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In the 1960s Donald Barthelme came to prominence as the leader of the Postmodern movement. He was a fixture at the New Yorker, publishing more than 100 short stories, including such masterpieces as "Me and Miss Mandible," the tale of a thirty-five-year-old sent to elementary school by clerical error, and "A Shower of Gold,"in which a sculptor agrees to appear on the existe In the 1960s Donald Barthelme came to prominence as the leader of the Postmodern movement. He was a fixture at the New Yorker, publishing more than 100 short stories, including such masterpieces as "Me and Miss Mandible," the tale of a thirty-five-year-old sent to elementary school by clerical error, and "A Shower of Gold,"in which a sculptor agrees to appear on the existentialist game show Who Am I? He had a dynamic relationship with his father that influenced much of his fiction. He worked as an editor, a designer, a curator, a news reporter, and a teacher. He was at the forefront of literary Greenwich Village which saw him develop lasting friendships with Thomas Pynchon, Kurt Vonnegut, Tom Wolfe, Grace Paley, and Norman Mailer. Married four times, he had a volatile private life. He died of cancer in 1989. The recipient of many prestigious literary awards, he is best remembered for the classic novels Snow White, The Dead Father, and many short stories, all of which remain in print today.  This is the first biography of Donald Barthelme, and it is nothing short of a masterpiece.


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In the 1960s Donald Barthelme came to prominence as the leader of the Postmodern movement. He was a fixture at the New Yorker, publishing more than 100 short stories, including such masterpieces as "Me and Miss Mandible," the tale of a thirty-five-year-old sent to elementary school by clerical error, and "A Shower of Gold,"in which a sculptor agrees to appear on the existe In the 1960s Donald Barthelme came to prominence as the leader of the Postmodern movement. He was a fixture at the New Yorker, publishing more than 100 short stories, including such masterpieces as "Me and Miss Mandible," the tale of a thirty-five-year-old sent to elementary school by clerical error, and "A Shower of Gold,"in which a sculptor agrees to appear on the existentialist game show Who Am I? He had a dynamic relationship with his father that influenced much of his fiction. He worked as an editor, a designer, a curator, a news reporter, and a teacher. He was at the forefront of literary Greenwich Village which saw him develop lasting friendships with Thomas Pynchon, Kurt Vonnegut, Tom Wolfe, Grace Paley, and Norman Mailer. Married four times, he had a volatile private life. He died of cancer in 1989. The recipient of many prestigious literary awards, he is best remembered for the classic novels Snow White, The Dead Father, and many short stories, all of which remain in print today.  This is the first biography of Donald Barthelme, and it is nothing short of a masterpiece.

