Donald Barthelme is probably the inimitable writer of the twentieth century and this collection is the best way to introduce yourself to his works. Included are selections from eight volumes he published between the years of 1964 and 1979 as well as a number of previously uncollected stories. What stikes one most about this collection is the sustained brilliance over the course of all 60 inclusions. While not every story is a classic and not every story hits the bullseye one has to admire the ambition packed and effort with which each is attempted, especially when one considers that few exist in a framework of more than six or seven pages. The stories in this collection that do work, and they are in the far majority, are startling in their ability to catch the reader off guard and deliver their short, compact punch. "Game", "A City of Churches" and "The School" are among these highlights, beautiful in their ability to transmit their message with such clarity and intensity, yet with such ease, virtuosity and good humor.
All that said, I feel I should qualify this review by saying that Barthelme is rarely easy reading. His narratives are so remarkably compact and so tightly wound that reading one straight through is something quite akin to venturing through an underwater cave, not coming up for air until the very end. It can be a difficuly experience, requiring intense concentration but the payoff is very worth the effort.