evocative in the narrative to compel me page after plotless page a la plotless, plodding Proust, and Barthelme's language, largely, fails the challenge in the Dead Father. William H. Gass, on the other hand, compels page after plotless page in his fictions, and I'd recommend any of his work without reservation, but I can't quite recommend Barthelme here. I did appreciate, however, in Barthelme's defense, the humorous word play -- the wacky way he can string a seamless, page-long sentence together -- truly satisfies & elicits lots of smiles, but Barthelme's technique cannot, in my estimation, overcome the vacuity & pointlessness of The Dead Father's journey on the page. True, I admire the writing, the obvious talent, and the skill involved, but I don't give a damn about the storytelling. And good storytelling, good descriptive writing, compelling narrative, are reasons why I read, and such traits are greatly lacking here. Based on Barthelme's enormous reputation, I expected more. ( )
4 vote EnriqueFreeque | Jun 24, 2008 |
Better known for his brilliant, perversely funny short stories, Barthelme wrote few novels in his lifetime. This is the one that stays in print, if that tells you anything. A strange, often senseless journey through a dreamscape land of mythology and unconscious desires, it tells the story of the Dead Father, a gargantuan creature that once engaged in godlike acts but who now has withered and is reduced to impotent acts of meaningless violence as a group of his followers drag him across the land on a final quest. Along the way, Barthelme examines, mocks and satirizes the myth of fatherhood, using a variety of stylistic tricks to achieve his often arcane points. At times the book can be tough going, feeling long at only a 150 pages (in fact the book's best sequence, an examination of the "Manual for Sons," works well on its own and is included in "60 Stories"). But there are many flashes of brilliance here and the book would make an interesting read for anyone, provided they were at least already familiar with Barthelme's unique fictional world.

(This review originally appeared on zombieunderground.net) ( )
1 vote coffeezombie | Nov 18, 2006 |
A funny and curious little novel. Here Barthelme is, as always worth your attention. ( )
  NicholasPayne | Jul 26, 2006 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374529256, Paperback)

The Dead Father is a gargantuan half-dead, half-alive, part mechanical, wise, vain, powerful being who still has hopes for himself--even while he is being dragged by means of a cable toward a mysterious goal. In this extraordinary novel, marked by the imaginative use of language that influenced a generation of fiction writers, Donald Barthelme offered a glimpse into his fictional universe. As Donald Antrim writes in his introduction, "Reading The Dead Father, one has the sense that its author enjoys an almost complete artistic freedom . . . a permission to reshape, misrepresent, or even ignore the world as we find it . . . Laughing along with its author, we escape anxiety and feel alive."

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:49:32 -0400)

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