30 review for Hiding Man: A Biography of Donald Barthelme

  1. 4 out of 5

    Paul Bryant

    Born with unfortunately deformed eyebrows which gave his countenance a permanent look of ironic disbelief undisguisable even by sunglasses, Donald Barthelme’s life prospects, you may have thought, were severely limited. Because of his eyebrows, he never succeeded at job interviews and after some early unfortunate experiences never attended any funerals. However, in 1961, at the age of 30, he hit upon the idea which made him famous. This was the simple yet profound concept of naming the features o Born with unfortunately deformed eyebrows which gave his countenance a permanent look of ironic disbelief undisguisable even by sunglasses, Donald Barthelme’s life prospects, you may have thought, were severely limited. Because of his eyebrows, he never succeeded at job interviews and after some early unfortunate experiences never attended any funerals. However, in 1961, at the age of 30, he hit upon the idea which made him famous. This was the simple yet profound concept of naming the features of the human face, a task which had previously puzzled experts throughout human history, from Plato to Wittgenstein. It is now very difficult to imagine a time before the famous Barthelme Complete Head Diagram which every child will remember as a foundational part of their earliest education. Was there ever a time when, for example, the nose was referred to as the middle region in regard to breathing and sniffing? Well, of course, us of a certain age remember that there was, and how cumbersome life was without the word nose. Who calls me villain? breaks my pate across? Plucks off the hair which grows from the part between the joining tube between the body and the head and the eating area, and blows it in my frontal area of skull? Tweaks me by the middle region in regard to breathing and sniffing? gives me the lie i' the interior tube for breathing and ingestion, As deep as to the lungs? Thus Hamlet’s famed soliloquy. Now, see how improved it is by the substitution of Barthelme’s terminology: Who calls me villain? breaks my pate across? Plucks off my beard, and blows it in my face? Tweaks me by the nose? gives me the lie i' the throat, As deep as to the lungs? Barthelme was perspicacious enough to hire a copyright lawyer and the proceeds of the face and head part naming conventions, speedily taken up by the medical profession, made him wealthy. But in an act of characteristic generosity he instructed that the copyright on all such terms as ear, lip, cheek and chin, throat, etc, should lapse on his death. His wealth gave him the freedom to leave his position at the University of Inner Houston. He spent the next several years buying and selling various cities – Galveston, Lucknow, Oslo, Wagga Wagga amongst them. Residents still recall with palpable awe their time in a Barthelmised city, as a living participant in one of Barthelme’s enormous “experiments in radicalised cohabitation”. 60 FLOORS UP, NO NET Well, enough of that. Donald Barthelme was one of the great American writers of the 60s to the 80s. He wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea because his stuff was frankly weird and often very silly and also impenetrable, whimsical, tiresome and smug. But the good stuff is a whole other thing. You could say – and I do say - that with American short story greats like Cheever, Updike, Beatty, Paley, Flannery O’Connor and even Lorrie Moore you are in the realm of refinement. Like someone writing a blues song or a sestina the thing to do is to respect tradition and closely observe how life is lived now. Which they do, and create a beautiful mosaic of 20th century life as they trill and bubble or indeed mope along. Guy like Barthelme, however, like a guy like Borges, is not doing any of that, he’s inventing a whole new way of conceiving what a short story is. A new fictional thing. He’s the author swandiving off of the 60th floor attempting to land in a paddling pool on the hard concrete pavement below. If anyone may doubt of this, please refer to the following stories The Balloon Paraguay The School The Great Hug I Bought a Little City Rebecca A SMALL FIGHT He was very serious about his very unserious work. He had hugely neurotic fights with the editors at The New Yorker about commas. He wanted very few commas in one particular story because he wished the tone in certain places to be a drone… we should try it without horrible commas clotting up everything and demolishing the rhythm of ugly, scrawled sentences… yes it is true that I am a miserable, shabby, bewildered, compulsive, witless and pathetic little fellow but please Roger keep them commas out of the story!!! FOR SOME PEOPLE BARTHELME WAS PART OF THE PROBLEM He wrote 4 novels but I haven’t read a single one & am dubious that any will be good at all. His heart was in the short insane compressed hilarious spurt of the unexpected. One of his novels The Dead Father really got on one critic’s wick : The kind of literary artifice that shuts out all reference to the normal course of human feeling… [his novel expressed] that hatred of the family that was a hallmark of the ideology of the counterculture of the 60s. This was mistaken, but you could see why DB got on the nerves of some conservatives. They saw him as part of the problem. John Gardner took a potshot in his 1978 book On Moral Fiction: He knows what is wrong [with the world] but he has no clear image of, or interest in, how things ought to be. Well, you could say that about a lot of people. As the 70s rolled on, in came Raymond Carver and other minimalists. At the very same time punk rock was booting out prog and disco. You can see a big cultural plunge into wild experimentation from the mid 60s to mid 70s which ended in fizzled exhaustion and pomposity, then in come the anti-hippy bratty political punks yelling and throwing things and playing only three chords in 4/4 time. The other extreme. As Carver is the other extreme to Barthelme. There was this bifurcation. But always the answer is you should have both. Crass and Yes, Joe Strummer and Rick Wakeman, Raymond Carver and Donald Barthelme. Away with either/or. We celebrate every possibility. EVERYBODY BLURTS DB started in Houston, a city which was at that time in Texas, and may well still be, I have no way of telling, then he moseyed on down to New York, where he became an effete New Yorker hanging out with William Coover, William Gass, William De Kooning, William Gaddis, William Wolfe and William Paley. In 1978 DB wrote : Everything in New York City is getting shabbier and rattier and rattier. My eyes are getting worse. Everything’s getting worse. My back hurts. Everybody’s back hurts. (I think we may detect a reference to this quote in REM’s well known song : “everybody’s back hurts…sometimes”). A TYPICAL MOMENT IN THE LIFE OF DONALD BARTHELME One day Birgit [his third ex-wife] phoned from Denmark to talk about Kierkegaard (p411) DON’T GIVE UP THE DAY JOB By the 1980s Tracy Daugherty says that only one book of DBs remained in print, Snow White, his first novel. This was a steady source of income over the years, netting anything from 30 to 300 dollars per annum. “For all his other books combined, he was liable to make, in any given year, less than a thousand dollars”. So he had a whole bundle of jobs – but mostly lecturer, museum curator and arts magazine editor. This was because, starting in the snap crackle and pop of the swingingest year of 1964, his early stories exactly meshing with the merry iconoclasms of the time, he gradually ran out of steam, as did all the krazy kidz of the time – did John Sebastian write another decent song after 1970? Did Ray Davies? Did…. John Lennon? Even though as we have said, DB was not part of the counterculture, he was part of the explosion of ideas. I can’t confirm if this rather gloomy view of his work is true because I’m still ploughing through the early fun stuff. But I will report back, eventually. POSTMODERNISM Okay, you’re forgiven for wanting to throw this term into the boiling malevolence of Popocatépetl volcano. As far as I can make out, Modernists were (starting with Baudelaire) on a moral mission to smash the bourgeoisie by means of art which broke with all tradition. They were idealists. They had agendas, political ones, sexual ones. The Postmodernists still did lots of new rule-breaking stuff but without any shred of moral purpose. It was all ironic play. Didn’t mean anything. Except, you know, life is sad. (But I can make a career out of ironic meaningless gestures, so it’s all good.) DB is alleged to be a Postmodernist. It may be true. WIVES DB had four of them and you can see the constraints a biographer of the recently dead has to dance with – the first wife gets a character assassination, the second is agonised and sympathetic, the third is treated with restraint (she committed suicide years after they split up) and the fourth, who lasted longest, barely figures, because she was still very much around. So she comes across as a mystery woman, whereas the others are pungently alive as they come & go in the story. LITERARY BIOGRAPHY IS SOAP OPERA FOR THE INTELLECTUALLY PRETENTIOUS I really liked this pleasant but rather melancholy stroll from the 50s through to the late 80s, mostly in Manhattan. Mr Daugherty (not Miss, as I had thought – come on, Tracy is a girl’s name) is really a wonderful biographer. As well as the life, he meditates and annotates pretty much all of the fiction, and I will be rereading those parts as DB’s later books come hurtling through the post to my house. The cover of my hefty paperback copy, though, is the all time worst on any biography anywhere, and put me off reading it for ages. It has the stupidest ugliest photo of the young beardless Don with his overly ironic eyebrows. If that is the copy you also find, do not let it put you off.

