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October 23, 1986 - Image 21

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1986-10-23
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A Lost Tourist
in Paradise
Simon's young models provide all the sexual
pleasure he can handle, but their unstable mix
of high spirits and inscrutability is discomfiting

"male fantasy," and they freely criticize
both Simon's politics and his sexual per-
formance. These women are onto him. But
they stay. But only for the time being.
This paradise is really only temporary
shelter, and much care is given to creature
comforts: mealtime is at least as festive as
bedtime. (It's appropriate that Simon is an
architect. Shelter is his metier.)Simon does
his damnedest to savor what he can when
he can: the next dinner, the next drink, the
next song on the radio. He has mixed suc-
cess. "It's agreatcity" saysAnneswho, like
her friends Bore and Veronica, is sampling
New York's museums, stores-and singles
bars. "It's a great argument for cities,"
Simon replies. Unlike the women, he's at a
distance from his pleasures.
New York is the proper stage set for
Barthelme, who has always been both trou-
bled and enchanted by a culture that is
polyglot, polymath and out of control. Si-
mon's radio serves up a musical ragout
(Keith Jarrett to Christian rock); meals are
a cross-cultural cacophony (haute cuisine
to hot dogs). Barthelme, a self-conscious
inheritor of the modernism of Joyce and
Eliot, Picasso and Duchamp, has often fol-
lowed them in devising or appropriating
fragmented forms to fit this fragmented
vision. He pasted his earlier stories togeth-
er out of short vignettes and even framed
literary objets trouves: "The Question Par-
ty," for example, is a slightly altered ver-
sion of a story published in Godey's Lady's

n titling his new novel Paradise (Put-
nam's. $16.95), Donald Barthelme
calls some heavy-duty spirits from the
vasty deeps of tradition. The invidious
comparisons we're led to make with
visions of singing spheres and angelic hier-
archies-or even plain old milk and hon-
ey-point up the main character's reduced
expectations. His paradise is neither order-
ly nor everlasting; his story, told in rueful
retrospect, begins after it's already lost.
Those who know Barthelme's work will
be at home in "Paradise." The situation-
Simon, an architect, has three beautiful
young models living with him in a sub-
leased New York apartment-is a toned-
down mirror image of the one in his first
novel, "Snow White" (1967), in which one
woman lives with seven men. Simon him-
self is a variant of Bishop, who appears in
recent stories: a hyperintelligent middle-
aged man who has a failed marriage,
drinks too much and is miraculously toler-
ated by young women after whom he lusts.

Simon's guests provide all the sexual
pleasure he can handle ("When they
couldn't get a part of him they'd play with
each other"), but their unstable mix of high
spirits and inscrutability is discomfiting:
they're like "splendid, stinging anthills."
Their youth is irresistible-and makes Si-
mon feel like a lost tourist in his own house-
hold. "Who is Ally Sheedy?" he wonders
when one wears a T shirt reading ALLY
SHEEDY LIVES. "In what sense does she
live, and why is the fact worthy of com-
ment?" They are disconcertingly aware
that their presence is the fulfillment of a

A Modest Author
Alchomizes 'Junk'
L ike Simon, the protagonist in his new
novel, Donald Barthelme lives with
three beautiful women. The Barth-
elme household, however, scarcely re-
sembles the orgiastic digs of Si-
mon and his three mistresses:
the author dwells sedately
with wife, Marion, a free-
lance journalist, and
daughters Anne, 20, a
sophomore theater ma-
jor at the University of
Houston, and Kathar-
ine, 41/2. Clearly, Si-
mon does not mirror
his creator. "I live a
much quieter life," the
writer smiles.
At 55, Barthelme di-
vides his time between

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