Wednesday, February 18, 2015

THERE MUST BE SOME MISTAKE by Frederick Barthelme

     Someone once called Barthelme a “Kmart realist” - couldn’t have said it better meself and wish I’d said.  This author stands alone in American literature as he captures the beauty of the mundane, the strangeness of our contemporary life, and does it all with a wry, wonderful warmth and humor.  If you’re looking for a book that’s going to tell a story and then wrap it all up neatly at the end this is not it.  But, if you’d like a delightful journey that is brilliantly narrated and genuinely atmospheric this is it.

We meet Wallace Webster, a 50+ fellow who lives alone in a condo development called Forgetful Bay in Kemah, Texas.  (Barthelme’s take on the residents meetings is more than worth the price of admission.)  Wallace’s solitary life is interrupted by visits from his college-age daughter, Morgan, (the offspring of a previous failed marriage.  And, yes, we are introduced to his former wife.  Another visitor is Jilly, a younger former colleague who we may think has Wallace’s number, but then who really does?

Unlikely as it may sound a string of apparently accidental deaths occur at Forgetful Bay, and Wallace becomes involved with Chantal who hasn’t a very squeaky clean history.  Diversions may be dinners at an Olive Garden where the food was “execrable in the best possible way, as usual,” or desserts - ice cream bars at a gas station.  All of this Barthelme recounts with affection, optimism and robust good humor.

There Must Be Some Mistake is pure pleasure, filled with comments you’ll find yourself repeating to friends, neighbors, anyone who will listen.


- Gail Cooke

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