This got packed away in the very bottom of a box when we moved four years ago. I had never read it; in fact had taken against it. No matter how many people told me it was a work of unparalleled genius I wouldn’t budge. How dare this upstart dazzle my friends, I thought. I taught myself to spit the words Donald and Barthelme.

Anyway, we moved. A new environment, somewhere bigger where we could stretch out and breathe. One whole year later, we decided to open up the boxes and rediscover some of our old books. There it was. Oh-ho, I said, the over-rated Barthelme and his forty stories. My copy’s a floppy American penguin Handbook edition, printed on very thin paper. I weighed it in my hand. This feels nice, I thought, wonder what it reads like.

It didn’t feel like a dipper, so I started reading from the beginning. Chablis, the first story was a domestic miniature told from the point of view of a man struggling to keep his wife happy – I could feel myself thawing. Can this be? The second, On The Deck, was abstract and allegorical seeming, but again ended with a surprisingly emotional pay-off. By the time I’d read The Genius, I was hooked. And every story was different in style from the one that preceded it. My favourite opening line is this one from The New Owner: “When he came to look at the building, with a real-estate agent man hissing and oozing beside him, we lowered the blinds, muted or extinguished lights, threw newspapers and dirty clothes on the floor in piles, burned rubber bands in ashtrays, and played Buxtehude on the hi-fi – shaking organ chords whose vibrations made the plaster falling from the ceiling fall faster,” but you might prefer: “Some of us have been threatening our friend Colby for a long time, because of the way he had been behaving. And now he’d gone too far, so we decided to hang him,” from Some Of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Colby.

Over the last four years I have fallen in love with these forty stories. Particularly the one about Paul Klee (painter and teacher at the Bauhaus), losing an aircraft that he is supposed to be transporting during World War II, because he is too busy drawing to notice it being stolen. And the one about Bluebeard…

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