No one’s pan is more dead than Barthelme’s, and his humour is lethally brilliant here, though perhaps with less of the relentless whimsy that characterises the majority of his oeuvre. This recalls the scene in the Monty Python film The Meaning of Life, when the teacher must explain – and demonstrate – the act of human reproduction to a class of bewildered school children. It represents a great and original twist on the themes of eros and thanatos. Laugh-out-loud funny.
First published in The New Yorker, June 1974. Collected in Sixty Stories, Penguin Classics, 2003