  2. 4 out of 5

    John

    This one reached my desk last week, I finished it over the weekend, & rightly or wrongly, I've bumped aside a few GR-worthy items in order to put in a few words for this masterly bio. Tracy Daugherty begins w/ a crucial understanding, namely, that Donald Barthelme's life & career set a challenge for American imaginative literature, for what it holds valuable. So this entire espresso-rich compendium of pertinent life-detail -- reaching back to the founding of Houston & of Greenwich Village, to th This one reached my desk last week, I finished it over the weekend, & rightly or wrongly, I've bumped aside a few GR-worthy items in order to put in a few words for this masterly bio. Tracy Daugherty begins w/ a crucial understanding, namely, that Donald Barthelme's life & career set a challenge for American imaginative literature, for what it holds valuable. So this entire espresso-rich compendium of pertinent life-detail -- reaching back to the founding of Houston & of Greenwich Village, to the structure & symbolism of Dante's DIVINE COMEDY, to the place of Andromache & Penelope in Homeric myth -- the entire book -- neglecting none of Barthelme's busy family, none of his stabs at reporting, at teaching, at art-curating, collage-making, radio-writing, jazz-playing, & none of his heavy drinking either, & certainly neglecting none of his many wives & lovers, a number of them (like Grace Paley) superb artists themselves -- still the entire biography never gets far from its argument. Barthelme's work, in Daugherty's ever-sensitive assessments, never lacks for the *edge* that drove it. As a writer, he was always up against the prevailing powers, & always subverting them w/ wit, intelligence, surprise, & a "golden ear" (to borrow the expression several of the former lovers & friends in this book find themselves using). In HIDING MAN Barthelme has a life-story worthy of the struggle to which he, all light-heartedly, dedicated his vocation. Anyone seeking to matter in the arts could learn from the fascinating, scrupulous, & highly humane scholarship Daugherty brings off here. (full disclosure: 20 years ago, plus, Daugherty & I worked together briefly; also I studied w/ Don B., & remained something of a friend afterwards, & I'm mentioned -- just once -- in the book)

  3. 4 out of 5

    Max Nemtsov

    Тщательно исследованная биография писателя, чья жизнь была прямо подчеркнуто лишена зрелищных или каких-либо особо драматических событий (ни дать ни взять как у нас). Ну казалось бы, что может быть интересного в жизни спокойного интеллигента (ну, кроме того, что творится у него в голове, когда он пишет). А вот поди ж ты — книга почти в 500 страниц (и еще 100 стр. комментариев). Такая работа завораживает сама по себе — пожалуй, не менее литературных и стилистических алхимических опытов самого Дон Тщательно исследованная биография писателя, чья жизнь была прямо подчеркнуто лишена зрелищных или каких-либо особо драматических событий (ни дать ни взять как у нас). Ну казалось бы, что может быть интересного в жизни спокойного интеллигента (ну, кроме того, что творится у него в голове, когда он пишет). А вот поди ж ты — книга почти в 500 страниц (и еще 100 стр. комментариев). Такая работа завораживает сама по себе — пожалуй, не менее литературных и стилистических алхимических опытов самого Доналда Бартелми. Но если в других писательских биографиях перед читателем предстают фигуры мифологизированные или хотя бы беллетризованные, тут все не так. Недаром человек-то у нас прячется. Тут Бартелми никак не «оживляется» — помимо своих поступков, текстов и скрупулезно аттрибутированных высказываний. Это идеальный монтаж биографии — коллаж сродни текстам самого Бартелми. Писатель здесь не становится персонажем собственной биографии, фигура автора равна его текстам. Здесь вроде бы нечего домысливать — для этого нет ни повода, ни материала, однако остается больной висящий вопрос: отчего же в жизни у Бартелми все сложилось так грустно? Вот эта фигура умолчания дразнит сильнее каких-то поверхностных загадок в судьбах более зрелищных затворников, вроде Пинчона (про которого тут есть несколько анекдотов, из которых становится понятно, что миф о его недоступности — не более чем миф и касается, в основном, прессы и проекции в широкий мир). И точно так же, как фигура автора здесь выглядит отражением нас, сама фабула его судьбы (да и эта конкретная биография) превращается в объект реального мира, нас окружающего. Как те относительно немногие книги писателей поколения самого Бартелми, что не проходят по разряду «чтива» или даже «литературы», а становятся частью нашего непосредственного жизненного опыта.

