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The Dead Father

3.82  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,501 Ratings  ·  116 Reviews
The Dead Father is a gargantuan half-dead, half-alive, part mechanical, wise, vain, powerful being who still has hopes for himself--even while he is being dragged by means of a cable toward a mysterious goal. In this extraordinary novel, marked by the imaginative use of language that influenced a generation of fiction writers, Donald Barthelme offered a glimpse into his fi ...more
Paperback, 177 pages
Published September 15th 2004 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 1975)
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Apr 04, 2016 Brian rated it it was amazing
A live wire of PoMo bliss, The Dead Father reads very much like the source for so many books in the genre that have come after. I understand Marcus' The Age of Wire and String much better and now want to re-read it.

Having just finished the memoir Double Down written by Don Barthelme's younger brothers, I was able to clearly divine the influence of the troubled relationship Don had with his father in this work. The Dead Father is a monstrous hilarious ribald construct of a thing, and the charac
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
Imagine an alien from a remote, little planet in a galaxy so far, far away. It is a literary genius, and a Nobel Prize for Literature winner in his planet. He hurls into space aboard a spaceship and lands in England where people speak and write English. A few days after hearing and reading English the alien says (in his own language, of course): "I can also write a great novel in English."

This book could be the novel such an alien could have written.

I have never read anything like it before.

It t
Jul 30, 2009 Tom rated it it was amazing
To understand my rating, you need to do some basic math.

Most of the book, I thought was a 3-star deal, mainly because I found some of the sections (particularly the long moments when Emma and Julie talked to each other) to be borderline incomprehensible, and while I'm sure Barthelme knew exactly what he was doing, it was one of those situations where I was holding a book in my hands and processing words and then feeling stupid. And maybe I was too dense to understand what was going on, but regar
Apr 20, 2013 Rayroy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

Ascending the granite steps of the grand city library, a library sharing space with a museum, fossilized dinosaurs can be seen in the rows of fiction behind the glass walls. Been dead for while. Jill Hill and Thad Dade carry books towards the book return box.
What’s that thin sliver book?
It’s The Dead Father.
The Dead Father, is he a zombie?
No just dead but alive.
Dead but alive, then he’s a zombie.
No, he’s giant.
I don’t fallow.
You don’t fallow.
It’s Post Modern. He’s dead in a different sense, i
Oct 01, 2014 Oscar rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans de la literatura posmoderna
Hasta hace poco, nunca hubiese pensado que me iba a convertir en un aficionado a la literatura posmoderna. Hasta hace poco, huía de autores como Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo, David Foster Wallace o Donald Barthelme. Requerían de una atención desmedida a la hora de leerlos, y esto no era precisamente lo que buscaba, me interesaban textos más asequibles y de fácil lectura, libros con argumentos e historias, si no lineales o con el clásico planteamiento-nudo-desenlace, sí con una estructura objetiva ...more
Plotless postmodern novels, if you believe the hype, aren't supposed to be fun, they're supposed to be think pieces that make you reconsider your epistemological premises, through chilly techniques cribbed from scientific and technical writing, through unconventional word choice, through use of archaisms, slang, high culture, low culture, etc. etc. and you're supposed to come out of the whole thing not necessarily happier, not necessarily entertained, but more aware.

Then, why was The Dead Father
David Beavers
Nov 30, 2008 David Beavers rated it it was amazing
My favorite work of Barthelme's, and one of my favorite books ever. I'd give it 8 out of 5 stars, but Goodreads has no HTML code for this. A book for anyone who has a father, who had a father, who had an absent father, who had a father who loved too much or not enough or the right amount; a father who beat them or taught them to ride a bike or both. A book perhaps not for fathers, but a book for fathers who had fathers themselves (and so, a book for fathers).

