‘Game’ by Donald Barthelme

A great short story is tightly wound, not one wasted moment, and ‘Game’ is a breathless, claustrophobic, paranoid tale which takes place in a single room in an underground bunker. The two protagonists – Shotwell and the Narrator – are bored and restless, armed with pistols and rocking each other to sleep at night. The story feels as suffocating and airless as the bunker they live in. They are frustrated and strange, and in charge of possibly releasing a missile that could destroy a city. Power to destroy is always in the wrong hands, ‘Game’ suggests, because that degree of power can warp a soul.

First published in The New Yorker, July, 1965, and available to subscribers to read here; collected in Unspeakable Practices, Unnatural Acts, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1968, and Sixty Stories, GP Putnam’s Sons, 1981

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