‘Porcupines at the University’ by Donald Barthelme

I somehow believe I can actually remember the feeling of standing in a bookshop in America and reading this story for the first time. How completely it blew my mind that Barthelme’s bonkersness was a genuinely possible way of doing the job of ‘writing stories’. It also made me sort of die laughing, having just spent a first year at university being party to the kind of anxious conversations the Dean has with his wife about ‘facilities’. And whether they have sufficient for ‘thousands and thousands’ of porcupines, currently marauding their way across the plains towards the university, and now on close incoming approach. “Maybe they won’t enroll”, says the Dean, trying to reassure himself: “Maybe they’re just passing through”. Honestly, Donald. That was enough for lifelong love. Porcupine emoji, heart emoji. 

First appeared in The New Yorker, April 1970 and available here. Collected in Forty Stories, Putnam, 1987. Also available online here

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