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The Dead Father

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  2,017 ratings  ·  157 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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Average rating 3.79  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,017 ratings  ·  157 reviews

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Vit Babenco
Apr 10, 2013 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.
Mar 30, 2016 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 23, 2009 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
Jan 04, 2020 rated it liked it
Some of the conflicting thoughts that ran through my mind as I read this . . .

My, Barthelme is funny.

And smart.

Sometimes he's also obnoxious.

His bag of tricks is clever and sophisticated.

If I'm being honest, though, I like a novel better than I like a bag of tricks.

I'm probably not very sophisticated.

Was there a male writer from the 2nd half of the 20th Century whose writing about sex wasn't a total embarrassment? It's like they all went to the same school of sex for schoolboys.

This Dead Father
David Beavers
Jan 26, 2008 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 love
Aug 28, 2008 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.
James Murphy
Apr 08, 2010 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
Adam Mills
Mar 03, 2009 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

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
Dec 03, 2008 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
Feb 23, 2014 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
Oct 20, 2014 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.
David Markwell
Donald Barthelme's The Dead Father is a masterpiece of postmodern fiction. A rumination on fathers, life, love, and of course language. Barthelme can make you laugh out loud with his wit and then stop you in your tracks with a turn of phrase. Not to be missed.
Eleanor Levine
Apr 19, 2016 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
August Zishu Wang
May 25, 2014 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.

May 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Amazing. Hilarious, irreverent, witty and and kinds of shit. It reminded me a lot of Beckett, but even funnier.
Sep 17, 2016 rated it liked it
It is the fate of all of us, perhaps,
to direct...our first hatred and our first murderous
wish against our father.
—Sigmund Freud

I sat and read The Dead Father, a formative work of postmodernist fiction, in three bursts: afternoon, evening, then morning. Finishing the novel left me with cerebral indigestion: I am still deciphering the points of the story (despite knowing it’s meant to be essentially and playfully absurd and ironic—to quote, “To find a lost father: the first problem in finding a
Maxwell Bauman
Aug 12, 2018 rated it it was ok
It feels as if Barthelme got drunk, wrote this over a weekend, then walked away saying, "well, good enough."
This book rants on and on. There are full chapters of rambling dialogue that are incredibly hard or impossible to follow. There are no quotation marks in the book so it makes it even harder to tell what is dialogue and what is description. The best part (which isn't saying very much) is the section titled "A Manual for Sons," and even that is convoluted. I won't spoil it, but the reveal of
Aug 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Well. That was something.

To be clear, there were moments in this book where the narration kind of entered my eyes, passed through the more mundane, yet cavernous, pathways in my brain, and left right out my ears or some other orifice. But then there were the moments that created neuronal connections that didn't even exist before, and that's what makes this piece of post-modern whackiness so special. I have come out the end of these one hundred seventy-seven pages with a slightly different mind,
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
Nov 09, 2010 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 09, 2012 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
Kate Savage
Nov 12, 2015 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
Jan 23, 2013 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 don´t 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 Barthelme´s writing meth ...more
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
Matt Sautman
Oct 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I am torn between giving this a 4 or a 5. As can often be the case with postmodern fiction, this book can be difficult to read at first, but I found that rereading the first few chapters after I was already about 50 pages in made Barthelme's bizarre yet hilarious world come into sharper focus for me. The Dead Father occupies an array of subjectivities: father, god, cyborg, madman, patriarch, tyrant, prisoner, which allows him to stand in as a criticism of patrilineal traditions religious and sec ...more
Dec 30, 2008 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 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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.
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Reading 1001: The Dead Father, by Donald Bartholme 1 6 Oct 16, 2019 05:15PM  

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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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“-You are killing me."

" -We? Not we. Not in any sense, we. Processes are killing you, not we. Inexorable processes.”
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