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Donald Barthelme: Snow White

Post-modernists love deconstructing and playing around with standard fairy tales (cf. Robert Coover‘s Pinocchio in Venice). In this novel, Barthelme sets the Snow White story in 1960s Greenwich Village. The seven dwarves are called Bill, Kevin, Edward, Hubert, Henry, Clem and Dan. One of them, but it is not clear which one is the narrator. They have a mundane job – tending the vats (making baby food, specifically Chinese baby food), washing the buildings and, once a week, carrying the money to the vault. Before they met Snow White, life was simple – same job but with a weekly visit to the brothel. But now life has become complicated for them and they do not know what to do.

As for Snow White, she is a modern, semi-liberated woman but what she really wants is not seven men but one plain hero of incredible size and soft, flexible manners. She is waiting for her prince – any prince – but no prince is going to come or, if he is, he is certainly not going to be the prince of the conventional fairy story. And, as the heroine of a post-modernist work, she is struggling with language. Oh I wish there were some words in the world that were not the words I always hear. But, as this is a post-modernist work, there are no easy solutions. Neither heroes nor dwarves behave as they should. Language is distorted. The consumer society runs rampage through the book and Barthelme is out to destroy the conventional myths which he does effectively.

The book is funny, political and disruptive, as it should be. If you are looking for a conventional story line, look elsewhere. But if you are looking for a book that takes a well-known myth and turns it on a head, with comedy, social criticism, philosophical musings and sheer anarchy, this one works.

Publishing history

First published 1967 by Atheneum