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City Life

3.9  ·  Rating details ·  531 Ratings  ·  45 Reviews
Barthelme's third collection of short stories, including:
Views of my father weeping.--Paraguay.--The falling dog.--At the Tolstoy Museum.--The policemen's ball.--The glass mountain.--The explanation.--Kierkegaard unfair to Schlegel.--The phantom of the opera's friend.--Sentence.--Bone bubbles.--On angels.--Brain damage.--City life.
Mass Market Paperback, 173 pages
Published May 3rd 1978 by Pocket (first published 1970)
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Paul Bryant
I was at a party in Manhattan once, it was 1985. This woman I slightly knew turned to me and said “I have something you’ll be interested in, wait one moment.” So I waited. I was cool. I wasn’t freaking out. She brought back a thing about the size of a large Toby jug and thrust it into my hands. It was Donald Barthelme. Yes, the Donald Barthelme. Not a Toby jug caricature, the actual original author of all those arch short stories. Tell you the truth, I was nonplussed, like if she had thrust a si ...more
J. Kent Messum
Donald Barthelme is one of the most inventive, surrealist, post-modernist writers out there, and that's saying something. Whether you actually enjoy his work or not is another matter entirely. Personally, I found 'City Life' quite touch and go. I wanted to love it, but more often than not I was steered toward the opposite.

First published in 1970, this collection of short stories is very much a product of its time, but I didn't feel that it stood up to the test of time as a result. The works are
Franco  Santos
Ya sabía que este no era el mejor libro de Barthelme, no obstante, me gustó.

El surrealismo generalmente no lo disfruto, y es por eso que los relatos que más tenían de ese movimiento no me atraparon. Son muy confusos y desordenados. A su vez, sobre su uso de la experimentación, se me hizo absurda ("Burbujas óseas", "Frase").

Por el otro lado, el recurso de la fragmentación sí me gustó, y mucho. "Escenas de mi padre llorando" y "Perro cayendo" muestran un clima de asfixia y desesperación admirabl
Aug 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Godbless godless Donald Barthelme and his mind bending, form shattering short fiction. This collection from DB's early career shows the brilliance that the author will continue to mine and hone over his amazing writing career. Stories like "Brain Damage" and "Bone Bubbles" make me want to read them over and over like a daily devotional.
Marco Kaye
Jan 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Reading this, Barthelme's third collection, is similar to listening to the Animal Collective. Specifically, their most recent album, "Merriweather Post Pavilion." Why, you ask? Because it is lush, layered, and very strange--stranger than Barthelme's past work, but most definitely the strongest collection of his I've read (and I'm reading them in chronological form). Like "Merriweather," there are moments of deep feeling within prose that comes bursting off the page.

In "Bone Bubbles", he plunges
Apr 28, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The original price of this Bantam paperback edition is printed on the spine about an inch from the top, $1.25.
Some subsequent used bookstore priced it at "$1-.35"; the white rectangular sticker with that superfluous hyphen remains on the front. Later, a thrift store, one that labeled items with a generic pink adhesive square with "Thrift Store" printed at the top, priced it at a handwritten "99". This I picked off in an effort to make it look less bedraggled. I myself paid nothing.

This looks to
Apr 29, 2009 rated it really liked it
I got this little paperback--looks exactly like the thumbnail--many years ago when I was traveling by train around Europe, it was small and highly portable and great for rattling you out of the tedious parts of travel as it occasionally turns your mind inside out and makes you guffaw at the audacity of the experiments.

After a long shelf hiatus I pulled it out again this week to show it to my writing students as an example of the short story's limitlessness--look! This story is 100 numbered sent
Jun 14, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
From 'Bone Bubbles': "...double dekko balcony of a government building series of closeups of the food gold thread long thin room pamper recent connection steroid perverse cults which have all but replaced Christianity ten filthiest cases men and women with strong convictions lottery breakdown fat arenas..."


There are ways to be formally experimental without hitting readers with the short story equivalent of a coconut creme pie. Barthelme has written much better stories than the ones collec
Feb 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Διηγήματα του παραλόγου....
Brandon Alan

Some of these stories would make more sense if you were dropped on your head, maybe as a baby but definitely as an adult. However, I must have taken the plunge against the concrete at some point because there are certain moments that shine through. I enjoyed taking a stroll through the Tolstoy Museum - I also appreciated seeing angels affirm chaos after the death of God. There is something here for everyone - assuming that everyone has enough patience to dump the contents onto the floor and see
Jason Williams
Dec 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
I love surrealism! And City Life is fucked up. Brain Damage.

I would never say that this is pure id, because that's not possible unless/until somebody is in a straightjacket and all potential subversion has been contained by some sinister institution. But that's kind of the point, I guess . . . everything here is so impulse-ive, but impulses that are in relation/reaction to shared cultural receptors/suppressors. i.e. context.

Doctor Thunder
Jul 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Just incredibly imaginative and humorous, surreal short stories.
Jan 31, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
(3.3/5.0) Fun and fascinating, but totally of its time. Some of the things Barthelme does here seem pretty obvious, playful and fun, but not exactly profound.
Glenn Russell
Apr 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

The new frontier of Postmodern Paraguay requires a fearless explorer to not only sport a safari hat, beard, custom-fit jacket and fashionable scarf but also be well-versed in the latest postmodern writings of Jean-François Lyotard, Jacques Derrida, David Foster Wallace and, of course, Donald Barthelme. Those Spanish speaking natives damn well better be ready.

Nifty collection of short surreal postmodern blasters by the master of the genre. I will focus on my favorite as per below:

This B
Aug 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
'In the larger stores silence is sold in paper bags like cement.'

'At the Tolstoy museum we sat and wept.'

