Three Books


The Dead Father by Donald Barthleme. Penguin paperback, 1986. Cover design by Todd Radom; cover illustration by Lonnie Sue Johnson.

Saturn, Orpheus, Lear, Nobodaddy. A sleeping undead giant, a quest. Good angry fun. I’ll say it’s my favorite Barthelme today (answers will change in the future).


Fathers and Crows by William T. Vollmann. Penguin paperback, 1992. (An enormous paperback—990 pages—it flops slightly on the scanner, refuses to square up neatly). Cover design by Daniel Rembert employing a detail from a painting titled Le Martyrs des missionaires Jesuites (credited to “Anonymous”).

Different fathers, maybe, than the ones celebrated today, Father’s Day, the conceit I’ve lazily tied my Three Books post to…Jesuits. Or maybe they are the fathers. How many times have I tried all of this novel? If you’re interested in Vollmann’s Seven Dreams series, start with The Ice-Shirt or The Rifles instead.


King Lear by William Shakespeare. Edited by R.A. Foakes. Arden, 1997. Cover design by Interbrand Newell and Sorrell; illustration by the Douglas Brothers.

Lear is maybe my favorite fictional father. I don’t know why. The man is a fool, but a pitiable one. Maybe I just love the play that much—its abjection, its darkness, its insanity. Out vile jelly, etc. Happy Father’s Day!



4 thoughts on “Three Books”

    1. He wrote four. The first two are definitely worth reading—Snow White and The Dead Father. They’re reminiscent of his fiction—lots of different techniques, fragments, pastiche, riffs, etc. He did a retelling of the King Arthur stories with The King, which is good but not essential. I still haven’t read Paradise for some reason.


  1. Fathers and Crows is extraordinary, but it IS rough going stylistically in the first couple of hundred pages, then the narrative opens out (in the same sense that the first 60 or so pages of The Dying Grass makes Finnegans Wake read like something by Hammett) and the language isn’t so extreme. It’s one of my favorite Vollmann’s. The Ice-Shirt is perhaps the best introduction to VTW — it was mine, anyway, and I was hooked.The Rifles has lovely language, and is basically insane. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
    Your post reminds me I need to read The Dead Father.


    1. I made it over 100 pages into The Dying Grass but then let myself get sidetracked…my difficulty with Vollmann is that Vollmann is the central character in everything by Vollmann, that it’s so rare that he creates a character that isn’t Vollmann doing William the Blind doing some historical pastiche. But I love it somehow.


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