Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Waveland by Frederick Barthelme


I've had some trouble with some of Barthelme's earlier books. He isn't the minimalist that his more famous brother Donald was (but then, according to those who've studied Donald's manuscripts, Donald wasn't either). Frederick's writing is superb and his dialog rings absolutely true. The characters are very much the modern, soulless creatures I assume he intended. I just didn't care to read about them very much.
In Waveland, however, Barthelme has created characters I know and care about. He writes beautifully and some of his passages approach Walker Percy's meditations. In fact, I couldn't help thinking about the trip to the Mississippi Coast in Percy's Moviegoer while reading Waveland.
Waveland is set on the Coast shortly after Katrina. The main characters are a "retired" architect, his ex-wife and new girlfriend. Their aimless lives are echoed in the senseless destruction of the storm. Yet there is humor and beauty and meaning in the characters.
Frederick Barthelme studied with John Barth at Johns Hopkins University. He is a professor at the University of Southern Mississippi.

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