Donald Barthelme: America's Weirdest Literary Genius

A new biography asks, How did America's weirdest literary genius get that way?

Ben Martin / Time Life Pictures / Getty

Barthelme's stories trade character and plot for his unique humor.

Among members of my family, the word bath is pronounced "baff." It's not that we have some hereditary speech defect or obscure regional accent. It's because at one point or another, we all read Donald Barthelme's novel Snow White, a retelling of the classic fairy tale, and became obsessed with it. In Barthelme's version, the seven dwarfs say "baff" instead of "bath." I don't know why. But now we do too. (The dwarfs also sleep with Snow White and sell Chinese-themed baby food for a living. They still say "heigh-ho," though.)

There aren't many writers who have ascended into the literary...

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