  4. 5 out of 5

    James Murphy

    Think of the biographer as blacksmith. By beating the hammer of the artist against the anvil of his work he shapes the horseshoe of biography. I kinda felt that because Daugherty's critical commentary on Barthelme's work lacked punch he left the man as artist not quite rounded enough. Actually, what I think is that Daugherty's discussion of the stories seemed cogent and understanding but that the criticism of the novels wasn't comprehensive enough. It's through those novels--The Dead Father and Think of the biographer as blacksmith. By beating the hammer of the artist against the anvil of his work he shapes the horseshoe of biography. I kinda felt that because Daugherty's critical commentary on Barthelme's work lacked punch he left the man as artist not quite rounded enough. Actually, what I think is that Daugherty's discussion of the stories seemed cogent and understanding but that the criticism of the novels wasn't comprehensive enough. It's through those novels--The Dead Father and Snow White, at least--that I'd come to my interest in Barthelme. Wanting to know where those novels as well as the later Paradise, which is in my future, came from, and why, sparked my read of the biography. I'm not sure Daugherty brought the man and his work together as a whole for me, the very purpose of biography. One area of the book fascinated me. Barthelme published frequently for many years in The New Yorker. The inner workings of the magazine, briefly discussed, are interesting. But more, Barthelme may have been too comfortable in the relationship, the author suggests, and by hugging the shore rather than striking out into deeper water of other publishing forums may have limited his reach. His work done, Daugherty stands grimy and sweaty holding up the horseshoe of his biography. It isn't exactly a wonky shoe but it may be a little thin for a heavy horse. Barthelme's eye was sardonic. He might've appreciated it.

  5. 5 out of 5

    K.M. Soehnlein

    For admirers of Donald Bartheleme's fiction, or any reader of his work looking to crack open some of his literary puzzles, this biography is an absolute must. It's also recommended for anyone interested in reading about how a writer begins, hits his stride, develops and deepens a career over a lifelong body of work. The author, Tracy Daugherty, was a student of Barthelme's and brings an appealing affection to his portrayal. More than that, he deeply admires Barthelme's singular writing style -- t For admirers of Donald Bartheleme's fiction, or any reader of his work looking to crack open some of his literary puzzles, this biography is an absolute must. It's also recommended for anyone interested in reading about how a writer begins, hits his stride, develops and deepens a career over a lifelong body of work. The author, Tracy Daugherty, was a student of Barthelme's and brings an appealing affection to his portrayal. More than that, he deeply admires Barthelme's singular writing style -- that ironical, absurdist and strangely poignant blend that made him one of the most important figures of published fiction in the 1960s and 70s. By devoting, at times, pages to the meaning behind particular short stories, he makes this more than a life story. It's like an extended seminar that builds an argument for Barthelme as a pre-eminent 20th century artist, one who took an interest in absurdism & existentialism (Beckett), psychoanalysis (Freud) and humor writing (the satirical tradition of The New Yorker magazine) to produce something very new: exemplary post-modern fiction. I've never deeply connected to more than a couple of Donald Barthelme's stories, but this book gave me so much context and insight that I find myself now (re)reading his collection "Sixty Stories" with a new eye toward appreciation and understanding.

