Donald Barthelme - A Biography - Daugherty

When someone writes a seven hundred page book about someone I’m only vaguely aware of I’m intrigued.  I bought this book and learned that Donald Barthelme was a literary innovator who helped re-direct American fiction along with a very small group of authors referred to as postmodernists for lack of a better term.  This group includes John Barth, William Gass, Robert Coover and Thomas Pynchon.  I felt an immediate connection with DB because his father was of the second generation of modern architects who considered the tenets of modernism a religion.  In twentieth century architecture there is an indisputable godhead - Frank Lloyd Wright and a group of three major disciples, all  European: Le Corbusier, Mies Van Der rohe and Walter Gropius. Don Sr., Donald, the writer’s, father brought his architectural intensity into his home.  DB grew up in one of the first modern houses in Houston, Texas.  His mother was passionate about literature.  DB was drafted into the Army and served a tour overseas at the tail end of the Korean war.  DB had a strong-willed passionate and oppressive father - so did I.  The architecture / dad Freudian angle got me hooked for the avalanche of information that followed.  Roger Angel, fiction editor of the New Yorker anointed Barthelme as the next big thing in the mid-sixties.  DB’s fiction, while erudite, trenchant, funny and soulful is not accessible to many readers.  I love DB’s work.  He is explosively creative.  His lived life is dull as dust.  He sat at a desk and wrote all day every day for decades under the influence of copious amounts of vodka.  He moved from small apartment to small apartment and always re-painted each new place white.  Homage to the color of choice of hardcore modern architects.  He died young probably from immune system failure due to inhaling oil-based paint fumes (my theory) the alcohol was no help.  DB was on one end of a great paradigm juke in American letters when he was replaced on the New Yorker pedestal by minimalist / realist Raymond Carver who would have been a maudlin maximalist were it not for his editor Gordon Lish. DB has two brothers who are also esteemed authors of fiction, Steven and Frederick.  It is very interesting to note that  Donald and Frederick are on the two sides of the great New Yorker juke (too small to be a shift),  DB being pomo and Frederick being a realist.  There’s the Bloomian swerve from one’s precursor and what must be an even larger swerve, that from a famous brother, nice work Frederick, job well done.