This is the story of a son & his
Adam Mills
Mar 28, 2009 Adam Mills rated it it was amazing

The Dead Father is the story of your everyday, average funeral procession for a 200 foot tall father figure who's bloodlust and libido have not been quelled by death. Barthelme comically relates the influence that Greco-Roman and Judao-Christian traditions have had on literature and life in the occidental world.. The more the narrative tries to free itself of these cosmologies the harder they pull them back into the fold.

The protagonists and their entourage painstakingly drag the "dead" father t

Apr 02, 2009 Eric rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bagatelle, ficciones
I've never encountered a prose style that reads so much like poetry. There's a tightness, a smooth imbrication of dialogue and narration. I read it in three or four gulps; the flow carries you on, and one would just as soon stop randomly in this novel as leave a bookmark between the stanzas of a short lyric. And that is what struck me as the stylistic eminence of it all: his idiom and sense of humor, while incredibly elegant and effective, are nothing unfamiliar to readers of Joyce, Beckett and ...more
James Murphy
Sep 30, 2010 James Murphy rated it really liked it
I remember reading this twice in the '70s, but I didn't remember much about it. I remember thinking I got it pretty well. Now I'm unsure if my understanding is complete. Because Roland Barthes said the reader is creator of the text I wonder if we're being encouraged here to create because it's so shotgun-patterned that it seems to suggest rather than to mean or define. It's a novel about myth and the hero. The dead father serves as all myth as well as all the cultural weight we've accumulated an ...more
Mar 02, 2014 Marc rated it really liked it
Imagine if you will a plate. A rather large plate. In the middle of the large plate a small morsel of postmodern food. More negative space of plate than actual food. You scoff at the food. With a shrug and a roll of the eyes, you take a bite. A hundred flavors, some you recognize, others you do not, some you miss. You eat away, the food disappearing, wondering as you are eating what food is this, what are its textures. When you are finished, you are full but you are not sure why or how it happen ...more
Aug 28, 2008 T rated it it was amazing
I don't yet understand how he was able to make this so emotional at the end, how so silly got so serious so fast without ruining the experience. I don't yet understand, but I will bygod. I will.
Eleanor Levine
Apr 19, 2016 Eleanor Levine rated it it was amazing
Crazy shit goes on in this book. But it's hilarious crazy shit. I think Barthelme rambles on like Henry Miller but with more humor and wit and containment. Though there are many intellectual indulgences in this book, you begin to identify emotionally with The Dead Father and his traveling circus of a family.

In one case, to enter a land that does not allow "fathers," dead or alive, they allow the Dead Father's leg to be cut off and barbecued. Hey it's either kill the Dead Father or barbecue his l
Jul 24, 2015 Mat rated it it was amazing
Surreal, hilarious, weird and what Barthelme says about the different types of fathers and sons is very very true!
Barthelme successfully weaves up a style redolent of the best moments in Beckett, Joyce and even Borges (with many many lists). He even wrote one chapter in a spin-off style of Finnegans Wake. Very cool. One of the hippest writers who ever lived. Check dis out.
Zishu Wang
Jun 14, 2014 Zishu Wang rated it liked it
Characteristic of most post-modern literature, the Dead Father has virtually no plot at all. Consequently, this book was extremely hard to get into and the read was somewhat laboured. However, that being said, the 'Manual for Sons' excerpt was amazingly written and somewhat redeems this novel. The last few lines also hit quite hard.

Kate Savage
Nov 26, 2015 Kate Savage rated it liked it
"We want the Dead Father to be dead. We sit with tears in our eyes wanting the Deaf Father to be dead -- meanwhile doing amazing things with our hands."

I always appreciate an extended meditation on patricide of the internal papa-super-ego, but by the end I was Barthelmed out. I mean really, how long can a person read non-sequitur dialogue? The most spectacular bit is the Manual for Sons (which is also in his compilation Sixty-six Stories), which includes advice like this:
You must become your fat
JR Specht
The Dead Father by Donald Berthelme. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1975.

A lively work of postmodernism.