  6. 4 out of 5

    LaTanya McQueen

    How can you not love this man with a story like the following from one of his ex-wives: "In 1956, I went to France, to the University of Paris, and got a doctoral degree. I left Donald my car. In 1959, I saw him in Houston, to get the car back..He told me the car had needed two things: It needed to be painted and it needed new brakes. He couldn't afford both. So he'd gotten it repainted." Or the recounted conversation from friend Herman Gollob. A couple nights before, Gollob was having dinner with How can you not love this man with a story like the following from one of his ex-wives: "In 1956, I went to France, to the University of Paris, and got a doctoral degree. I left Donald my car. In 1959, I saw him in Houston, to get the car back..He told me the car had needed two things: It needed to be painted and it needed new brakes. He couldn't afford both. So he'd gotten it repainted." Or the recounted conversation from friend Herman Gollob. A couple nights before, Gollob was having dinner with a girl who happened to be a student of Barthelme's current wife. He told the girl that he thought Maggie, the wife, was a "snobbish bitch".A couple days later he goes by Barthleme's office and the following conversation takes place, retold by Gollob. "'I understand you think my wife is a snobbish bitch,' Don said. 'My date had ratted on me, possibly because I'd had the poor taste to take her to Stubby's, not one of Houston's chic watering spots,' Gollob says. Fearing a freeze-out from Don, he decided it was best to confess. 'Yes, I do think she's a snobbish bitch,' he replied. 'Rising, [Don:] patted me on the arm and said, 'So do I. In fact, I'm getting a divorce. I'll have to look for an apartment right away. Why don't we share one?'" So far, there are all kinds of little tidbits of information about Barthelme's life that make his fiction even more interesting to think about (if that's possible). For example, the fact that he suffered through "fits" as a child, or some sort of epileptic seizures. Maybe it's because I've also struggled with seizures (that like Barthelme, also have went away) that I connected with his comments about it, saying how "it's the loss of control. I mean, when you fall down without any warning, black out, it teaches you something. It had nothing to do with ecstasy, I'll tell you, it had to do with somebody or something that could take away your consciousness at its volition rather than yours," and that this feeling now "manifests itself only in dreams." There's so much more I could comment on, Barthelme's philosophies about writing, his influences, his strained relationship with his architect father. All of this is also quite fascinating, but the parts that I so far enjoy the most are the passages about Barthelme the man, described in pictures as "laughing uproariously, or squinting wryly even in serious moments." He liked to dance, he loved jazz, and the man played drums. This is a guy who decided on a whim to hitchhike to Mexico City with a friend. "We were around sixteen," he says, "and had run away from home, in the great tradition, hitched various long rides with various sinister folk, and there we were in the great city with about two t-shirts to our names." I mean, seriously, I'll ask again, how can you not fall in love with this man?

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jason Jordan

    For anyone who wants to learn more about Donald Barthelme and his work, Hiding Man is the place to start. Daugherty's biography is comprehensive, and will lead to far greater understanding of Barthelme's stories and novels. It has its dry moments that are perhaps too tangential--Barthelme's father is dwelled on, as is philosophy--though such topics do warrant inclusion, needless to say. Additionally, Hiding Man is well designed and contains numerous pictures. Definitely worth the read.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

    Back in the late 1960's and up through the 1980's, it would have been hard to pick up an issue of the New Yorker that did not contain work or at least a mention of Donald Barthelme. One of the great experimental writers of his day, he also managed to breach through and gain a level of mainstream popularity. Now readers can finally get a thorough look at his often guarded life with Tracy Daugherty's thoughtful and beautifully written biography Hiding Man. Son of a successful architect, Barthelme g Back in the late 1960's and up through the 1980's, it would have been hard to pick up an issue of the New Yorker that did not contain work or at least a mention of Donald Barthelme. One of the great experimental writers of his day, he also managed to breach through and gain a level of mainstream popularity. Now readers can finally get a thorough look at his often guarded life with Tracy Daugherty's thoughtful and beautifully written biography Hiding Man. Son of a successful architect, Barthelme grew up in Houston, TX on the fringes of the mainstream literary and artistic world. While there he fell in love with adventure tales like Sabatini's Captain Blood and humor by writers like James Thurber and SJ Perelman. His father pushed him into the more esoteric influences of Surrrealism, Rabelais and others. After a stint in college----Barthelme never actually graduated----he worked for art galleries and as a newspaper man before following his ambitions in his early twenties to become part of the New York writing scene. What follows after this intro to Barthelme's life is a grand tour of his work and how his life intersected with it. The main trouble with trying to read Barthelme today is that his work---especially his late 60's and early 70's writings----is very much of the time and understanding it today can be difficult. Daughtery carefully lays out the influences----both literary and worldly----making this a must-read volume for anyone who has troubles understanding why we still need to read Barthelme. Daugherty admits early on to his personal history with DB----he was a student of his and seemed to stay in good touch with him afterward----but Daugherty still manages to develop a fairly balanced book by including positive and negative views on DB's life and work. Hiding Man extends well beyond DB's own writing. DB not only published some innovative fiction but also managed to exercise a profound influence on literature in general through his involvement with P.E.N., various awards committees and teaching. In one way or another he was an influence on Grace Paley, Thomas Pynchon, Vikram Chandra, Philip Lopate, and many many more. I first discovered Barthelme reading the anthology After Yesterday's Crash; although Barthelme doesn't have any work in the book, he's referred to several times in Larry McCaffery's introduction. From there I picked up used copies of his collections The Teachings of Don B and City Life as well as Snow White, his first and still probably best known novel. Full of lists, Q & A's, strange bits of dialogue and collages that really pushed against the walls of what fiction can be, I loved his work at first. But by the time I got to Snow White I found the ideas behind these tricks and techniques at their best dated and at their worst empty. It's the later sections of Hiding Man that detail Barthelme's writing career and his desire to not just be an iconoclast but also a great writer that I found more interesting. His work becomes more personal with novels like The Dead Father and more outspoken politically with short story collections like Overnight to Many Distant Cities. I'm very curious to give some of these other ideas a try now. Well written and thoughtful, I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in postmodern fiction, literary history or even someone just looking for a unique biography. Excelsior

