‘Some of us had been threatening our friend Colby’ by Donald Barthelme

I remember buying Barthelme’s Sixty Stories and thinking it was a bit much. On their own, the stories might well have been wonders of surprise and invention but I couldn’t feel surprised for 480 pages. Novelty fatigue set in. The book was not helped by its joy-sapping introductory essay which placed Barthelme in the context of his time and instantly turned him into homework. Years later, I bought one of those miniature, slightly-gimmicky Penguin editions they sell by the tills in bookshops – and only then it clicked. Now I like to read him in short bursts as a palate cleanser, a little explosion of possibility. Some of us had been threatening our friend Colby is the title story in the tiny book and it’s the one I come back to most often, marvelling at its balance of funny and serious, heartfelt and heartless.

First published in The New Yorker, May, 1973, and available for subscribers to read here, then collected in Amateurs, 1976. Recently collected in a Penguin Mini Modern Classic, 2011

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