This is a well planned and conceived event, invitations, limousines for transportation of guests to the hanging tree and all the necessary accoutrement's including drinks (Some of Us). It becomes ghoulish and obscene when one reflects that these people are Colby's friends! What could he have possibly done to deserve such animosity from his own friends? One is left to dangle precariously since no answer to that question is revealed. But the narrator does point out that no one ever went too far again.
The most egregious part of the discussion occurs in contemplating whether rope or wire should be used for the hanging. One friend who has been quiet all along suddenly advocates the wire. A wire? Surely not, Colby would assuredly suffer to excess by choking and likely decapitation. His friends cannot be serious and Colby's luck at last wins him some solace as he is granted a reprieve from the wire (Some of Us). The narrator uses caution for the environment as a way to get the others to back off the idea of a wire since it would hurt the tree! Of all the stories, this one is hardest to digest because it makes clear that the friends successfully exterminate Colby. Punishing a friend by death, for whatever act, is so unexpected along with the manner of these friends, so mundane and unassuming, that the story achieves the absurd. Another part of this story that catches the reader's attention is that this group apparently believes they have the authority to judge one another's actions. Again noticing that no one else ever went "too far again" implies this 'authority'.
Jason Vines call the town in Barthelme's "A City of Churches" a sick town. ("A Sick Town"). Vines points to Barthelme's use of irony and diction to reflect a society of virtual uniformity with no buildings except churches (A Sick). The story is definitely strange with its' endless churches and sense of total conformity. Any claims of choice in religion is simply untrue since so many other religious groups are excluded, not to mention non-believers ("A City of Churches"). All services, businesses, living quarters, jobs, everything is located in one of the many churches. Cecelia, who is planning to open a branch of a car rental agency, comes to Prester and discovers unfathomable distrust of all things not of Prester. Mr. Phillips welcomes Cecelia to Prester and shows her about town explaining how things operate there (A City). He shows her an apartment in a belfry, including the church bell. Cecelia wants a different place, and Phillips offers to show her one where she will share with others but ther e is no bell. Cecelia wants one where she does not share with others. This is simply not done! Mr. Phillips admits all the buildings are churches and asks Cecelia her religious preference who fails to identify any denomination. However, Cecelia offers that she can "will" her dreams, or at least most of them and Mr. Phillips asks about the content of these dreams. Cecelia tells him the subject matter is sexual, which is clearly not acceptable in Prester (A City).
As she begins to realize that Prester is not the place for her, Cecelia lets Mr. Phillips know of her reluctance. But Mr. Phillips identifies Prester as "perfect" and that with some work Cecelia will fit in well. She is uninterested and in her haste to go, Mr. Phillips grabs her arm, in an effort to force her to stay because they have a car rental location in one of the churches prepared for her. She dismisses this option, just like she dismissed the apartment in the belfry, as unfeasible since a young man had called out that "everyone in town owns cars" and thus she would have no business. Even dreaming of worst fears does not seem to effect Mr. Phillips but Cecelia must get away.
"A City of Churches" cannot just be called creepy. It addresses so many different things such as privacy, religion, sexuality and other issues of freedom. Uniformity is the key in Prester and all citizens shall conform to the rules. While this piece has more dialogue than the other stories, it remains true to the minimalism Barthelme was known for and still evokes the urbanity of Prester. The youth who called out to Cecelia is also an interesting reference point since it is typically young people who rebel or find fault with the way things stand. One gets the impression that Cecelia is also rather young than an older lady and that is possibly another reason she is quick to see the difficulties Prester presents.
Barthelme has been called a post-modern writer and while that label surely seems to fit, he also stretched his skills even farther. His dark parody, twisted humor and reflections on society made use of the simplest and everyday activities of life. From schools and churches to life and death. he addressed the reader without always defining a theme or message. Each of the four stories contemplate issues, some of which are often uncomfortable at the least. Seeking answers to age old questions, exploring issues of choice, hoping to understand symbols in our lives, and questioning the vagaries of friendship, they are individually shaped and molded to defy any specific standards that the literary culture might require.
As one critic wrote regarding Barthelme's fiction it, "abides only by a . . . dream logic where every law is tentative, seemingly firm ground liable to suddenly melt and swallow you up like quick sand" (Negative, Gus). A very well said verbal portrayal of some of the writings of Donald Barthelme.
Agresta, Michael "City of Surfaces" The Texas Observer, Mar 5, 2010 Web. 19 July 2010.
Barthelme, Donald. "A City of Churches" Web.
Barthelme, Donald. "Some of Us Have Been Threatening Our Friend Colby." Web.
Barthelme, Donald. "The Glass Mountain" Web.
Barthelme, Donald. "The School" Web.
Lingan, John. "Hiding Man: A Biography of Donald Barthelme by Tracy Daugherty |
Quarterly Conversation." The Quarterly Conversation. Web. 19 July 2010.
Negative, Gus. "Ipl2 Literary Criticism." Ipl2: Information You Can Trust. Web. 19 July
|Vines, Jason. "A Sick Town | Hypersyllogistic." Hypersyllogistic | Politics, Culture,
Entertainment, Discussions, Blogs, Photos. Web. 19 July 2010.
Wilson, Aaron. "THE SCHOOL by Donald Barthelme A Critique." Soulless Machine. Web.