  9. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    Hiding Man, Tracy Daugherty's biography of Donald Barthelme, is an investigation of the education of an artistic sensibility. Barthelme never actually finished college, though he may have had enough credits for two BAs. The twelve years of Barthelme's life from eighteen to thirty are a long apprenticeship, working in journalism as his hero Hemingway did; going to Korea with the army and mostly reading; writing speeches for the president of the University of Houston; managing a great small magazi Hiding Man, Tracy Daugherty's biography of Donald Barthelme, is an investigation of the education of an artistic sensibility. Barthelme never actually finished college, though he may have had enough credits for two BAs. The twelve years of Barthelme's life from eighteen to thirty are a long apprenticeship, working in journalism as his hero Hemingway did; going to Korea with the army and mostly reading; writing speeches for the president of the University of Houston; managing a great small magazine, Forum; directing the Houston Museum of Contemporary Art; moving to New York to run an art magazine for Harold Rosenberg and Thomas Hess. He didn't publish his own writing until he was well past 30. He really did read all of western Philosophy (as he told young writers to do for their own apprenticeships), as well as prodigiously in literature, before finally turning out his own product (he destroyed much of his "juvenile" writing, nearly all of what he'd done in his twenties). Any young writer would profit from a close study of Hiding Man, paying particular heed to what Barthelme read and asked family to send him when he was in the army in Korea--and to how he read, spider fashion from one book to the webs of other books connected to central texts. Daugherty's book is also an immensely sad story of a high functioning alcoholic and son of a fascinating, demanding, autocratic modernist architect father, whose regard and approval Barthelme never fully received or understood. Still, Hiding Man is instructive and heartening. This is how to describe a writer's life--tactfully, with the fiction as models for efficiency as well as for information about his life. The great surprise of Hiding Man is how much autobiography is available in Donald Barthelme's beautiful, quizzical, puzzle-piece stories and novels. This is a great book.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Tim Fiester

    I've been a big fan of Barthelme's stories, from the New Yorker and my college classes. I liked how he used sentence structure in innovative ways, incorporating clever and humorous word play and jokes. "The Dead Father" is a very powerful book about the tensions within a family of an absent, yet dominant father and the obligations the children feel toward that figure. So, for someone who still aspires to one day write a book and hopes to see it published, I wanted to read and possibly learn some I've been a big fan of Barthelme's stories, from the New Yorker and my college classes. I liked how he used sentence structure in innovative ways, incorporating clever and humorous word play and jokes. "The Dead Father" is a very powerful book about the tensions within a family of an absent, yet dominant father and the obligations the children feel toward that figure. So, for someone who still aspires to one day write a book and hopes to see it published, I wanted to read and possibly learn some of the techniques or approach of a craftsman. I can easily see myself rereading this book. I was not disappointed. I enjoyed reading about Barthelme's shenanigans growing up, his exciting days in NYC while starting out as a writer submitting stories to various magazines, and most importantly, his approach to writing. Throughout the book, little vignettes of his stories are interspersed, which immediately prompted me to put down the biography and go look for the entire story. It's sad that Barthelme is no longer with us, but he did leave behind a great body of work.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Shannon

    This is one of the best author's biographies I've read in a very long time, not that I've read that many. Since I discovered him my freshman year of college (thanks, MTV) Donald Barthelme has been one of my favorite writers, and the one about whose life I knew almost next to nothing. This book handsomely rectifies that lack of knowledge, and more importantly it's brought me back to his work--picking up my old copy of Sixty Stories and will be making my way through all of the wonders in there. Hig This is one of the best author's biographies I've read in a very long time, not that I've read that many. Since I discovered him my freshman year of college (thanks, MTV) Donald Barthelme has been one of my favorite writers, and the one about whose life I knew almost next to nothing. This book handsomely rectifies that lack of knowledge, and more importantly it's brought me back to his work--picking up my old copy of Sixty Stories and will be making my way through all of the wonders in there. Highly recommended for fans of Don B., people looking to discover an overlooked giant of American letters, or just plain good writing. I'll be checking out some of Mr. Daugherty's fiction works as well.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Troy

    Brillant book about a brillant man. Last 60 pages lacked a little. Not sure if that's because Barthelme was "settling," which was the implication, or if Daugherty was running out of steam. I found myself relating to Barthelme's restlessness, desire to experiment in his writing, and his sometimes frustrations when others just didn't "get it." By the way, no way am I comparing myself, or my writing, to Barthelme; he's just another writer I admire and find myself "understanding."

