This story is crap. Donald Barthelme says:
Art is not difficult because it wishes to be difficult, rather because it wishes to be art. However much the writer might long to be straight-forward, these virtues are no longer available to him. He discovers that in being simple, honest, straight-forward, nothing much occurs.
And that’s crap too.
So this is like Barth’s Funhouse story, but without the humor and without the linear narrative. What you get is a very strong style that manifests itself in being ridiculously disjointed, leaping several times within the same paragraph from lists of objects to be found on table tops, or composing barricades, or whatever else, to snatches of dialogue from other characters, to terse descriptions of urban warfare between absurd regiments composed of cabdrivers and the like and ‘Comanches’.
Then it was learned that they had infiltrated our ghetto and that the people of the ghetto instead of resisting had joined the smooth, well-coordinated attack with zipguns, telegrams, lockets, causing that portion of the line held by the IRA to swell and collapse. We sent more heroin into the ghetto, and hyacinths, ordering another hundred thousand of the pale, delicate flowers. On the map we considered the situation with its strung-out inhabitants and merely personal emtotions. Our parts were blue and their parts were green. I showed the blue-and-green map to Sylvia. “Your parts are green,” I said. “You gave me heroin first a year ago,” Sylvia said. She ran off down George C. Marshall Allee, uttering shrill cries. Miss R. pushed me into a large room painted white (jolting and dancing in the soft light, and I was excited! and there were people watching!) in which there were two chairs. I sat in one chair and Miss R. sat in the other. She wore a blue dress containing a red figure. There was nothing exceptional about her. I was disappointed by her plainness, by the bareness of the room, by the absence of books.
It’s like he took The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock, shattered it into a million pieces, swept it all up into one big jumble, threw in some random psychology and a penchant for anal retentive lists and purposeful obfuscation. There is no story. All you have is an extended mishmashed dream sequence from which you can barely glean the narrator’s preocuppations, love interests, fragmented world view.
Barthelme is clearly trying to be complex. There is a purposeful striving for complexity in this tale, and I can imagine him leaning back in his chair between writing sentences, smoking a cigarette, and feeling very proud of his abstruseness. At best, you could say this is an impressionistic rendering of a man’s insecurity in regards to the women that have passed through his life, his own worth in the world, and his inability to grasp what’s of worth in the world itself.
I don’t like it. It’s purposefully and thus annoyingly recondite, and all you walk away with is the impression that Barthelme must have been an insufferable prick at parties.