'Defeats are, at times, good for your character, teaching you that it is not by success alone that one surmounts life, but that setbacks too, contribute to the that roughening of the personality that, by providing a textured surface to place against that of life, enables you to leave slight traces, or smudges, on the face of human history.'

'Some people feel you should tell the truth, but th
Sep 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: literary
Oh, man, did I love this. In some invisible and indirect way, he's influenced my writing deeply.
Jul 19, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: barthelme
i've read a few titles from this...a collection of stories...late 60s, 1970...w/illustrations...and there's this blurb from the ny times book review on the back...says the illustrations make this "even more accessible." follow the yellow brick road?

views of my father weeping
"an aristocrat was riding down the street in his carriage. he ran over my father.
after the ceremony i walked back to the city. i was trying to think of the reason my father had died. then i remembered:
George K.
Nov 06, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 20th-century
Συλλογή μετά-μεταμοντέρνων διηγημάτων, όλα υπέροχα γραμμένα, με διάφορα αφηγηματικά στιλ και με πολλά νοήματα. Καθόλου εύκολο βιβλίο, από τα πιο απαιτητικά που διάβασα φέτος, μαζί με αυτά του Πίντσον, αλλά μπορώ να πω ότι μου άρεσε και χάρη σ'αυτό βρήκα μια λίστα με παρόμοιας δυσκολίας βιβλία, με περίεργα αφηγηματικά στιλ και άλλα που με εξιτάρουν, βρήκα αρκετά απ'αυτά στα ελληνικά και κάποια στιγμή (αύριο!) θα τα ψάξω στα παλαιοβιβλιοπωλεία.

Ξέφυγα. Λοιπόν, η συλλογή αυτή αποτελείται από 14 περ
Miguel Jiménez
Mar 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
Donald Barthelme se convirtió en uno de mis escritores favoritos con tan solo leer unos cuentos. Esta es la primera obra completa que leo de él —y eso es mucho que decir, pues es bastante complicado conseguir sus libros—.

El estilo de Barthelme es lo que le sigue de magnífico. En sus cuentos se pueden encontrar frases increíbles, escritas con aparente sencillez, pues están compuestas por palabras comunes pero que te llegan a lo más recóndito de tu ser. Era un maestro del lenguaje porque sabía cuá
Eric Cartier
Aug 08, 2010 rated it liked it
Barthelme is brilliant: damn Gass and DFW for leading me to his work! I'll have to read it all someday. This collection wasn't as satisfying as Overnight To Many Distant Cities, but it's full of mundane things that shimmer, poetic passages and postmodern flair (illustrations, a Joycean exercise, a cut-up piece, one wild font and two Q&A-style stories). I look forward to reading Barthelme's full-length novels in the future. Below is a lengthy passage from "The Explanation" that captures the d ...more
Eric T. Voigt
Oct 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fall-eleven
Many more abstract moments, or poetic, or, honestly, perplexing, but amusing! moments than that collection "Amateurs," which is the other collection I've read. One day I'm going to look back on this and say "yes, Eric, you DID read those two books. You read two other books, novels, by the man as well. Why do you insist on listing? What value does it add to your life, making the association 'read him, funny man' when you see the name Barthelme or catch the cover of one of his books in your periph ...more
Mar 16, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Until the hot meat of romance is cooled by the dull gravy of common sense once more."

Four stars for Glass Mountain, Phantom..., Sentence, Brain Damage. Father Weeping. Fewer for others. Boy was I surprised I liked any of this. Had always confused Barthelme with Derrida et al. for some reason. Hilarious in the way that Celine can be, only not as bitter.

Am collecting notions of how to pronounce author's last name.
Yesterday's Muse Bookstore
Though this book is not for everyone, I have to describe it as a collection of unusually inspired writing. Barthelme's unique style and approach are a refreshing break from run-of-the-mill fiction, and this collection of short pieces (which I would recommend reading as related works) are packed densely with meaning -- one can easily wring more significance from them with each rereading (especially the free-form piece Bubble Bones).
Sep 03, 2007 rated it it was ok
I think this may have been a Jessamyn West recommendation. Experimental short stories written in the late 60s. The first one was heavy and boring but the next one about the falling dog, I read to myself out loud and it was fun. Some of the stories were interesting, but most just kind of weird - enumerations, odd drawings, one single sentence. (July 14, 2005)
Jul 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Fun. Fun. Fun. Barthelme captures the potential of short story as malleable and liberating. Even at his most inaccessible he remains accessible. Layers? Sure. But as it is, as fragments of city life, where the "city" is cellophane metaphor for the "muck" entirety. Great, hilarious, enthralling.
Mar 17, 2012 rated it it was ok
I had high hopes for this, as I really enjoyed the Barthelme stories I've heard read on the New Yorker fiction podcast. While the first and last stories were OK, most of it felt like being experimented on. I'll probably check out some of his more recent work, but I won't come back to this one.
Mar 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the most ridiculously good books I have ever read. Some parts I didn't understand but it doesn't seem to matter. The words and stories danced around in my brain and made it sing! A fantastic feeling.
Louis Dirigible
May 21, 2012 rated it liked it
some real high points and a lot of barthelme points of confusion that's hard to wade through. liked it better than what i read in sadness, but a lot of other stuff i need to read by him before forming an opinion. read parts of daugherty's biography, enough to sadden me over b's rise and fall.
Oct 01, 2007 rated it really liked it
I am currently devouring this.
Robert Vaughan
Mar 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
introduced a new modern (or post modern?) style to the short story.
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Goodreads Italia: La vita in città - Donald Barthelme 2 20 Nov 07, 2013 05:46AM  
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  • J.G. Ballard (RE/Search #8/9)
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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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“This muck heaves and palpitates. It is multi-directional and has a mayor.” 2 likes
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