There Must Be Some Mistake

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 book from the author The New Yorker calls, “the master of the low-key epiphany.”

Wallace Webster lives alone in Kemah, Texas at Forgetful Bay, an upscale, southern condo development where residents are passing away at an alarming rate. Divorced, he monitors events in the neighborhood there on Galveston Bay, keeping in touch with his ex-wife Diane, his only daughter, Morgan, and a younger former coworker, for whom he has much averted eyes. As things go haywire in the community, Wallace meets an age-appropriate and somewhat exotic (and possibly criminal) resident, Chantal White, who is no stranger to death herself. Finding each other sympatico, they commence an off-beat affair which begins with Wallace locked in an Airstream trailer tacked onto the roof of Chantal’s Velodrome Restaurant & Bar. Together with these principals and a few other oddballs, Wallace sifts through the curious accidents that rain on his neighbors, sharing stories, anecdotes, reports and speculations, all the while reflecting on his past and shortening future, and taking singular pleasure in his rich relationships with those closest to him. Surrounded by car crashes, suffocations, suicides and burning houses, he is required to recognize and reflect upon his own mortality, and wonders if ‘settling for’ something less than he aspired to a kind of cowardice . . . or just common sense. Beneath the arresting repartee, Barthelme’s trademark tone “pitched halfway between heartbreak and ironic detachment” (Francine Prose), and the ever-present and sometimes desirable and satisfying banality of our modern lives–from Google searches to real life mysteries on TV–lies Frederick Barthelme’s profound concern for and curiosity about our condition. There Must Be Some Mistake is warm, wry, beautifully written, and completely irresistible.

About the books

“Frederick Barthelme has always been a master at cramming a lot of meaning into a small space…with precision and wit that a reviewer might barely hope to match.”— New York Times Book Review (on Waveland)

“Their redemption is the book itself, in which shell shock is transfigured by literary grace.”–David Gates, Newsweek (on Double Down)

“Double Down is one of the best firsthand accounts ever written about organized gambling….The compulsion to control, to intuit the future, to be painted by magic, could not be better or more accurately described.”—James Lee Burke

“Barthelme’s writing is so good I’d follow Elroy to a paint-drying festival.”–New York Times Book Review (on Elroy Nights)

“Rick Barthelme’s take on Americana–dryly funny, despairing, caustic–is also deeply affectionate. There is something memorable and enviable in every one of these stories.”–Amy Hempel (on The Law of Averages)

“It’s impossible to conceive of any writer doing what he does any better than he does it.”—Margaret Atwood, Times Book Review (on Moon Deluxe)


Frederick Barthelme is the author of sixteen books of fiction, six of which have been New York Times Notable Books. His ELROY NIGHTS (2003) was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award. Until 2010, he directed the writing program at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg and edited the literary journal Mississippi Review. He now edits New World Writing, an online magazine that began life as Mississippi Review Online and has published such writers as Elizabeth Gilbert and Ben Marcus.