  13. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    This is a good example of excellent literary biography. It's instructive without being didactic, compassionate and reverent without slipping into mere encomium. Very thorough, too, in placing Don B. where he stood and where he wrote. Highly recommended.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Not sure if it is a spoiler, but the protagonist died in the end. While I'm am glad that I read it, one would do better reading Barthelme's work than one would do reading about his life. Like so many people who make us laugh, he lived a sad life. Understanding the context of his absurdities, and the basis for his symbolism helped put into context the stories that I found electrifying, but in some ways it was like seeing a magician's tricks revealed. What I liked best were the remembrances of fel Not sure if it is a spoiler, but the protagonist died in the end. While I'm am glad that I read it, one would do better reading Barthelme's work than one would do reading about his life. Like so many people who make us laugh, he lived a sad life. Understanding the context of his absurdities, and the basis for his symbolism helped put into context the stories that I found electrifying, but in some ways it was like seeing a magician's tricks revealed. What I liked best were the remembrances of fellow writers. A lot of the family stuff was boring and banal. "Hiding Man" was a good title for someone who lived a life where he tried to make himself invisible, but revealed everything for all the world to see.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Tayne

    This book has been something of a Bible to me, in the postmodernist sense, over the last few months. It's a whistle-stop journey through the stories and the life and times of the Don and the artistic and cultural upheaval in general in 60s and 70s America. Kinda essential reading for any fan of Don B., but a great read in general for anyone interested in the making of art or postmodernism or just the 60s in general.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Маx Nestelieiev

    докладна, а тому дещо зануднувата біографія, цінна своїм коментарями про добу і тексти Бартелмі. оскільки це перша біографія ДБ - то їй можна багато в чому пробачити, зрештою життя винуватця теж не вирізнялося надмірною цікавістю (майже так, як і Фолкнера - "писав книжки і помер").

  17. 5 out of 5

    Scott

    This is likely the best biography I have ever read. A very detailed, researched tome with a real personal vibe. Highly recommend this one.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    Fabulous. One of the most inspiring and enjoyable non-fiction books I've ever read. Maybe the only biography I've ever read completely. And I can't imagine that I enjoyed this bio so much only because I'm a big Barthelme fan. It was just really good. Barthelme's knowledge of and connection to the art world of the 50s, 60s, and 70s means you get a bunch of art history, and it's an insider's perspective on things (e.g. he was good friends with Elaine DeKooning). There's also a lot of philosophy, a Fabulous. One of the most inspiring and enjoyable non-fiction books I've ever read. Maybe the only biography I've ever read completely. And I can't imagine that I enjoyed this bio so much only because I'm a big Barthelme fan. It was just really good. Barthelme's knowledge of and connection to the art world of the 50s, 60s, and 70s means you get a bunch of art history, and it's an insider's perspective on things (e.g. he was good friends with Elaine DeKooning). There's also a lot of philosophy, and a good deal of social history, mostly of New York, as this is where Don spent his most productive years. The story of his life is pretty interesting, though not really spectacular; the bio is just told in a way that's always engaging. It's never dry or tedious, and it isn't short, either. Every anecdote adds to the understanding of Don. And Daugherty provides a ton of commentary from Don's friends, lovers, colleagues, and contemporaries. Strangely absent, or nearly absent, though, were the voices of his siblings, most of whom have turned out to be pretty famous in their own right. Or many of whom, at least. The epilogue goes into a weird extended riff on 9/11, which I found myself thinking was passe now, seven years later, even though I criticized DeLillo for trying to tackle the subject just four years after it happened. In any case, it didn't seem really relevent. I can't imagine the time and effort Daugherty put into this book. It's really an achievement. It's also a shame that nobody really reads Barthelme's stuff anymore. I guess some might call it gimmicky, but, like DFWallace, the guy could write really, really well, so all the structural playfulness is totally backed up with strong substance. Read this book.

  19. 4 out of 5

    M Griffin

    An enjoyable, informative and interesting literary biography about a writer who was among my favorites in college. Barthelme's work is always challenging, undeniably "serious" literature, yet it's almost always fun and entertaining to read. Here the biographer gives us what feels like a complete and honest portrait of a man who was brilliant yet self-defeating, and both selfish and generous. Having read this, I feel less sure I would have liked Donald Barthelme personally had I met him, yet my r An enjoyable, informative and interesting literary biography about a writer who was among my favorites in college. Barthelme's work is always challenging, undeniably "serious" literature, yet it's almost always fun and entertaining to read. Here the biographer gives us what feels like a complete and honest portrait of a man who was brilliant yet self-defeating, and both selfish and generous. Having read this, I feel less sure I would have liked Donald Barthelme personally had I met him, yet my respect for his work and its impact on the development of American literature are only strengthened. Because Barthelme's life and career were cut short (it shouldn't be a "spoiler" to anyone interested in this book if I say he died of cancer in his fifties) this biography dwells mostly on his formative years and the build-up in his career to where he began to have some success and recognition. Many biographies of artists provide a lot of background about parents and the subject's environment as a child without this information having much relevance to what the artist eventually became. In this case, though, Daugherty gives us information about the home Barthelme grew up in, and the aesthetic philosophies and architectural work of his father, which help clarify where Donald Barthelme the developing writer came up with his daring, modernist approach. This book is overall quite successful in what it tries to accomplish. This is essential reading for any serious fan of Barthelme or even modernist American literature, and if you're interested in American fiction from after mid-century, you'll probably find much to enjoy here as well.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Sull