Postmodern literature is always difficult to review as it is often the author’s purpose to stray from conventional methods of writing. The Dead Father was not my first experience with Postmodernism. I have read a few other works within the hard-to-define genre, including works by the author that comes up in many searches on the topic: Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. I will say that in my small, yet expanding
A wonderful, frolicking, clever, realistic, fantastical little work of allegorical fiction. As with the best kind of fiction, this not-really-a-novel-but-technically-still-a-novel speaks to almost every aspect of the human condition in a tone at once contemporary and timeless. It tells the tale of a reluctant journey from life to death, a hesitant transfer of fatherhood from the father to the son who will never truly be the father.

Barthelme hits every note just so, commenting in perfect pitch o
Jan 31, 2013 Toolshed rated it it was ok
I always thought that I liked post-modern books. But if it means I should be shuddering in ecstasy while reading books similar to this one, then I would rather not read at all, I guess. Generally, I dont have a problem with complicated books; quite the contrary, I guess. But I do have a problem with works which have the factor of "complexity" in their very center and everything else is just revolving around it. That is what it seemed to me like in this very case. I find Barthelmes writing method ...more
Jan 10, 2014 Bob rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Re-read after a 3-year interval while grabbing something quickly on the way out the door - updated review.

Mid-70s Barthelme had just the right contemporary counterculture approach to faintly Dada-ist allegory to impress my teenage self mightily. On a subsequent reading in adulthood, it seemed a bit facile, but on what I expect to be the final go-round (ars longa, vita brevis and all that), it returns to 80% satisfactory.
The Father in question is mainly He of the Judeo-Christian tradition but wit
Eric Cartier
Jun 16, 2012 Eric Cartier rated it liked it
An enjoyable and often very funny novel, tinged with the usual Barthelme melancholy. Clear nods to Beckett, Melville, and Joyce throughout. 23 brief chapters with a 23-chapter insert, A Manual For Sons, plus wordplay, lists, diagrams, and drawings. Not a book I'd leap to read again soon, but I'm happy to have it on my shelf. Some lines and banter I like are below.

* * * * *

...the embarrassment of sending away those I didn't want, the pain of sending away those I did want, out into the lifestream
Dec 30, 2008 Danielle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Barthelme at his best! The Dead Father is a fabulous work of fiction rich in irony and humor seasoned by the stray poignant moment.

I suppose it's blatantly "postmodern" -- by golly, what better time to write a postmodern work than the 1970s? Of course, if you're not a fan of consciously postmodern writing, you might not enjoy the work. It's not going to honor the dead, that's for certain - Barthelme is excellent at vilifying most paradigms, so he's liable to upset certain folks. Take this on if
Jan 13, 2008 Sarah rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 10, 2016 Pip rated it liked it
This is an enigmatic read. The Dead Father is a huge statue which is being hauled along by Thomas (his son?) and various other characters. Although he is dead, a statue, and unable to move on his own he acts and reacts with normal human foibles - he fancies Julie, Thomas' girlfriend, for example. I gathered that The Dead Father represents fatherhood in general. I thought sometimes he might also represent a Fatherland. Barthelme loves lists and juxtapositions unlikely things for impact, if not me ...more
Vit Babenco
Apr 14, 2014 Vit Babenco rated it it was amazing
Time passes and humankind keeps hauling a corpse of dead traditions, customs, beliefs, misconceptions and rituals along the trail of history...
“You are killing me. We? Not we. Not in any sense, we. Processes are killing you, not we. Inexorable processes.”
Even if some dogmas and tenets are discarded in the process of the constant progress they don't let us go and we keep carrying this burden of the past on our backs.
Maya Rock
Apr 25, 2009 Maya Rock rated it it was ok
This worked for me if I just judged it sentence by sentence. There was some interesting vocabulary. But it did not work in terms of characterizaton, plot. It was pretty funny when Mother showed up. There were other funny parts too, which helped, but overall a laborious reading experience.
Strange short book, a group of people are pulling the Dead Father by a cable through the land, who knows where. For a dead father he's surprisingly vocal and has a habit of running off.
There's also a smaller book on fathers, have to admit that it was fun but a head scratcher too.
Nelson Maddaloni
May 27, 2015 Nelson Maddaloni rated it really liked it
I don't know how Donald Barthelme managed to make this into a novel, but he did. It's a magnificently experimental work that is wild, zany, but sometimes seems to plod on longer than it really needed to even if it is a very short novel. Still, Barthelme is trying new things and I can't hold it against him too much. The novel works, ultimately, but can be a little difficult to read at times just because the narrative falls apart. This is intentional, but not for everyone which is why I cannot rea ...more
Micki MacDevitt
Sep 12, 2009 Micki MacDevitt rated it liked it
This is the kind of book that I think I need to sit and listen to intellectuals talk about - was a little over my head.
Bizarrely incredible.

