There Must Be Some Mistake


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Amazon’s Frederick Barthelme page

Wait–what did she say?


Propelled by staccato dialogue and a soundtrack of trashy television shows, Barthelme’s devilishly funny, gorgeously atmospheric, and wryly noirish farce brilliantly poses provocative questions about artifice and reality, loyalty and love, cowardice and valor. 
— Donna Seaman, Booklist

There Must Be Some Mistake


Frederick Barthelme’s new novel There Must Be Some Mistake is due from Little, Brown & Co. in October 2014. In the novel a fiftyish graphic designer forced into retirement discovers, in spite of a parade of unlikely events, including numerous deaths, suicides, threats, explosions, and similar, that it might still be a bearable day in the neighborhood. A lovely new novel from the author The New Yorker calls, “the master of the low-key epiphany.” Continue reading


16 WavelandThe novel Waveland was published by Doubleday in 2009 in hardcover and 2010 in paper. It is set in Waveland, Mississippi, a year after hurricane Katrina leveled the place. The book is available in hardcover, paperback, and Kindle versions at Amazon and elsewhere.

From Booklist

In his newest novel of dysfunction and love along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Barthelme, as he did so incisively in Elroy Nights (2003), dissects middle-age malaise. His characters often seem shipwrecked, and in this off-kilter story of death and divorce, they pretty much are after Katrina transforms the modest beachfront town of Waveland into “ten miles of debris.” Barthelme offers stunning descriptions of the hurricane and its aftermath as he tracks unmoored Vaughn, an architect who has lost his passion for buildings and romance after his reliably unpredictable wife ends their marriage. Brooding, funny, and oddly passive, Vaughn has wandered into a companionable relationship with Greta, the prime suspect in her husband’s murder, and a skittish friendship with hair-trigger Eddie, who lost a hand in the first Gulf War. Meanwhile, Vaughn’s widower father endures a cruelly limited existence. In this powerfully atmospheric story of loneliness and risk, Barthelme slyly conceals emotional and philosophical intensity beneath the peculiarity of circumstance, the dazzle of hilarious repartee, and the luster of gorgeous prose. –Donna Seaman –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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On Being Wrong

A thousand years ago I wrote this short essay for The New York Times attempting to say one or two things about “minimalism” which was just then being widely sneered at in the literary press. Now that minimalism is safely in the rear view mirror, and the exuberance of the author has wilted pleasantly, let’s look again at what was said back when. 

With all the talk in these and similar pages about the new, faulty literature, about things left out and whole tenses turning up bum, not to mention indictments for excessive reticence, moral skinny-dipping, and too much time in the shopping mall, a writer hardly has time to put a new word up on the easel, let alone paint it, before somebody’s deciding it’s the wrong word. My initial reaction to being wrong usually takes the form, “Hey, Mom, here’s more dumb stuff in the newspaper,” which is uncharitable, unfair, and un-useful, sort of “I know you are, but what am I?” So this time, instead of talking back to the newspaper, and for my penance, I thought I’d toss my own self-lighting, burns-in-colors!, artificial log into this fiery debate. Continue reading

The 39 Steps

I prepared these notes for my writing students in 1907 when they were  living large with dime-store surrealism, madcap fantasy, dreary sci-fi monsters, and similar. This was by way of cajolery, an effort to bring them back to the writing

1) Step one in the great enterprise of a new and preferable you in the house of fiction is: Mean less. That is, don’t mean so much. Make up a story, screw around with it, paste junk on it, needle the characters, make them say queer stuff, go bad places, insert new people at inopportune moments, do some drive-bys. Make it up, please.

2) Don’t let it make too much sense.

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Web Publishing

Notes on Web publishing. An Atlantic Monthly Online exchange with Ralph Lombreglia

The Web is a gun
An e-mail exchange

RL: Could you say how you view the Web and its literary prospects?

FB: There seem to be two basic views of the Web among literary folk. The first and most common is that the Web is a wasteland, another television, a form of advertising — all utterly unsuitable for literary activity. Among these folk there is a curious parallel between response to the Web and response to alternative literatures. Those who are terrorized by any change in the habits, practices, and product of writers, any change that might tend to disenfranchise them, are also, and perhaps not surprisingly, terrorized by the rise of the Web as a publishing forum. The second common view is the giddy “it’s all experimental” approach that proclaims that anything on the Web is a fabulous extension of literary activity as we have known it and will clearly destroy all not up-to-date literary activity in about twenty minutes.

Both these views are, even in their most sophisticated disguises, silly. 
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