Game by Donald Barthelme - BA English Notes

I hate Donald Barthelme. I’m quite simply baffled by how he manages to keep his stories so short, yet get to the point so quickly.

But the problem is that there is no point in most of his stories. Or maybe there is, but they reach you on such a subconscious level, that you only understand them in an intangible way, sort of similar to how you understand why Cher is popular, but you yourself would never listen to her music.

Game by Donald Barthelme

Most of his Barthelme’s stories are so wrapped in tone and atmosphere, that by the time you’ve finished the story, you feel like you’ve seen a magic trick without the big reveal, and yet you still enjoyed what you saw. It’s confusing, and my confusion is only making me hate him even more.

Game, one of his most famous short stories, is about two men who have work in very close proximity to one another, and have a tough time communicating.

So on one level, this is your basic workplace drama. I know workplace drama. Here at the StoryTime. offices, we exist within a co-working facility, which is sort of like the hipster version of a Chinese factory assembly line, but instead of making iPhones, people make apps like “AttackGrandma” and the suicide support app, “Your Mind is a Prison, It’s time to Escape”. 

So when the office next door (i.e. sitting down the table from us) orders SweetLeaf for everyone in the office, except for StoryTime., drama on the level of Donald’s Barthelme’s tale ensues.

But, of course, Barthelme’s stories aren’t satisfied with talking about the cut-throat world of cubicle politics.

The two main characters just so happen to stare at a console all day, waiting for instructions, just in case they both need to turn keys they each have at the same time, and let “the bird” fly.

They’re also told that if either starts acting weird, that they should shoot that person. If you’re thinking to yourself, “that sounds eerily similar to my post-recessionary job,”, then you’d likely be incorrect.

From all signs and signals, this story takes place in a missile silo under the earth, with two operators, both on the edge of sanity, with control over a weapon that could end the world as we know it. So actually, other than the last part, it probably is a lot like your job.

But then again, this setting is only sussed out from the details. Barthelme expects his readers to be intelligent enough to make educated inferences based on his writing.

What an asshole. I much prefer it when a writer tells me exactly what’s going to happen, page one. “This is a story about a middle-aged man with a younger lady partner, who he will definitely be doing it with, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Don’t worry about the conspiracy you’ll be reading about later, none of it is based in even an iota of fact.” See? Much better. Thank you, Dan Brown.

You can read this story if you like detail, a mastery of tone, an atmosphere of paranoia and suspicion that mirrors the political climate around nuclear weapons, along with a narrative that truly makes you wonder if placing weapons of mass destruction in human hands isn’t one of man’s greatest follies. But who likes that? Just do the expected thing and Patricia Cornwell’s 254th entry in her “Eugenia Redondoface” series. That’s really what everyone wants.

For the complete story, read it for free here.
Previous
Next Post »