Monday, December 10, 2007

'I Bought a Little City'
Until a few months ago, I'd never heard of the short story writer Donald Barthelme. The New Yorker fiction podcast clued me in to this absurdist minimalist and his story "I Bought a Little City," published in 1974. Barthelme, who died in 1989, was raised in a modern house, designed by his architect father. And in "I Bought a Little City," you get a sense of this worldview.

The story, which is collected in a book called Sixty Stories, available at Micawbers bookstore in St. Paul and by that soulless corporate giant Amazon, centers on a narrator who buys a little city (Galveston, Texas) and goes about changing it, slowly. He adds a park. But to do that, he needs to kick people out of their homes. So then he needs to build them new homes.

Here's an excerpt from "I Bought a Little City":

"So what kind of a place would you like to live in?" I asked him.
"Well," he said, "not too big."
"Maybe with a veranda around three sides," he said, "so we could sit on it and look out. A screened porch, maybe."

"Whatcha going to look out at?"

"Maybe some trees and, you know, the lawn."

"So you want some ground around the house."

"That would be nice, yeah."

"'Bout how much ground are you thinking of?"

"Well, not too much."

"You see, the problem is, there's only x amount of ground and everybody's going to want to have it to look at and at the same time they don't want to be staring at the neighbors. Private looking, that's the thing."

"Well, yes," he said. "I'd like it to be kind of private."

Writer Donald Antrim reads the whole darn story in the New Yorker podcast, which is available at iTunes.

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