    This was not as deep a work as Daughtery's biography of Joan Didion (The Last Love Song). Daughtery knew Barthelme and studied under him, and this book is otherwise informed by Daugherty's private communications with Barthelme's wives.... So there's a strongly personal element in this writing that was lacking in the Didion biography, because Daugherty never met Didion. The Last Love Song was indeed almost a "song" of unrequited longing aimed at Didion, whereas this book covers the life of someon This was not as deep a work as Daughtery's biography of Joan Didion (The Last Love Song). Daughtery knew Barthelme and studied under him, and this book is otherwise informed by Daugherty's private communications with Barthelme's wives.... So there's a strongly personal element in this writing that was lacking in the Didion biography, because Daugherty never met Didion. The Last Love Song was indeed almost a "song" of unrequited longing aimed at Didion, whereas this book covers the life of someone he knew well and didn't love, though respect and admiration are evidenced, as well as puzzled bewilderment at some of Barthelme's more intense moods and actions. I had a very slight acquaintance with Barthelme towards the end of his life, and I was perhaps hoping for more depth in this biography, but Barthelme remains a cipher to me. Daugherty provides the outline of a startlingly varied life, with odd sudden leaps into different activities, career fields, geographies, emotional topographies..... But, as the title implies, here's a man who was not easy to know.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Bookmarks Magazine

    Critics unanimously applaud Daugherty for the first comprehensive, analytical biography of his former teacher. The Oregonian calls Hiding Man a "remarkably tender, sympathetic treatment" of Barthelme, and while Daugherty may have given Barthelme a glowing biography, he doesn't downplay his more negative traits. The book also does an excellent job of connecting the writer to his literary and social context. The Oregonian notes that while Barthelme can be difficult to read, "in Daugherty's hands t Critics unanimously applaud Daugherty for the first comprehensive, analytical biography of his former teacher. The Oregonian calls Hiding Man a "remarkably tender, sympathetic treatment" of Barthelme, and while Daugherty may have given Barthelme a glowing biography, he doesn't downplay his more negative traits. The book also does an excellent job of connecting the writer to his literary and social context. The Oregonian notes that while Barthelme can be difficult to read, "in Daugherty's hands the stories seem not nearly as challenging as they are inviting," a point echoed by the Washington Post. Readers interested in Barthelme will find an informative, entertaining biography; readers unacquainted with this postmodern giant may wish to start with one of his short story collections.This is an excerpt from a review published in Bookmarks magazine.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Tim

    Fascinating and very well-written--dare I slap that label "literature" on its underbelly? Great little dollops like about Barthelme's blackouts as a kid (those black squares in "The Explanation," not to be overly simplistic about them, but it's hard to look at them in the same way after reading this, not to mention the other synaptic chasms Barthelme's work traverses), and how about how his dad raised them to believe that "all activity--sitting in a chair, eating dinner hammering a nail, climbin Fascinating and very well-written--dare I slap that label "literature" on its underbelly? Great little dollops like about Barthelme's blackouts as a kid (those black squares in "The Explanation," not to be overly simplistic about them, but it's hard to look at them in the same way after reading this, not to mention the other synaptic chasms Barthelme's work traverses), and how about how his dad raised them to believe that "all activity--sitting in a chair, eating dinner hammering a nail, climbing into bed--bristled with artistic content." And that "nothing is set in stone, not even stone."

  23. 5 out of 5

    Gregzeck

    A wonderful review of Barthelme's equally fascinating art and life. Daugherty, who was a student of DB's at the University of Houston, knows his subject as both man and artist; he draws Barthelme sympathetically but certainly not without faults. He is an astute reader of DB's fictions and puts him fascinatingly in his place in the New York City art scene, as by reference to the Willem de Kooning biography by Stevens and Swan.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Brian Reilly

    I didn't like it. It made him seem human. I know his work is the literary equivalent of a modern art 'super glued a bottle cap to the wall and charged $35,000.00 for it' vibe. But then why am I re-reading everything he wrote over and over. And sometimes feel like it's the only thing on my bookshelf WORTH reading?

  25. 5 out of 5

    Chadwick

    It is a rare literary biography that actually enriches the work of its subject. Although reading an author like Barthelme--or any author, really--with biography in mind is always problematic, it offers yet another facet to consider in the compexities of his writing.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Nathan "N.R." Gaddis

    The obligatory Steven Moore review: "Now comes the first biography, and not just a modest remembrance but a full-length, meticulously documented study. All dead authors should be so lucky." http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/... The obligatory Steven Moore review: "Now comes the first biography, and not just a modest remembrance but a full-length, meticulously documented study. All dead authors should be so lucky." http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/...

  27. 4 out of 5

    Bill

    Though I was vaguely aware of his existence, I've never read anything by Barthelme. This biography examines the man's life and, more importantly, work in such a fascinating way, I feel compelled to check Barthelme out.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jacob

    Great look at Barthelme and the state of post-war fiction.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Corey

    Donald Barthelme gets his due, a respectful and engrossing biography.

  30. 4 out of 5

    W

    What was going on in the 50s while everyone was focused on the San Fran renaissance

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