Happiness of Patrick.
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Donald Barthelme was born to two students at the University of Pennsylvania. The family moved to Texas two years later, where Barthelme's father would become a professor of architecture at the University of Houston, where Barthelme would later major in journalism. In 1951, still a student, he wrote his first articles for the Houston Post. Barthelme was drafted into the Korean War in 1953, arriving ...more
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“But have you noticed the slight curl at the end of Sam II's mouth, when he looks at you? It means that he didn't want you to name him Sam II, for one thing, and for two other things it means that he has a sawed-off in his left pants leg, and a baling hook in his right pants leg, and is ready to kill you with either of them, given the opportunity. The father is taken aback. What he usually says, in such a confrontation, is "I changed your diapers for you, little snot." This is not the right thing to say. First, it is not true (mothers change nine diapers out of ten), and second it reminds Sam II of what he is mad about. He is mad about being small when you were big, but no, that's not it, he is mad about being helpless when you were powerful, but no, not that either, he is mad about being contingent when you were necessary, not quite it, he is insane because when he loved you, you didn't notice.” 15 likes
“The Dead Father was slaying, in a grove of music and musicians. First he slew a harpist and then a performer upon the serpent and also a banger upon the rattle and also a blower of the Persian trumpet and one upon the Indian trumpet and one upon the Hebrew trumpet and one upon the Roman trumpet and one upon the Chinese trumpet of copper-covered wood. Also a blower upon the marrow trumpet and one upon the slide trumpet and one who wearing upon his head the skin of a cat performed upon the menacing murmurous cornu and three blowers on the hunting horn and several blowers of the conch shell and a player of the double aulos and flautists of all descriptions and a Panpiper and a fagotto player and two virtuosos of the quail whistle and a zampogna player whose fingering of the chanters was sweet to the ear and by-the-bye and during the rest period he slew four buzzers and a shawmist and one blower upon the water jar and a clavicytheriumist who was before he slew her a woman, and a stroker of the theorbo and countless nervous-fingered drummers as well as an archlutist, and then whanging his sword this way and that the Dead Father slew a cittern plucker and five lyresmiters and various mandolinists, and slew too a violist and a player of the kit and a picker of the psaltery and a beater of the dulcimer and a hurdy-gurdier and a player of the spike fiddle and sundry kettledrummers and a triangulist and two-score finger cymbal clinkers and a xylophone artist and two gongers and a player of the small semantron who fell with his iron hammer still in his hand and a trictrac specialist and a marimbist and a maracist and a falcon drummer and a sheng blower and a sansa pusher and a manipulator of the gilded ball.
The Dead Father resting with his two hands on the hilt of his sword, which was planted in the red and steaming earth.
My anger, he said proudly.
Then the Dead Father sheathing his sword pulled from his trousers his ancient prick and pissed upon the dead artists, severally and together, to the best of his ability-four minutes, or one pint.
Impressive, said Julie, had they not been pure cardboard.
My dear, said Thomas, you deal too harshly with him.
I have the greatest possible respect for him and for what he represents, said Julie, let us proceed.”
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