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Donald Barthelme: The Dead Father
The book is narrated by the dead father. He is massive – 3200 cubits (there are various types of cubits but using the most common one, this is nearly a mile) – and his twenty or so offspring are taking him to his grave, led by Thomas and Julie. Despite the fact that he is dead, the dead father is very much alive. He talks (about his mechanical leg, about his life and, above all, about fatherhood). He plays guitar. He eats chocolate pudding. In short, he is a very much a living dead father. Of course, what is living is not really the body but what he represents – fatherhood, of course, including father-son relationships, but also order and control, a paternalistic society and all the traditional values (many of which have been subverted, not least by Barthelme) associated with those things. But, as this is a post-modern novel, the huge, overwhelming body is the way Barthelme has chosen to show this colossus dominating the landscape all around and also dominating the people, namely his children and all those that are pulling him, following him on a mock-epic journey, parodying novels such as As I Lay Dying. Does it work? The answer is sort of. Some critic have said that it is Barthelme’s most approachable novel but that is because it has a more or less linear narrative structure. At times, the book does appear to flag but if you want a witty account of the influence of fatherhood in the broadest sense, this is as good a place to start as any.
First published 1975 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux