‘The Indian Uprising’ by Donald Barthelme

I love listening to stories. I love reading too, but to paraphrase Ishmael: Being read to,—oh, sweet friends! What will compare with it? My first audiobook was a cassette copy of The Railway Cat (1983), which I would listen to under a blanket, and I have been moving in that general direction ever since. I first came across Donald Barthelme’s stories when I heard ‘The School’ performed on a podcast. After that I listened to the several readings of his stories on the New Yorker Fiction Podcast, before borrowing an old hardback copy of Sixty Stories from the library and trying to work out what the heck was going on. Every time I read (or listen to) ‘The Indian Uprising’ I discover something new. It’s an intricate web of images, allusions, lists, repetitions. Is it about love? The Vietnam War? Genocide? The cruelty of children? The baseness of men? All of these and maybe none. Another interesting thing about listening to stories is that every reading is an interpretation. To hear writers (especially writers) read stories they love is to hear what they love about them in every pause and every bit of cadence or emphasis. I think Chris Adrian’s reading of ‘The Indian Uprising’ argues for it as an essentially sad story, an interpretation I agree with. A few years ago I was tempted by an audiobook of Sixty Stories, read by an actor. I found it to be oozing with unfortunate comedy, nothing like the Barthelme I know.

First published in the New Yorker, March 1965. Collected in Sixty Stories, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1981, available to listen to on the New Yorker podcast here

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