“He is mad about being small when you were big, but no, that’s not it, he is mad about being helpless when you were powerful, but no, not that either, he is mad about being contingent when you were necessary, not quite it… he is insane because when he loved you, you didn’t notice.”
― Donald Barthelme
Donald Barthelme is one of my favorite authors. He was a pioneer in the nontraditional school of short-short fiction – eschewing traditional plot structures and styles. I actually came to reading Donald Barthelme from reading about his brothers, Frederick and Steven – both also respected writers. I came across them by reading an article that they wrote about their gambling addiction. It was a fascinating and sad story – two accomplished, intelligent writers caught in a disastrous downward spiral in the gambling barges of southern Mississippi. Really something. So there are three authors, all worth seeking out – both for fiction and non.
I remember when I was a kid growing up – moving from school to school (I went to twelve schools, more or less, in twelve years) sometimes we would have animals or plants in the classroom for the children’s edification. I don’t remember very many specifics except for a nice big bull snake in Mr. Clinkingbeard’s seventh grade class. I remember it because I had no fear of snakes and would handle it whenever I could. Once it bit me on the hand pretty good (nonpoisonous – though it hurt) and once it crawled past my neck and under my shirt. I grabbed the end of its tail and pulled it out. Unlike today’s story, though, it never died (well, as long as we were in the class).
The story has a really nice structure. The first paragraph reads like a memoir. It starts out small, pedestrian, ordinary, and begins to get bigger and stranger and more poignant as it goes along until it springs out of the form and becomes something completely different. I really like that – will make a note and add that structure to my list of writing hints – maybe do a story or two like that.
You’ll have to read the story to the end to figure out why this is related: